Imagine a twenty year old Mafia soldier stays up all night eating nachos and drinking while watching James Bond movies and Our Man Flint. He sleeps through half the day and when he wakes up he's had a dream he wants to turn into a movie. The mob's willing to finance it only on the condition that he incorporate Sophia Loren somehow. Without knowing any of the facts, this is how I imagined 1979's Firepower got made. A film about a superhuman mob hitman hired by the CIA to capture one of the wealthiest men in the world. And Sophia Loren is in almost every scene for no apparent reason. It's a bad, softball, conservative fantasy film but it's fascinating. It was released sixteen days after I was born.
Much like Our Man Flint, we see far too much of James Coburn's legs in this movie. He plays the Mafia hitman, Fanon. He also plays Fanon's identical twin brother, Eddie, whom Fanon assigns to show up at airports and things apparently as a decoy but not only does the guy not seem to fool anyone there's never a scene in the movie where a villain goes, "Wait, how can he be two places?" The twin is set up in the plot and then just forgotten.
This movie certainly isn't lacking for star power--In addition to Coburn and Loren there's also Eli Wallach, Billy Barty, Jake LaMotta, and Victor Mature in his final role--although really it's only a cameo and he doesn't speak. Eli Wallach comes off best, as the mob boss for whom Fanon works, his grandiose cunning spills out of the frame.
O.J. Simpson plays Fanon's sidekick, Catlett. He's black. That's about all there is to his character. Actually, to be more accurate, he seems like someone who's been black for about three days and he's still really tickled by the novelty. In a James Bondish casino scene, he enters wearing a tuxedo and says to Fanon, indicating his outfit: "Ebony magazine. What the distinguished young man is wearing."
Fanon laughs and says, "Uh huh. Just like a waiter from an Alabama chicken restaurant." I suppose this is all supposed to be better than Stepin Fetchit because Catlett can rig explosives.
And Sophia Loren was there. She plays a woman named Adele and the movie begins with her husband being killed by Stegner--the super wealthy guy Fanon's hired to capture. For no apparent reason, Stegner's people invite her to stay with them in Antigua, an invitation she accepts in the hopes of getting closer to her husband's killer. Then she starts secretly working for the CIA and with Fanon, whom she goes to see clandestinely on the deck of his boat in full view of everyone in town.
She has a love scene with Fanon--one of the most intensely awkward love scenes I've ever seen. Loren looks great and she seems really relaxed--probably because a vacation in Antigua was part of the job if not the job--but to say she and Coburn have no chemistry is like saying I'm probably never going to meet Joan of Arc. After the casino, he's in her room and offers to help her take off her earrings. "When I take off my earrings I go to bed," she says. Fanon laughs and leaves. Later, she enters his room, the music swells to hysterical levels as she removes her earrings with the passion of a gas station attendant cleaning a windscreen inter-cut with extreme close-ups of Coburn grinning like a hyena.
Things happen. There's a really awkward cameo by Jake LaMotta who answers a phone. I have to say Robert De Niro brilliantly captured LaMotta's completely lifeless performance style at the end of Raging Bull.
Stegner, the villain, is established as someone who's never seen--no-one knows what he looks like. At one point, we learn only two people in the world do, which to me doesn't sound particularly useful. What if one of those two people double-cross him, which of course happens? How's he supposed to keep his organisation together? This movie was credited to British director Michael Winner. I wonder if anyone on set knew what he looked like.
Twitter Sonnet #636
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