7/11/10

Magnum Cop a.k.a Fatal Charm (1978) Joan Collins Digs Austria

When I think Joan Collins my mind goes right to her character Alexis from the long running TV series Dynasty, her one shot on Star Trek as Edith Keeler, or her sister Jackie’s salacious romance novels. What I don’t usually think about is Euro-crime films. It was only recently when I was moving all of my “Short Wait” titles on my Netflix queue to the top of the queue that I noticed Ms. Collins name listed after one of my favorites Maurizio Merli. The film in question went under titles such as Magnum Cop, Fatal Charm, Fearless Fuzz, and the original Italian, Poliziotto senza paura, or Police Without Fear literally. The strange thing is that only the international title, The Private Detective, actually accurately portrays the film. (In second place would go to the banal title Fatal Charm.) No matter what title this film might carry, I was intrigued by the idea of Merli and Collins sharing the screen, and with Case of the Bloody Iris cinematographer Stelvio Massi in the director’s chair, I figured on it being an interesting slice of Euro-crime. I just wish I had known how much of my interest it would take.

Merli stars as Walter “Wally” Spada, an ex-cop who now works as a private investigator. The Italian cops hate him, the bill collectors want his last dime, and things are looking pretty grim for his agency. Luckily Wally gets a letter from an Austrian Duke who is looking for his daughter Annalise (Annarita Grapputo) who is living in Italy. Wally finds the girl, but when she runs off, she is kidnapped by a group of thugs. Traveling to Austria, Wally gets paid off by the Duke to drop the case, but soon the investigator gets embroiled in the case of a missing teenager. The clues begin to lead him to believe that both cases are linked somehow. As he delves deeper into the underground of Austrian prostitution, he meets erotic dancer Brigitte (Joan Collins), and Wally soon finds out that danger lurks all around him.

Early in the film when Wally gets his job from the Austrian Duke, one of his friends bluntly tells him, “I don’t dig Austria.” Aside from being a funny line, it should have acted as a bit of advice to Merli, Collins, Massi, and company. The film begins with a shootout in a public park with a suitably intense Merli bursting into action and blowing away the bad guys, but then from the moment Austria comes into the film, the few moments of action are punctuated by long, confusing, confounding plot points. Only fifteen minutes into the film I felt like I needed some kind of chart to keep up with characters, their relationships to each other, and where the story was going. I don’t mind a film with a detailed plot, but Magnum Cop was unnecessarily complex to the point where I had to roll back the film several times to follow it. This continues until the third act of the film, and by time it finally lets loose with the final action notes, I was too mentally frazzled to care that much.

The style that Massi brought to films like Case of the Bloody Iris and Giovanna Long Thigh with his skill as a cinematographer is certainly not on display in Magnum Cop. From the lackluster fashions (I mean seriously. Merli wears overalls for a third of the film, and that is not badass.) to the flat design of the locations, there is little to nothing stylish or eye catching in Massi’s film. The action sequences do yield some interesting shots, but nothing that belies a man of Massi’s reputation as a camera man. Massi was assisted on Magnum Cop by his cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini who had worked on Lenzi’s Man from Deep River. I could see much more of Pallottini on screen than Massi, but where Pallottini’s flat, raw style worked in a jungle cannibal film, it fell flat when added to the exciting world of Euro-crime. Magnum Cop was also hampered by the score by Stelvio Cipriani. The disjointed tracks never enhance either the action scenes or the quiet moments in the film. Cipriani, another Lenzi alum from his work on Nightmare City, relies too heavily on spacey synthesizer rather than go with a more rocking sound. The end result is a soundtrack that annoys more than anything else.

The performances were pretty good on the whole, though the only copy of Magnum Cop I could find was pretty poorly dubbed making it slightly harder to judge. Merli is suitably intense, but this is one of the kind of films that make him look like Franco Nero and Chuck Norris had a baby (That‘s had, not Ate.)  If you’re hankering for a Maurizio fix, you’re much better off turning to Violent Rome or Violent Naples. I did enjoy it that his private eye character had a soft spot for movies. Keep and eye out and you’ll spot Italian posters for Paul Newman’s The Mackintosh Man and Robert Mitchum’s Farewell My Lovely decorating the walls of his apartment as well as several more tough guy films.Joan Collins, appearing here before her comeback in The Stud and Bitch, alternately adds sex appeal or high camp to scenes where she appears. For those that are interested, Ms. Collins does indeed doff her clothes, but at least for me, it wasn’t anything to write home about. Joan has a fraction of the screen time that I would have expected or liked, and the rest of the cast, a collection of random and bland characters, fail to carry the film. The only other partial highlight would be Werner Pochath as Strauss, but only because the Austrian baddie has a badass 70’s handlebar ‘stache.

Magnum Cop isn’t a complete loss. As an example of a Euro-crime film, it distinguishes itself by infusing a kind of neo-noir into the proceedings. It seemed to really want to be a compatriot to the kind of films that Wally idolizes, and in a way that reminded me a bit of a poor translation of Elmore Leonard set in Austria. It kind of succeeded. So the question remains, do I dig Austria? And I have to say that when it comes to the Austrian adventure contained in Magnum Cop, I don’t dig it that much. There are way better Euro-crime ad polizia films out there to check out. So unless you’re a genre completists or a huge Joan or Maurizio fan, there’s not much to draw you into this below average effort.

Bugg Rating

There's not a trailer out there, but here is a short 3 minute clip of one of the film's more interesting moments. 

7 comments:

  1. A Joan Collins movie I haven't seen! I want it. I love her in her 70s movies.

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  2. You sly devil! If those two mustached sex machines were to ever make a baby, that kid would come out with a full mustache, Uzis blazing and a wool suit jacket.

    It's too bad that the movie isn't better, and I really hate when a film gets that confusing, when it has no reason to.

    Still, I do love even mediocre Italian cinema from that era, whether it be Spaghetti Westerns, or Gialli, I still can find some sort of enjoyment.

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  3. vivian smith smythe-smithJuly 16, 2010 at 10:56 PM

    Its scary to realise that at 77 Joan Collins is now an incredibly scary 59 years past the absolute pinnacle and peak of her physical attractiveness and desirability (in this movie she was 44 so 26 years past her etc etc), when she was 18 in 1951 she was one of the most gorgeous birds i`ve ever seen but now shes an old bird masquerading as a middle aged bird and it is becoming rather ludicrous. By the way, shes British which means shes a load of old rubbish by definition.

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  4. What a strange-looking movie. I don't think I've seen any Joan Collins movie but I was subjected to Dynasty as a kid because my Mum watched it. I might have to see this to end the Collins drought and add it, possibly, to the so bad it's good list.

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  5. ...oh and great screen shots by the way!

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  6. I'm a huge fan of Joan Collins, but you do need to have a very definite taste for camp. She made some wonderfully campy horror movies in the 70s - Empire of the Ants is awesome! And I Don't Want To Be Born.

    And The Stud is a must-see movie for fans of the Collins uber-bitch persona.

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