"Blood starts pumping with the constant excitement of near misses, accidental deaths, and teenage lust." (or so the DVD back cover would have us believe)
There's probably a pretty good movie to be made out of the whole business of the fate of Nazi gold at the end of the Second World War, but this film is not quite it. It is a valiant try and better than its low budget might lead one to expect, but ultimately it goes on a bit too long and it's let down by a second half that tries to accomplish too much given the budget. On the whole, it reminds one a little of what might result from one of the Hardy Boys teaming up with Nancy Drew to overcome the bad guys.
The story involves a young high school student named Jeff who has befriended an elderly neighbour in the rundown apartment building where he lives with his mother. When the neighbour dies, he leaves Jeff a box containing several sheets of paper. After it turns out that the neighbour really was a former Nazi officer who disappeared at the end of World War II and was believed responsible for the hiding of Nazi gold at that time, Jeff soon realizes that the sheets of paper may be the key to where the gold was hidden. Jeff then approaches a fellow student named Carrie who has studied German to help him determine the message encrypted in the sheets of paper. Meanwhile, news of the old man's death soon reaches others, including surviving Nazis in Paraguay, and the C.I.A., who apparently cooperated with Nazis at the war's end in order to steal a march on the Russians. Jeff and Carrie soon find themselves on the run from both these groups as they try to follow the clues to the gold.
The first half of the story takes place in and around Portland, Oregon, and director Don Gronquist makes effective use of location work and employs some nice editing particularly in the sequences where Jeff and Carrie are trying to decrypt the message while the pursuing Nazis and the C.I.A. take their own first steps in Portland trying to find Jeff. The characterizations of Jeff and Carrie are thoughtfully established and suspense is well built up in this first hour, particularly a good chase scene in the Portland waterfront area. When the story heads over to Europe, it tries to take us to London and then across the continent to Austria, all using stock footage and local Portland locations. It's all a bit too rushed and pat, as Jeff and Carrie manage to get to Austria unscathed. The concluding sequences in an old crypt are nicely conceived, but they depend on the lead characters acting stupidly, which lessens the impact substantially. On the whole, if one is in the right mood, the film is not a bad time passer given the resources available to the filmmakers. The caliber of the acting from the two leads (Danny Perkin as Jeff and Gathering Marbet as Carrie) is certainly above average for a low budget film. Just don't expect a really polished-looking or completely logical production.
[Editor's Note: I'm from Eugene, Oregon, which is about 100 miles away from Portland. There's nothing exciting about Portland. Even Cleveland is more exciting.]
IndieDVD's release doesn't look too great. There is an overall softness to the image and a lot of video noise often mars nighttime sequences. The presentation is full-frame, which may be how the film was originally shot, but I can't be sure. (The film was shown on cable, but I don't know if it ever had a theatrical release.) The supplements are not bad. Don Gronquist (he previously directed Unhinged, a 1982 film also available on DVD from IndieDVD) provides a feature-length audio commentary that's not particularly animated and has a lot of dead space in it. He is quite forthcoming about how he was able to compensate for the modest budget and in identifying examples of scenes where he borrowed ideas from other films. A seven-minute featurette tries to identify the links between the Nazi rise in Germany and the complicity of American business with German company I.G. Farbin in abetting that rise. The package concludes with quite an interesting interactive map of actual hidden Nazi treasure.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Don Gronquist
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