Friday, July 7, 2017

Past Misdeeds: 357 Magnum (1979)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

(Don't be like an IMDB reviewer and confuse this with any of the other movies of this or a slightly different name!)

The members of the improbably named "Brigade 357 Magnum" of the police are disturbing the work of a syndicate of weapons and drug dealers only known as The Organization with a half successful raid on an arms deal with a Communist revolutionary group from a Central American country (whose boss, as we'll later see, goes for classic Castro chic). The Organization is not pleased at all, so the whole gang - boss, favourite moll and all - stuff themselves into two cars and shoot Tony Murillo, the leading cop of the operation, his wife and his little daughter.

The Brigade's boss Heller decides to invite Tony's brothers (Mario & Fernando Almada), who were once working for him, to resume their duties as cops and hunt down their brother's killers. The Murillo's agree and begin - quite to the surprise and dismay of the obviously not very bright Heller - to torture and kill their way through the lower echelons of the Organization.

Unfortunately, dead men don't tell you who exactly murdered your brother, so the Murillos decide they need to do some actual investigating for once. Nope, sorry, I was only joking - brother Danny Murillo convinces his girlfriend Barbara (Ursula Prats) to charm the Organization’s boss and go undercover for him. Barbara makes for quite a successful spy, as it turns out. The first thing she does once she's won the bad guy's heart by talking about golf balls with him is to deliver a list with the names of all of Tony's killers to the brothers as a vigilante to-do list. This is not the last good tip Barbara has for our cold-blooded murderers, I mean "heroes", but the action movie genre of course demands that her spying luck will run out sooner or later and the Murillos will have to rescue her between their killing sprees.

As far as cheap and stupid late 70s action movies from Mexico go, Ruben Galindo's 357 Magnum is a winner. Quite unlike the general tone and style of bored disinterest in themselves or the people putting down money to see them Mexican genre movies usually took on at this point in time, this one seems out to actually entertain its audience instead of emptying a production company's library of random filler material. There's not a single musical number nor a dancing sequence - with or without importance for the plot - in sight, and the film goes along at a somewhat sprightly pace. Galindo's direction might be a bit stiff (pretty much like the Almadas are), but at least he realizes that people go into a film called 357 Magnum looking for people shooting each other, and provides what his audience wants. Plus an Almada brother spitting in a goon's eyes and then hitting the blinded man (I imagine an Almada spits acid) in the stomach. That's all I could ever ask of a movie in this genre. Well, that and the inclusion of awesome library prog jazz funk on the soundtrack. Again, Galindo's film provides, unless in those scenes dominated by random, decidedly less awesome easy listening (that's what's playing in the villain's lair, ironically) or the library orchestra.

I'm really quite impressed by 357 Magnum's sporting spirit: where other ultra-cheap action movies are proud to show off the helicopter they can afford for a scene or three, this one only gets as far as featuring a very short guest appearance of an excavator and renting a golf cart for a day when it comes to the inclusion of vehicles more exciting than beat-up looking cars and boats. But by Gawd, a golf cart is a wonderful vehicle, and it's going to be used to full effect, and then used again! I'm only a little disappointed there's not a golf cart chase in the film. Now that I think about it, Galindo seems to have a bit of a thing for golf; that's at least my explanation for a film that includes hot golf cart action and sexual innuendo circling around golf balls. And believe me, sexy golf ball talk is still more erotic than the scenes of a track-suited Almada having the Hot Sexy Times with his decidedly younger, bikini-clad, hip-grinding girlfriend.

For the uninitiated (aka people who have seen less low budget movies from Mexico than I have, and therefore don't know the preferred hero type of the country at this point in time), the Almada Brothers are the most unlikely of action heroes: two short, physically unassuming, moustachioed guys at the end of their respective middle age; usually stuffed into grey partner-look suits here, they remind me of nothing so much as of a couple of used car dealers who have seen better days and on whose success in a fight I wouldn't want to bet. Thankfully, movie magic (just look at those punches never hitting anyone yet still knocking people out!), .357 magnums and dramatic staring into the camera are the big equalizers of action cinema.

Usually, this would be the point where I bitch and moan about the film's love of vigilantism and hatred of civil rights, but to do that I'd have to take it a lot more seriously than I'm able to. This is after all a film in which the Almada Brothers are unconquerable action heroes not unlike a combination of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but in suits and way too cool to sweat and grunt like the Americans do. The film's so deep in the realm of ridiculous fantasy that it's quite impossible for me to want to analyse or criticize its politics. It's not as if Galindo seems interested in that aspect of his movie anyway; like the melodramatic scenes, the "boo-boo we poor cops have to respect the law" screeds are short and perfunctory and probably only in there at all because the genre demands it and there was no money for more than one golf cart in the budget.

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