Sunday, February 15, 2015

COGS, SPOOLS & ½ TAPE #12 - SEAGULLS FLY LOW VHS REVIEW


In SEAGULLS FLY LOW, one of the more elusive entries from Maurizio Merli’s extensive crimeslime filmography, here Merli stars as Jeff Jacobsen, a Vietnam veteran trying to transcend his squalid lifestyle.  Often referred to as “The Mechanic” (à la Charles Bronson?), and appearing rather scraggly here, he arrives in Italy to do a ‘favour’ for industrialist Roberto Micheli (Mel Ferrer, in a part originally envisioned for Ray Milland); by killing Mauro Martini, one of his business associates who “wanted to testify before the commission”.  Greeted at the airport by two of Micheli’s goons (including Franco Garofalo [dubbed by Mike Forest]), he does his job quickly and efficiently.  Troubles begin almost immediately when he is suddenly traumatized by flashbacks; cheaply executed through stock-shots of war atrocities tinged with a blood-red filter.  Realizing the trouble he’s in, he begins to regret his actions almost immediately.  He returns to Micheli, who hesitantly agrees to help him.  He creates a new identity for him (basically just cuts his hair and shaves his mustache!) and arranges a new passport under the name Albert Morgan.

Everything seems to be proceeding smoothly, but Micheli’s other business associate is getting nervous, and employs Micheli’s own men to take out both of them.  When ambushed at Micheli’s house, Micheli is shot while Jeff manages to escape with his life.  Hiding behind his shaky identity, he continues to run for most of the film, but through Amparo (Dagmar Lassander), a highly-connected individual and a friend of Micheli’s, he realizes that “The Smoker” (Red Martin) is holding his new passport. While at Amparo’s, he conveniently meets Isabelle Michereau (Nathalie Delon), and together they seek the Smoker on the tiny island of Ponza. 

Sight unseen, this mundane melodrama has all the makings of a prime piece of crimeslime, but it’s all so uniformly stale that even the few bursts of action and cynical ending don’t help alleviate the overall blandness.  Although it has moments that are quite obviously inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterful Le SAMOURAÏ (1967), the story is far removed from your standard poliziesco, substituting tawdry melodrama for the usual crime film staples.  The typically over-enthusiastic Merli (dubbed by the ever-reliable Ted Rusoff) is also wasted in a vapid role that gives him very little to do except lament his situation and get smitten with Delon.  On their way to retrieve his passport, they observe the title scavenging shithawks (“They’re always looking for something more to eat, and this sea of garbage is their only happiness”), and then, later that night, Isabelle and Jeff share a tender moment in a cheap motel; a truly vomit-inducing scene intercut with Isabelle’s panting dog! 

Seasoned thespian Mel Ferrer doesn’t fare much better (at least he dubs his own lines, though), giving the kind of wooden performance that dominated most of his Italian career.  Dagmar Lassander provides the film’s sole interest as the owner of a nightclub who is also a prominent figure within the Italian underworld.  (“She’s a regular hellcat!”  remarks one cop). Strangely, la polizia are virtually absent from the entire film, except for the occasional scene with a solitary commissario (played by Venezuelan character actor Orlando Urdaneta). 

Directed under his ‘George Warner’ pseudonym, not very much is known about director Giorgio Cristallini, and, even though some of his earliest credits go back as far as 1948, his career was spotty at best.  He is probably best remembered (particularly by spaghetti western fans) for a couple of late-entry, no-budget spaghetti westerns: FOUR GUNMEN OF THE HOLY TRINITY (1971), with Peter Lee Lawrence, and YOU’RE JINXED, FRIEND…YOU’VE MET SACRAMENTO (1972), with Ty Hardin.  Like his westerns, his work here is that of somebody simply going through the motions, with plodding direction that generates little interest, which is a shame considering the decent cast he was fortunate enough to assemble.  Also, the derivative score from Roberto Pregadio is also reminiscent of maestro Stelvio Cipriani’s lesser-known works, alternating between some funky, disco-inspired cues and cheap synthesizer work; which, in all honesty, seems as if much of it was simply laid over the film without any thought whatsoever.  Lethargically paced, the film slows down considerably during Jeff’s beleaguered search for his passport, and never fully recovers until the last few minutes during the requisite car chase.  The inevitable but much-appreciated climax ensues, but it’s simply a case of too little, too late.  In the end, SEAGULLS FLY LOW is a disappointing and instantly forgettable mishmash of crime film aesthetics and melodrama that may at least be of intermittent interest to diehard crimeslime fanatics for its recognizable cast.

Also known under its original Italian release title of I GABBIANI VOLANO BASSO, SEAGULLS FLY LOW was never released on home video in either the US or Canada, and originally appeared on Italian videocassette courtesy of Domo Video.  Later, with easier access to multi-standard (i.e., both PAL and NTSC-compatible) videocassette recorders, this once-elusive film showed up on Greek videotape on the Video Alsen label.  Like most Greek tapes, the picture quality was just average, but it was in English, and that’s all that really mattered.  As of this writing, SEAGULLS FLY LOW hasn’t turned up on DVD in any language and continues to remain just as elusive as it did during the VHS era.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Denzo, great review! :-) In case anyone's interested, there is a rip of the English-dubbed Greek pre-record of SEAGULLS FLY LOW posted on YouTube. Here's a link to it:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xr6Li2IyEWs

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