Once this moustache grows in, Judge Daryl Loomis will finally be able to get at his enemies.
A fancy word for multiple murder.
James Coburn (Duck, You Sucker) is one of my favorite actors. From his turn as Derek Flint to the bastard father in Paul Schrader's Affliction, the man could do it all. Here he is in The Internecine Project, an underrated suspense thriller, leading a highly talented cast and crew, while rocking a Burt Reynolds-style moustache. What's not to love?
Facts of the Case
Economics professor Robert Elliot (Coburn) has been appointed to the position of chairman of the President's council on economics, an extremely lucrative post. Unfortunately, he has something of a shady past, and there are four people who know too much. He hatches a plan in which each of the four kills another, with the other three completely unaware. If it all goes according to plan, the dead will have no connection to Robert, but can he expect everything to run perfectly?
The Internecine Project is the picture of thriller efficiency, an 88 minute tightrope that never slows down to answer questions, barreling through to its smart and believable surprise ending. Written by Jonathan Lynn (Clue) and directed by Ken Hughes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), at the heart of this film there is a talented group of people who have made an uncomplicated thriller that works on every level.
The strongest aspect of the film is its sense of the unknown. We learn things about Professor Elliot but, aside from that, we know essentially nothing about any of the characters. The four people in Elliot's collective are stereotypes—a scientist, a tough guy, etc.—and we never learn the actual business that the professor has involved himself in or how these people are connected; we only know they must die. They never show their hand; this mystery allows them the freedom to not worry about the details of the story or the characters. Unlikely as it seems, the tread works smoothly from start to finish, moving swiftly and efficiently through its points.
This is the kind of plot that would suffer from explanation. In the end, the idea of somebody successfully arranging for a quartet of supposed spies to kill each other in secret is preposterous. The sharp editing from John Shirley keeps the film moving so well, though, that it's easy to suspend your disbelief and have fun with how it plays out. Roy Budd's musical cues underscore the tension, accenting and highlighting in just the right way. Considering that the vast majority of the film takes place in Coburn's office while he awaits phone calls, this is no small feat, but these two work well to make it seem like there's a lot happening. Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth shows us a dingy depressing London, a perfectly believable venue for the sort of double-dealers we have here.
The performances are above average across the board, with Coburn shining above all else. He has far more screen time than anybody else and is more than capable of handling it. He displays a cool intelligence that works well as both a college professor and a scheming murderer. The veteran supporting cast is generally very good, highlighted by turns from character actors Keenan Wynn (Son of Flubber) and Harry Andrews (Hawk the Slayer), who can ham it up with the best of them. The supporting players are featured in only brief snippets and have very little dialog, but they do as well as possible with what they have.
I'm glad that Scorpion releases these obscure older films, but I do wish there was more work put into the technical quality of their discs. On the packaging, the label claims a newly restored HD master. If this is true, I'd hate to see how horrible a standard definition master would have looked. The worst thing is an apparently incorrect aspect ratio; the sides of the opening credits are cut off, which should have been a pretty good indicator for them. In general, however, the transfer is damaged and covered in grain, the colors are washed out, and there are more than a few conversion errors. The sound is a little better, but fairly muddy overall. Dialog is generally okay, but the score and sound effects are difficult to hear.
For extras, we have three interviews. The first is with Jonathan Lynn, who downplays his role in this film, but talks at length about his career. The second is a very short talk with plastic surgery cautionary tale Lee Grant about her faded memories from this production. Finally, an audio interview with Coburn's daughter rounds us out.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaint about The Internecine Project is the character played by Lee Grant (Shampoo). She is a reporter who dated Elliot a few years before and who is in London to break some kind of corruption story. She shows up in the very first scene to deliver some necessary exposition and give Elliot a little bit of back story. After this, all she serves to do is slow the movie down. The character was clearly inserted to give Coburn a romantic foil and maybe a little bit of humanity, but the romance is cold and his character is a Machiavellian jerk, so it's fail on both counts. Without her in the film at all, The Internecine Project could have been a near perfect seventy minute thriller, but it isn't and it's this character's fault.
Given the names of Coburn and Levinson, I'm surprised this film isn't more popular. It's nothing groundbreaking for the genre, but its simple efficiency makes the film a whole lot of fun.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scorpion Releasing
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