Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shatter (Monte Hellman/Michael Carreras, 1974)

Stu Beef

From the first burst to the last blast, SHATTER is an action-adventure movie very much of its time: the mid 1970s --

-- post-Bruce Lee --

-- when studio chiefs transformed into studio chefs in the way they added the taste of the Orient to nearly every exciting cinematic dish they served.

From GOLDEN NEEDLES...

...to THE AMSTERDAM KILL...

...from Jim Kelly...

...to Chuck Norris...

For the next 10 years filmmakers the world over were caught up in what the late film critic Gene Siskel once referred to in his syndicated column as “the yellow tornado.”


Italians --

-- Israelis --
-- Australians --
-- Germans --

-- African-Americans --

-- even seasoned Hollywood cooks like Sydney Pollack, John Frankenheimer and Sam Peckinpah stood side-by-side in the kitchen.

British studio Hammer Films, known for their classy horror concoctions --

-- and already well into a downward commercial spiral by the time everybody started kung fu fighting, inked a deal with the Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong --

-- makers of THE FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH and dozens of other blood-soaked martial arts entre├ęs.

Their first co-production, THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, played it safe by offering audiences the best of both studios: gothic horror meets kung fu action.

It failed to set the world on fire, especially in the U.S., where it arrived five years later in a badly re-cut and re-titled version, THE 7 BROTHERS MEET DRACULA.

For the second co-production, American director Monte Hellman --

-- usually, the creator of deceptively intellectual exploitation fare --

-- was tapped to direct Yank tough guy Stuart Whitman in the international action thriller SHATTER --

-- a troubled production that went months over schedule and wasn’t released in the States until two years after completion as CALL HIM MR. SHATTER.

Most critics and viewers dismissed the film as a slack-paced, poorly written programmer with a disheveled, bleary-eyed protagonist. Most critics and viewers were wrong.

SHATTER is, in fact, a masterful banquet of substitution and transformation -- hold the MSG -- that leads up to a gluttonously filling double dummy demise for its final course.

Thematic elements first surfaced behind the scenes when, three weeks into shooting, producer Michael Carreras fired Hellman and took over the reins.

Carreras was no stranger to substitution -- he had replaced director Seth Holt just a few years earlier on BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB when Holt died of heart failure during filming--

-- but by erroneously blaming Hellman for SHATTER’s production woes, instead of the Shaws (as explained by Hellman on the audio commentary of Anchor Bay's DVD), and then allowing it to further whirl out of control once he had installed himself in the director's chair, Carreras becomes the film's first dummy to bite the dust. And we haven't even pressed "Play" yet.

SHATTER opens in Palawaya in the Republic of Badawi, East Africa, where the country’s Amin-like dictator, Ansabi M’Goya (Yemi Ajibade), is enjoying a bedroom frolic with one of his mistresses. M’Goya playfully breaks a champagne bottle…

…and almost as if he were being summoned by the shattering glass, the man known as Shatter enters the room, camera in hand --

-- only this is no normal camera.

It's --

-- surprise!

A camera gun!

Shatter kills M’Goya and his assistant and absconds with a briefcase of documents. The international assassin heads to Hong Kong, where he is immediately tailed from Kai Tak Airport by a carload of suspicious characters.

An attempt is made on Shatter’s life, but the bullet meant for him hits an innocent bystander instead.

Another substitution occurs a moment later when Shatter checks in to a hotel. On the way to his room, he purposely bumps into a couple in the hallway, causing them to drop their room keys so he can sneakily swap his room for theirs.

Shatter meets with his contact, Mr. Yip.

Yip informs him that “the agency” in Washington was not behind the contract for the M’Goya killing, even though the job went through the usual channels. Another deception/substitution!

As a result, Shatter is now considered rogue. “You’re finished!” Yip tells him. “You are bad news! It is like you’re dead! They do not want you anymore! Not even know you anymore! You are like the plague!”

On his way back to his hotel room after the meeting with Yip, Shatter is beaten up in an alleyway by thugs working for Security Agent Paul Rattwood (Peter Cushing).

Martial arts master Tai Pah (Ti Lung), a witness to the assault, brings the battered Shatter to a nearby brothel to recuperate.

When the assassin regains consciousness, he is in a strange bed surrounded by photos of beautiful women --

-- which leads to a moment of confusion as one of the women turns out to be not a photo but an actual person, the lovely Mai-Mee (Lily Li).

The key substitution that was set up earlier is paid off upon Shatter’s return to the hotel.

Two henchmen stationed across the street with a grenade rifle blow up what they believe is Shatter’s hotel room, instead killing the couple Shatter switched keys with twenty minutes earlier.

Stunt men rather than dummies were utilized for this sequence, as Hellman, Carreras and screenwriter Don Houghton keep shoveling the substitutions like bowls of cubed meats into the stir-fry in preparation for our final moo goo gai dummy-death feast.

Rattwood informs Shatter that it was international banker Hans Leber (Anton Diffring) who contracted him to kill M'Goya.

Leber works for a crime syndicate representing a half dozen European countries that were supplying M'Goya with arms in exchange for opium – that is, until M’Goya learned he could get guns cheaper from the Red Chinese and cut off the opium supply to the syndicate. Thanks to Shatter, the syndicate is now able to substitute one M’Goya for another: younger brother Dabula M’Goya (also played by Yemi Ajibade) is guaranteed the presidency as long as the opium-for-guns exchange continues.

However, the briefcase Shatter took from General M’Goya’s assistant contains documents that reveal the whereabouts of syndicate laboratories in Europe that transform the raw opium into high-grade cocaine. Rattwood wants those documents. So does Leber. Since Rattwood also wants Leber out of the way, Shatter decides to make a deal with Leber, hoping to at least get the $100,000 owed to him for the hit on M’Goya.

At the exchange, Leber pulls a fast one and gets away with both the money and the documents. During the melee, a gunshot intended to kill Shatter hits Lily instead, killing her.

With nothing more to lose, Shatter goes to Leber’s office to get his money back. Dabula M’Goya is there, and Leber tells Shatter that it was the younger M’Goya who ordered the hit on his own brother.

When Shatter learns that he will be brought back to Palawaya and publicly executed for the assassination of Ansabi M’Goya, to show that the British government contracted the hit and not Dabula himself, he stupidly threatens to blab everything he knows during the trial. “Now that I know how all the pieces fit together,” he snarls, “You think I’m gonna keep my big mouth shut?”

“I think you will, Mr. Shatter” Leber snaps his fingers and a tray holding several surgical instruments is brought in.

“You will tell the world nothing because, you see, you are going to stand before your prosecutors at the trial...mute. We are going to cut your vocal cords.”

However, before they are able to turn Shatter into one kind of “dummy,” Tai Pah comes to his rescue, and in the ensuing struggle both Leber and M’Goya crash through a window and are transformed into dummies of a different (Diffring) kind.



CLOSE INSPECTION

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand --

-- they're OFF!


Destructible Fortune Cookie say: “Death is cold dish best served in 2 portions on same plate!”


post © Howard S. Berger & Kevin Marr/post written by Chris Poggiali