VCI Home Video // 1973 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // August 12th, 2005
Run fast and don't look back.
Salt Lake City traffic helicopter pilot Harry Walker (David Janssen, The Fugitive) is making a routine afternoon report when he become witness to a crime in progress: a band of criminals rob an armored car, kill a guard, and take a female teller named T.J. (Elayne Heilveil, Family) hostage. Walker gives chase in his helicopter, keeping cop Jim McAndrew (Ralph Meeker, Paths of Glory) apprised of the getaway car's location. But when the thieves abandon their car and take to the skies in their own chopper, Harry realizes he is the young woman's only hope. What follows is a chase though the streets of Salt Lake City, a pursuit through the twisting canyons of the deserts of Utah, and a climatic showdown in the hangars of an abandoned airfield. (There are also a couple of topless sunbathers on the roof of an apartment complex. How'd they mange to sneak those past the CBS censors?)
I wasn't expecting much from an old made-for-television movie I had never heard of, so I was quite surprised to find myself enjoying Birds of Prey. It is essentially an extended chase scene, but it is a very entertaining extended chase scene (I can't help but think the success of Duel played a part this movie's genesis). The script is lean, television veteran William A. Graham's direction is tight, and there is some great camerawork from Jordan Cronenweth (probably best known as the cinematographer on Blade Runner). The aerial footage, which was supervised by James Gavin, a man who has worked on such films as Blue Thunder, Lethal Weapon, and Pearl Harbor, is first rate. And Harry Walker is (cliché alert!) the type of character Janssen was born to play. That's not to say it's perfect, though. Bits of stock footage of World War II dogfights are spliced into the film in order to drive home some points about Walker's past; the footage itself looks a tad silly, and anyone who is paying attention will have already picked up on the implied message. The music, an odd mixture of jazz, swing, and what sounds like the unused theme to an old Quinn-Martin production, doesn't really work. There is also some odd behavior from T.J. late in the story, but I guess you could argue her actions are some sort of strange aftereffects of the Helsinki Syndrome.
I assume VCI was forced to make do with what they had, and what they had were source elements is rather poor shape: we're talking worn, scratched, faded, dirty, and washed-out. The transfer is quite grainy, and it often becomes difficult to make out what is happening during the darker scenes. The audio fares slightly better, although there is a bit of cracking and screeching in the music. The only extras are short text bios for Janssen and Meeker, as well as trailers for other films in the VCI library.
Birds of Prey is a pretty good movie, so it's a shame VCI wasn't able to round up a better print. Then again, you can probably pick up this disc for about five bucks, so maybe we have a case of no harm, no foul. Hey, that works for me.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast Bios