Scorpion Releasing // 1971 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 6th, 2012
The action of The Guns of Navarone. The intrigue of Ice Station Zebra. The suspense of Where Eagles Dare.
Hopefully, those Alistair MacLean references do something for you. Obviously, Scorpion didn't feel the pressing need to update the tagline.
Puppet on a Chain is a 1971 suspense actioner adapting MacLean's 1969 novel. The adventure follows balls-tough American drug agent Paul Sherman (Sven-Bartil Taube, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as he ruthlessly pursues a narcotics cartel in the Netherlands. His investigation takes him to an odd religious order, housed in a castle in the middle of the ocean, on an island that may or not be diabolical. One thing leads to another and Sherman ultimately finds himself engaged in an infamous deadly boat chase. In fact, your enjoyment of this film will depend almost entirely on your love of practically filmed nautical action sequences.
Of the genres that suffer with age, the action movie is the most volatile. There are classics, sure, but your run-of-the-mill "blockbuster" from the early '70s tends to be a tough sell to modern audiences. Perhaps, we have no taste. The success of Paul Blart: Mall Cop attests to that fact. But the plots have become so antiquated and the pacing so glacial, offerings like Puppet on a Chain need to have some oddity going to get a look-see.
There are exactly two things that prevent Puppet on a Chain from being completely buried:
1. The boat chase.
2. The bar scene.
The boat chase is legit; a sprawling sequence, beginning at the castle and concluding in the waterways of Amsterdam. Best of all, it's just a pair of stunt guys driving their boats around like maniacs. I fully endorse this, despite it being really the only action of note in the entire film. The only downside: the bad guy goes down like a doofus.
As for the bar scene, it's got go-go dancers in painted-on jumpers, and sweaty gyrating bare-chested guys. A drug-fueled nightmare, through and through.
The DVD: a newly remastered 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer; the original Dolby Mono audio; commentary by film historians Lee Pfeiffer, Todd Garbarini, and Paul Scrabo; and an extended bar sequence featuring topless waitresses, cut to secure a PG rating in the States.
Sometimes, boat theatrics just aren't enough. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Extended Scene