Thursday, 27 May 2021

The Fakers/Smashing The Crime Syndicate/Hell's Bloody Devils


Double Fake

The Fakers/
Smashing The Crime Syndicate

USA 1968 Directed by Al Adamson

Hell's Bloody Devils
USA 1970 Directed by Al Adamson
Severin Blu Ray Zone A/B/C

As part of Severin’s Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection Blu Ray set

Okay, so this is another movie which shows just how badly the IMDB is able to cope with the marketing mind of director Al Adamson. If you look up any of the titles of this movie on the IMDB, you’ll come back to the same entry for the film under its Smashing The Crime Syndicate title but the film it’s describing is not that version of the film, instead it’s talking about the Hell’s Bloody Devils version of the movie only and the original version of this film, lovingly restored along with a whole host of others on Severin’s Blu Ray boxed edition, is not listed properly on the IMDB at all. I’ve really come to distrust the popular film database a whole lot more over the last few months.

Once more, this is one of those films which Adamson tried to release in its original form and then shot some extra footage in an attempt to turn it into a completely different kind of movie. If you look at the trailer for Hell’s Bloody Devils you’ll find a biker movie lensed by ‘the man who shot Easy Rider”. And, I’ll get into that on the second part of this review.

So the print of the first film that Severin have managed to assemble for this set has the same title sequence for Smashing The Crime Syndicate but it’s the full version of the movie (the version released to television under that title was, originally, slightly trimmed). The film starts off with a simple animated title sequence of blocky line drawings of a dancing naked woman, swastikas, the star of David, a hammer & sickle and a US banknote... while all the while, a lady named Debbie Stuart sings an absolute belter of a song composed by Nelson Riddle called The Fakers. And, don’t ask me how Adamson convinced Riddle to do the title song because... I just don’t know. The rest of the score is by Don McGinnis but, it’s not really a full score, as such, rather than an absolutely kick-ass musical cue which wouldn’t sound amiss in many a James Bond spoof or spin off (which is what the film is really trying to be, truth be told). It’s played over and over again throughout the film and it’s got an absolutely addictive melody, it has to be said (I’m going to be humming this thing for weeks). All in all, the whole film comes across as kind of a ‘fifth Matt Helm’ film in vibes, although it’s way more serious in tone, more like one of the Donald Hamilton novels from which that series took its ‘inspiration’.

The film starts with the hero of the piece, Mark Adams played by John Gabriel, who is being driven to his death by two hired goons. He manages to throw the car off course and roll free, sending it over the edge of a cliff with the two goons inside (I’m not one hundred percent certain that this is the same footage as the exploding car from Blood Of Dracula’s Castle, reviewed here, but I’m not sure it isn’t either, if you see what I mean). When he wakes up in hospital, he starts telling us in voice over how ‘it all began’ and how he got into this mess. Mark has been working for a ‘crime syndicate’ in Florida for the past five years and his boss asks him to investigate a fake money scheme, under the pretense of buying some counterfeit plates belonging to the New Nazi Order and there are various action shenanigans as various parties try to get possession of the plates, controlled by the film’s main bad guy Count Otto Von Delberg, played by Kent Taylor. Various ladies and henchmen are thrown into the mix including Adamson regular Vicki Volante as Delberg’s girlfriend, who it turns out is really an undercover Israeli secret agent trying to track down a Nazi war criminal who killed her family in a concentration camp (of course, surprising nobody in the audience, it later turns out that the Count is, in fact, the person she’s after).

And talking of undercover, this appears to be a theme because, although Mark tells the audience he’s a mob guy, right until the last 20 minutes of the movie when the narrative catches up to the opening sequence, he’s in fact a CIA man who has been in deep undercover with the mob and is really trying to find the plates for his real boss, the film’s big named star, played by Broderick Crawford.

And there’s lots of action, a funny sequence or two with John Carradine turning up as a pet store owner who’s really an information funnel to Mark’s CIA friends and, later, the character even has an exploding pen which really helps tip the audience off that this film is definitely going for that James Bond box office (as if we didn’t know it already). I’ve no doubt that, had the film found any kind of success, this would have been the first in a number of Mark Adams adventures and, frankly, that would have been alright by me. John Gabriel makes a fine, dashing lead and the film is... well it’s not great and looks cheap (and once again in an Adamson movie, has a whole chase sequence shot in Florida’s Marineland, without the knowledge of all the visitors that day, by the looks of it) but I rather quite enjoyed it and could probably watch it again as part of an all nighter without complaint.

A special highlight of the film is when the suave, sophisticated Mark Adams takes one of his lady friends out to dinner and, frankly, he’s obviously the victim of some ‘fast buck’ product placement because, oh yes, he takes her to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Quality. And guess who turns up as their ‘waiter’? Colonel Sanders. That’s right, the founder of KFC, Harland Sanders, turns up in this movie looking exactly like his brand logo and reminding the characters how delicious his chicken is. I’m really pleased that stuff like this just pops up to surprise me in the movies and I’m sure whatever he was paying helped pay for somebody’s wages here. I’m not sure how he would have felt about also turning up in a biker movie (I’m coming to it, give me a minute or two) but, yeah, anyway, he’s in here.

Another nice moment... and I had to watch out for it again when I watched Hell’s Bloody Devils to make sure I saw it, is when a fly lands on the jacket of one of the actors and scuttles into his breast pocket, never to be seen again. I don’t know what he was keeping down there but it was obviously a very attractive proposition for the insect. I’d like to liken this moment to the ‘fly in Belloq’s mouth’ scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark or one of those shooting stars Spielberg sometimes manages to luckily catch in his movies but... yeah... I’m not going to risk my credibility as a card carrying movie watcher here by doing that, eh?

Once again, every now and again there’s a really nice shot or two which shows a real flair for how the frame looks (if only Adamson had some money to chuck at it). There’s a really wonderful shot inside an indoor car park where the left and right of a screen is dominated by three big vertical columns and the action, where Mark gets beaten up by one of the factions looking for the plates, takes place in the vertical slash between two of the columns. Alas, this master shot isn’t held and it cuts to closer but it’s a nice bit of cinematography while it lasts. There’s also a nice shot of a woman’s face in profile seen through the spinning reel of a projector in one scene and, once again for the director, a few nice things done with mirrors and the use of vertical blocks chopped up to frame people in, on occasion. Actually, some of this stuff seems to be a signature of the director and, since he has a young, not yet famous László Kovács as one of the cinematographers on this picture, I have to ask myself how much of this is down to Adamson and how much to Kovács. That being said, some of these visual tropes were also present in some of the films I’ve seen by him where he used the, again not yet famous, Vilmos Zsigmond as the cameraman so, yeah, maybe it was Adamson after all.

Anyway, by the end of the picture, almost every regular character is dead and Mark saves the day with an exploding pen hidden in a briefcase full of money, which the villains take on board their helicopter. All’s well, film’s over, job done.

Except... that’s not always the case with Adamson, is it?

 I don’t think he could get cinematic distribution on this thing and so, the film was released two years later in a typical Adamson patch job version. Oh yes, it’s now Hell’s Bloody Devils and it’s a motorbike gang movie. At least, that’s what you would be expecting if you went to see this film after seeing the trailer. And so the film starts off with one of a few ‘all new’ insert scenes of a motorcycle gang being busted for drugs in a garage. And, it’s authentic too because, reportedly, the extras he hired to make up the bulk of the gang were pretty much what they were playing on screen and Adamson just kept the cameras rolling as the cops busted the gang for real on the shoot. Which kinda rings true because, oh yes, this scene has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie. But then again, the other scenes where another Adamson regular, Robert Dix, is playing the leader of the gang, have barely any glue in them to link them to any other scene of the movie either, which is basically The Fakers/Smashing The Crime Syndicate, with about 20 minutes removed to make way for the 15 minutes or so of biker gang ‘sub plot’ (and I use that term loosely). We then see them chain whipping two guys to death for ‘messing with their buddies’ and, yeah, none of this is really ringing true to anything like a conceivable plot thread.

We then get in to the titles which, is pretty much recycled, animated naked woman pieces from the original sequence but with the absence of the swastikas, star of David and communist symbols... these have been replaced by jarring inserts of motorbikes. Except, we’ve still got Debbie Stuart singing The Fakers on the credits and the film still uses the same music... with some of the added and mostly slight motorcycle scenes including the ‘main spy theme’ too. Great and inappropriate stuff.

To try and give it all some cohesion, Adamson has got Vicki Volante back to be meeting the motorcycle gang to give them their regular pay offs since, it turns out, they’re working for the Count. However, at no time could I catch what they actually do for him other than ride around on their motorcycles and picking up the occasional biker chicks for a soft focus, barely censorable sex scene. I mean, yeah, some of the shots of them in the brief ‘bikes on a road going fast’ scenes are nice but, um, pretty pointless in the context of the film as a whole.

Similarly, there’s a scene where Mark Adams leaves his apartment and, from out of nowhere, we have a very short insert moment where the back of an actor in a suit, who we are supposed to assume is Adams, is beaten up by the bike gang leader because... well, for no apparent reason to the plot that I could work out, Although it certainly serves a purpose in a way because this was obviously spliced in to try to explain to the audience why Adam’s face is covered in bruises in the next scene... the real reason being that an extended fight scene on a boat between Adams and another member of the mob has taken place but was cut out for this version of the film. Incidentally, Adams uses an exploding pen gadget on the other guy when he drops him in the water to finish him off in that cut scene and that’s important because...

Well, because, in another insert scene where Vicki Volante goes to meet a CIA member who is not in any other part of the movie, she is given an electronic bug and a red, exploding pen to give to Mark when she sees him next. Which is, of course, a less than subtle and blatantly ridiculous way to try and explain the ending sequence away but which, at the same time, really screws things up because, in the next insert scene, where Vicki is trying to escape from the biker gang who Adamson now needs to have exit the film so he can punch through to the original ending, she uses it on them and they are caught in the exploding blast. So, honestly, the scene which was put in to mask the cut scene of the speedboat fight and keep continuity with the end game is actually now contradicting itself because, how in heck does Adams get the pen he uses at the end of the picture if it’s already been exploded? In the original version he obviously had a supply of them. What is going on here? I’d be more vocal but there are already scenes in this now where actors in scenes from the original cut refer to scenes which have already been removed from this version and, therefore, already make no sense to a viewer who’s not seen the earlier cut (which, up until this Blu Ray release, would probably have been very few people). But, you know, he does keep the Colonel Sanders cameo in this version of the movie too, in case you were worrying about that. It’s ‘finger licking good’ that he somehow made his way into a pseudo-biker movie, if you ask me.

And that’s me just about done for on The Fakers... er... Smashing The Crime Syndicate... er... Hell’s Bloody Devils. I think the latter version of the movie is absolutely terrible and a much worse version of the movie than the one Adamson couldn’t get cinema distribution for... so I may well revisit Smashing The Crime Syndicate but I’m not sure I could ever go for Hell’s Bloody Devils again. That’s not really a recommendation there folks... unless you have the kind of curiosity of one of those people who stop to look at a road accident, of course. Either way... I really liked the original cut of the movie, for sure. Next up in the set is a new transfer of Adamson’s Dracula VS Frankenstein which I shall enjoy, no doubt but which I’ve already reviewed in a DVD version from Cheezy Flicks around 11 years ago. You can read my review of that one here before I get onto more Al Adamson goodness sometime soon.

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