The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sol Madrid

Though the name might not be instantly recognizable, director Brian G. Hutton has been at the helm of two of my favorite movies, both of them WWII flicks, Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes. He only directed nine movies while also acting in film and television so those directing efforts? Gotta scoop them up when you can. Turner Classic Movies helped me out last week, screening 1968's Sol Madrid.

An undercover Interpol officer with a checkered past, Sol Madrid (David McCallum) has been tasked with possibly his most dangerous mission yet. A longtime right-hand man to a Mafia boss in NYC, Harry Mitchell (Pat Hingle) has gone rogue and stole $500,000 from the boss while running away with said boss' girlfriend. The catch? Mitchell has a computer-like mind and is able to remember everything he's ever done for the Mob. If Interpol or the FBI can bring him in and convince him to testify, the case is almost a sure thing against the Mafia. Madrid follows some leads and finds out that Mitchell has headed south of the border to Mexico and is hiding out with a rival mob boss in Acapulco. How can Madrid get to him and then convince him? Well, it starts with finding the mob boss' girlfriend, Stacey (Stella Stevens), and convincing her to help with the promise of protection. Can it all work out?

Even considering the very cool cast assembled here, I'd never even remotely heard of this one. But courtesy of TCM, here we sit! This is a movie I wanted to love but ended up only liking it. I'll get into the cast more in a bit, but it's NUTS! Filmed in Acapulco, featuring an appropriately quirky score from Lalo Schifrin, and a style and winding story that seems like a 1960s bizarre-o film noir...'Madrid' should have been better. That's it. It just should have been better in plain and simple words. This is a 1960s crime thriller that is missing that one special thing to make it a really solid, memorable flick. As is? It's okay, pretty cool in moments, kinda dumb/weird in others.

That cast, it's worth watching just to see the collection of talent assembled. Let's start with the other Man from U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum himself. He never grew into a huge star -- he's probably most well-known for his Ducky role in NCIS -- but it's always cool to see him in a leading role, especially an anti-hero role like this. We meet Sol Madrid as he's resting in an apartment full of drugged-out heroin users. What an introduction! From there, it's one cold-blooded decision after another, all the while observing what's going on around him and planning steps in advance of everyone around him. Brutal, calculating and looking at the bottom line, Madrid risks it all over and over again. And that name? Sol Madrid?!? Sounds very fake, but damn, I wish I had a badass, ridiculously goofy and cool name like that.

I'm a sucker for ensemble casts though, and what we've got here for 'Madrid' is pretty impressive. Stevens specialized in these type of roles in the late 60s and early 70s as the damaged woman so it's right in her wheelhouse! She certainly has some fiery scenes with McCallum's Madrid. How about some tough guys?!? Hey, everybody, it's Telly Savalas as Emil Dietrich, a drug supplier with a rivalry against the Mafia! Next up, Ricardo Montalban as Jalisco, another undercover officer and Madrid's contact who may be too comfortable in his job. Oh, and there's Rip Torn as Villanova, the mob boss with a vengeful streak right up his back. Not a bad group, huh?

Also look for Paul Lukas as an older, experienced mobster, Michael Ansara as a Mexican police officer, Perry Lopez as Francisco, Dietrich's enforcer, and Michael Conrad as Scarpi, a mafia hitman tasked with killing Madrid and Stacey.

Probably the biggest flaw in this 90-minute flick is the story. It's far from pointed and doesn't seem to know where it's going, where it wants to end up. To get his hands on Mitchell, McCallum's Madrid partners up with Dietrich to bring huge amounts of heroin into the U.S. In a painfully slow scene, we actually see the smuggling effort, bringing an already slow pace down to a snail's speed. Things pick up in the final act with some good twists and finally some action, but as a whole, this isn't a consistent movie. Decent, pretty entertaining but with some serious flaws.

Sol Madrid (1968): ** 1/2 /****

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