Tuesday, July 4, 2017

In short: Caboblanco (1980)

1948. A bunch of characters of dubious morals and shifting allegiances – as played by Charles Bronson, Jason Robards and his ever disappearing and reappearing bad German accent, Dominique Sanda, Fernando Ray and Simon MacCorkindale – are after a ship full of Nazi gold that was sunk somewhere close to the deeply corrupt Peruvian town of Cabo Blanco. Shenanigans, melodramatic outbreaks, and random stuff happens.

This is one of the many Charles Bronson films directed by J. Lee Thompson, but it certainly isn’t one of their best team-ups. The film’s main problem is the screenplay. The script doesn’t really seem to know what it wants, and throws in all kinds of adventure and spy movie tropes without ever bothering to do much with them for longer than one scene or so. Which is too bad, for some of these scenes taken for themselves are rather effective or entertaining; they just don’t add up to a whole.

Parts of the film play as an attempt at an homage to classic Hollywood adventure and romance movies, but Bronson, as much as I love him, sure ain’t no Bogart (or Cary Grant, for that matter), and worse, the script never quite grasps what actually makes something like Casablanca work, so it includes a lot of cargo cult style writing that copies the surface but clearly doesn’t get what the surface elements are actually good for. The actors all seem to be in different films, stylistically: Robards – as is his wont – wildly swings between scenery chewing and moments where he is chilling and pathetic, Bronson is Bronson and therefore completely fails to convince as a romantic lead, something that certainly isn’t helped by the obvious trouble Sanda has acting in English which leaves her in turns wooden and overly melodramatic. MacCorkindale’s just plain bad and looks like he’s not even trying, while Fernando Rey obviously knows he’s Claude Rains’s character from Casablanca and acts appropriately.

On the positive side for the lover of strange films like me, this lends the whole affair a disjointed non-sequitur quality that threatens to reach a dream-like quality more often than not, and sometimes actually does. The best bit of the film when it comes to this sort of thing is certainly the climactic confrontation between the four main characters (fortunately without MacCorkindale) in the bar of Bronson’s hotel that involves full-on Italian-style lighting, a potentially explosive jukebox and a parrot, among rather more normal accoutrements like guns. It’s the sort of scene that would have made wading through a much more boring film worthwhile; in the context of Caboblanco’s general strangeness, it’s the cherry on the cake.

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