Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Scavengers first caught my eye because it stars Carol Ohmart, an oft-noted actress who appeared in only a few films. She's most noted for a close encounter with a bath of acid in The House on Haunted Hill, and I remember newspaper articles about her in the early 90s, when cultists were reviving her oddball Jack Hill movie Spider Baby.
The Scavengers doesn't turn out to be anything as exotic as that. It's an early example of Philippino filmmaker Eddie Romero. He's a Manila-based director of local productions that got worldwide releases. Before this film was the ambitious but muddled horror drama Terror is a Man, and The Scavengers repeats its formula of employing name American actors as a commercial hook.
Unfortunately, Ohmart and Vince Edwards have reason to regret getting involved. The Scavengers tries to play the Hollywood game with a noirish tale of doomed romance, drug addiction, and international smuggling. But Romero and company have neither the writing skill or the production finesse to pull it off.
The lumpy script mostly makes Edwards mope and pout and not react to being rousted by the police and gangsters. His tough-guy persona reminds of the lesser Spillane film The Long Wait, except this tough guy never seems to make up his mind, let alone go into action. Ohmart's been gone five years and has taken up with an exiled Nationalist Chinese general (Richard Loo) and become a junkie. But she still manages to slink around in designer gowns and be seductive between hits.
The film hasn't got a chance, and the blame extends beyond the script to poor camerawork. closeups don't match wider shots, the lighting is dull and ugly, rear projections are milky and strange, and there are too many optically-created closeup shots that look as if they were filmed through a dirty fish tank.
The audio is also sparse. I'd guess that the majority of the picture was post-dubbed, with most of the leads doing fine work. But the hero's alternate girlfriend (Tamar Benamy) is dubbed with a terribly artificial voice.
Attempts at mood don't survive the klunky direction. The film is credited to Hollywood veteran John Cromwell (Since You Went Away, Dead Reckoning), but it looks too much like Romero's work before and after to believe that anyone else was in control. The camera is rarely in an interesting position and the few action scenes are a jumble of sloppy cuts. A pistol and machine-gun battle in a park is particularly sloppy. When we finally get around to resolving the romantic triangle and sorting out the double-crosses, we're wincing at awful dialogue lines, unmotivated reactions, and lame attempts at meaningful moments. It's an ambitious but incompetent film.
Vince Edwards isn't bad at all, when the script doesn't betray him. Ohmart suffers the most. Without backup in lighting and production, she doesn't come off half as attractive or desirable as she should. But she gets high marks for trying to save the impossible scenes she's asked to play. Richard Loo is his standard self as a corrupt General (the script makes a distinction between him and the Chinese Reds, who are said to be the big drug runners ... some things never change). The film introduces Vic Diaz, a Romero buddy resembling something like Peter Lorre. He plays a good guy with only one grinning, scheming face.
Romero went on to make the awful 'Blood Island' series of films, and when Roger Corman discovered he was a great connection to produce ultra-cheap pix with a tropical setting, he spent the 70s grinding out female prison movies and the like. He was the man to go to in Manila, and served as Coppola's local connection on Apocalypse Now. The Scavengers is a dismal drama that shows him trying to emulate Hollywood product early in his career.
Wellspring's DVD of The Scavengers is an okay transfer of a good print that isn't given prime encoding - black areas often have showers of little white dots. Otherwise sound and picture are good on this basically unattractive-looking show. The enticing packaging touts it as a classic of film noir, which is quite a stretch. The only extra are a long list of trailers, including Romero's other film from the period, Terror is a Man.