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Tiger by the Tail

Kino // Unrated // July 24, 2018
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 8, 2018 | E-mail the Author
The ninth and final production of United Pictures Corporation (UPC), Tiger by the Tail, filmed in 1967-68 but not released until 1970, exemplifies their modest but reasonably successful ambitions. UPC's aims were simple: produce low-budget but better-than-average features with name actors and decent talent behind the camera, give ‘em a perfunctory theatrical release, and then sell ‘em to network television (or directly into syndication) where the real money was. The demand for movies of any quality was still strong at this time - the damndest things turned up in those days - so movies even as inconsequential as Tiger by the Tail were desirable then.

The budget was small, probably in the $250,000-$350,000 range, but Tiger by the Tail is notable for its eclectic cast. Filmed on location in New Mexico, it was the last film of prolific B-Western director R.G. Springsteen, who started in the business in 1920 and directed nearly a hundred shows, including a lot of TV work from the late-1950s. Springsteen had recently helmed a series of entertaining, nostalgic Westerns for producer A.C. Lyles at Paramount, and knew his way around a set.

Vietnam war hero Steve Michaels (Christopher George) is about to bed down with a Latina in Juarez, Mexico, when he's interrupted and beaten. Later, he turns up at the Ruidoso Downs, where his estranged older brother, majority stockholder Frank (Dennis Patrick), reluctantly invites Steve to stay at his home. There, Steve notices a gun missing from Frank's cabinet, while back at the track controller Del Ware (Lloyd Bochner) switches several sacks of loot prior to a daring daytime heist in which two thieves (Fernando Pereira and Ray Martell) think they've made off with $100,000. However, aboard their getaway plane bound for Juarez they hear a radio report that the amount stolen was actually $1 million, and discover their stolen bags contain only strips of newspaper. Seconds later the plane explodes in mid-air.

Naturally, erudite Sheriff Chancey Jones (John Dehner) and his dodgy deputy (Skip Homeier) suspect Steve. Steve, for his part, believes one of the minority stockholders murdered his brother, and are clearly trying to wrest control of track away. Could the killer be lodge owner Billy Jack Whitehorn (Alan Hale, Jr. - Oh, God, not the Skipper!)? Peculiarly-named banker Top Polk (Dean Jagger)? Or Frank's ex-wife and Steve's former lover Rita Armstrong (Tippi Hedren)?

Charles A. Wallace's screenplay is nothing much, though his characters have a bit more shading than most pictures at this budget level. Longtime character actor John Dehner is especially good if indulgent, expertly delivering prolix dialogue, usually while playing Solitaire. His office is colorful and unusual: a roped-off back section of a saloon he apparently owns.

The cast includes Burt Mustin in two short scenes and, in a sympathetic supporting part, R.G. Armstrong as Highway patrolman Ben Holmes. As interesting as Dehner's character is the role played by ‘30s Warner Bros. star Glenda Farrell, playing curio shop owner Sarah who, inexplicably, runs a veritable forensics lab out of the back of her store.

Tiger by the Tail was Farrell's last film and Charro's first, playing saloon singer Darlita. Married to the decades-older bandleader Xavier Cugat, she performs a song credited to them both, and is okay in a non-comical role, years before she perfected her exuberant "cuchi-cuchi" persona and look. Indeed, while she's got an undeniably great body her hair, makeup, and wardrobe would not be out of place on Divine in a John Waters film. (Amusingly, Charro now gives her date of birth as 1951, meaning she would have been all of 16 when she made Tiger by the Tail.)

After heavily publicized starring debuts in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964), Tippi Hedren's next movie was a small part in Charlie Chaplin's A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), a virtual cameo in which the actress claims she was tricked into doing. Tiger by the Tail came next and must have been a bitter pill to swallow. She's fine in the part, a bit aloof but that's what her socialite role called for, but after working for Hitchcock and Chaplin, journeyman Springsteen and the lower-rent production values could only have disappointed her. Both Hedren and Charro briefly appear semi-nude.

This is not a film that general audiences will want to seek out, but for broadminded movie fans the cast and locations make Tiger by the Tail moderately interesting if not exactly good. The real houses in New Mexico are fascinatingly tacky, with Dennis Patrick's mansion, an eggshell blue cinder-block monstrosity standing out particularly. The Southwest tourist town's attractions distinguish the picture from typical Hollywood fare.

Video & Audio

Remastered in 4K - surely other pictures are worthier of such lavishness? - looks great. Undoubtedly the original camera negative was not in great demand. The image is razor sharp with good color. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono is fine though no subtitles are offered on this Region "A" disc.

Extra Features

Supplements are limited to an audio commentary by Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Sorry to say, this is another case of Kino wanting to beef up a release with supplements but unwilling to pony up the time and money to facilitate something worthwhile. Apparently, Kino's modus operandi is to pay its commentators peanuts (not enough even to cover research costs) and allow them exactly one take, in real time, at a local recording studio. Some of the better commentators, willing to work at a loss, circumvent these constraints by producing well-researched, scripted and/or organized commentaries on their own, but Berger and Thompson are all too clearly winging it and not succeeding. I didn't listen to the entire track, but one uses the filler words "you know" (to cover awkward pauses) incessantly, often multiple times within a single sentence, and hundreds of times over the course of 99 minutes. It, you know, becomes distractingly comical. You know? As the content of the commentary is pretty routine, I can't imagine anyone other than pathetically lonely cinephiles having the patience to listen to it all the way through.

Parting Thoughts

Resolutely minor but of mild interest for its cast, historical interest in the locations, its good video transfer, and for its basic competence, Tiger by the Tail is, for the curious, Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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