Released by: Kino Studio Classics Released on: January 3rd, 2017. Director: Ken Hughes Cast: James Coburn, Lee Grant, Harry Andrews, Ian Hendry, Keenan Wynn Year: 1974 Purchase From Amazon
It doesn't get more "cool 70's" than 1974's political style thriller THE INTERNECINE PROJECT. The trappings are all there - suave clothes, high class booze downed in virtually every scene and ladies and gents who's idea of going casual is undoing one button on a suit or taking your shoes off when you get to the five star hotel. Then there's all that nifty period gadgetry - boxy rotary phones, James Bond style gizmos like a radio controlled "high frequency death box" that would've induced uncontrollable delight in Dr. No and all manner of sketchy but impressive sounding economic and psychological theories spouted by various characters. This one's vibe is delightfully strong - and for an unabashed 70's junkie like myself that is excellent news.
The suave (that word again!) James Coburn stars as the unscrupulous Robert Elliot, a former secret agent and spymaster who's just received word from wealthy associate and shady business magnate/energy tycoon E.J. Farnsworth (Keenan Wynn) that he's going to offered a high-ranking position as an economic adviser to the president of the USA. There's one big problem though - Robert's former associates in his tightly knit five person spying operation have some nasty dirt on him that could wreck his new ambitions. Word comes down quickly from Farnsworth - get rid of the problem fast. And there's one further spanner in the works - a crusading lady journalist (Lee Grant) who's been digging for dirt while simultaneously involved in a messy on again off again sexual relationship with Robert.
Robert Elliot's solution to all this is highly unusual but brilliant and utterly amoral: contact each former member of his circle and through either direct threat or subtle manipulation, make them kill one of the other three - barring the lady journalist.
Those four targets are played by an excellent cast of supporting actors: Ian Hendry as dissolute and twitchy Alex who has dealt in dirty cash and bribes, corrupt scientist David (Michael Jayston), who works on gadgets that kill, and two intelligence gatherers - high end call girl Christina (Christiane Krüger), who surreptitiously films and audio tapes her rich and powerful clientele and men's masseuse and cat lover Albert (Harry Andrews), who also takes notes when overhears confidential info. Andrews character is also a virulent misogynist - something Robert cannily exploits.
THE INTERNECINE PROJECT is bit daft plotwise (why doesn't Robert just stealthily handle all this himself?), but that's the fun of the film. This is a tightly structured exercise where we spend the first half lining up the dominoes and the second half watching them get knocked down. What's even more amazing is that that final section mostly involves Robert in a hotel room waiting for phone ring signals (where he doesn't even answer) as he ticks off the various moves going down on a crib sheet. All while gulping some premium scotch and brandy of course. And the final resolution of all this is outstanding. It's been a while since I've been as genuinely entertained by a film's ending.
Kino's 1.78:1 framed 1080p AVC encoded transfer won't be winning any A/V awards but it's a definite step up from the DVD. The biggest issue with the film is that it was shot very soft and even with some filtering. You'll notice right away, for instance, that shots of actress Lee Grant often look like they were taken through a gauze filter (oh the vanity!). The other issue is that this is a naturally very grainy film, and to Kino's credit, they've left it organic and avoided the use of DNR and de-noising tools. The upshot of all this? There's little to be found in the realm of sharp detail BUT the transfer maintains a natural look and has far better color reproduction than the greenish DVD. Fine detail also does make the occasional appearance such as the hairs on white lab mice and black levels are solid. This is a transfer that may be appear to be midline quality - but it is faithful to the original elements.
The audio track is an unremarkable DTS-HD MA 2.0 that reveals its source limitations in the occasional shrillness that manifests itself in the upper audio register. And some of the sound FX seem to have been dubbed in, giving the track a sometimes artificial feel. All dialog is clear though, and the track is well-balanced. Much like the video, this is a case of "it's natural and as good as possible considering the circumstances".
Aside from a few other Kino trailers, the only extra is an interesting interview with screenwriter Jonathan Lynn ported over from the DVD. Lynn has some fun stories about star Coburn and talks candidly about what he perceives as the film's flaws and it's potential as a remake. He also sounds a fair amount of time detailing the project's genesis and how he came to write the script. Beware however - this chat is positively loaded with spoilers. Definitely not to be watched before the film!
The Final Word:
THE INTERNECINE PROJECT is hardly essential, but it's nevertheless an entertaining slice of 70's entertainment. There's a great deal for die-hard lovers of the polyester decade to enjoy - from Coburn's Rico Suave act to the groovy scenery and terrific period vibe. It's also pretty intricately plotted and has a bang-up conclusion. Kino's disc is a nice upgrade from the DVD as well.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!