Dark Sky Films' latest Drive-In Double Feature pairs two obscure but better-than-they-ought-to-be thrillers from 1979, Search and Destroy and The Glove, along with the usual fun mix of exploitation trailers and drive-in commercials. Dark Sky has made a few welcome refinements in the presentation department, and though neither film is very good, packaged in this manner and viewed in this context, they make for a very enjoyable double-bill.
Ten years after an elite army unit was ambushed in Vietnam, its survivors are being murdered one-by-one by a bitter Vietnamese soldier (Park Jong Soo) left behind in Search and Destroy. Most of the film is set at and around Niagara Falls, where vets Kip Moore (Perry King) and Buddy Grant (Don Stroud) find themselves next on the assassin's hit list.
Local police, led by Anthony Fusqua (George Kennedy) and snotty Frank Malone (Tony Sheer), initially suspect Kip and/or Buddy, but when they're attacked in broad daylight at the Falls with hundreds of tourists as witnesses, the cops focus their attentions on the embittered Asian. However, Kip realizes that the police can do little to stop him, and after his girlfriend Kate (Tisa Farrow) is kidnapped, he knows he's going to have to take him on by his lonesome.
Search and Destroy offers about 50 minutes worth of story padded to 92 long minutes. The first two murders are over and done with in the opening scenes, leaving a long middle section where very little can happen until the big climax at the end. Except for that, the film isn't bad and the U.S.-Canadian co-production looks pretty good given its modest ($1.5 million in Canadian dollars) budget.
The film makes good use of the Niagara Falls area, including many of the same locations used in the Henry Hathaway-Marilyn Monroe thriller Niagara (1953). The slam-bang finale-chase was shot all over some prime tourist-trap real estate, including an amazing looking place called the "House of Frankenstein Wax Museum" and a dilapidated structure called "The Wonderful World of Fantasy." Some glaring continuity issues crop up here, however, as night becomes dawn then night again, but otherwise the big showdown between King and Soo is well done.
Also known as Blood Mad and The Glove: Lethal Terminator, The Glove was marketed as a revenge thriller, with vengeful ex-con Victor Hale (Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier) wreaking vengeance on the prison guards that mercilessly beat him after he was convicted of murdering the man who raped and mauled his sister. Decked out in Rollerball-style riot gear, including a five-pound metal and leather riot glove, Hale turns the tables on his former captors (including Aldo Ray in the opening scene), beating them into a bloody pulp.
However, this aspect is greatly underplayed with the film instead much more a character piece about the man on his trail, a down-on-his-luck ex-cop-turned-bounty hunter, Sam Kellogg (John Saxon), a loser with a gambling problem struggling to meet his child support payments. There's probably less of Rosey than there is of the unnamed assassin in Search and Destroy, though what there is of Grier's characterization is interesting, with Hale a decent man driven to commit violence by extraordinary circumstances, a musician alternately friendly and remote to his South Central L.A. neighbors.
Kellogg's story is much more old-fashioned and cliche-ridden, played out much like a '40s private eye film (or maybe Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye), complete with noirish narration by Saxon ("I keep swingin' away, looking for that homerun....") and Chandler-esque character types. Making Kellogg's need to find Hale impersonal - Kellogg needs the money so he can keep visitation rights with his daughter - was a good idea, as are the retro-style vignettes featuring Hollywood veterans like Joan Blondell (in one of her last roles) as a crooked bookkeeper, Keenan Wynn as a world-weary bail bondsman, and Jack Carter as a rich realtor.
Unfortunately, many of these well-intentioned concepts don't really work and merely digress from the story at hand. There is, for example, a long sequence where Kellogg is taken for a ride at a big poker game straight out of The Cincinnati Kid, where would-be lover Joanna Cassidy feeds him tips about his fellow players in fact designed to fleece him dry.
Though obviously produced on a modest budget, the film's technical credits are fine. Actor-turned-director Ross Hagen's helming is adequate, while the late Gary Graver was the cinematographer, and the film offers a hilariously awful blaxploitation-style theme song.
Video & Audio
Both Search and Destroy and The Glove are 16:9 enhanced, both with 1.78:1 ratios that approximate their original 1.85:1 theatrical releases. Search and Destroy looks great with little signs of damage or age-related wear, while The Glove is only half-a-notch below that, with slightly faded color that tends to turn blue skies gray and red blood rather brownish. The DVD is all-region.
Happily, all the drive-in filler material, the ads for popcorn, burgers and the like have all been reformatted for 16:9 enhanced presentation; earlier Drive-In releases had presented this material 4:3 full-frame. Optional English subtitles are included.
Behind the Drive-In Intermission Programming, most of which is carried over from past releases, 16:9 enhanced trailers are included for the following films: The One Armed Executioner (1983), Eaten Alive (1977), The Devil's Rain (1975), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and The Last Hunter (1980),
Dark Sky Films has another exploitation winner with Search and Destroy and The Glove, two minor thrillers that nonetheless make a fun night out at the ersatz drive-in.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.