(director: Sam Peckinpah; screenwriter: Marc Norman/Stirling Silliphant/novel “Monkey in the Middle” by Robert Rostand; cinematographer: Phil Lathrop; editors: MonteHellman/Tony De Zarraga; music: Jerry Fielding; cast: James Caan (Mike Locken), Robert Duvall (George Hansen), Arthur Hill (Cap Collis), Gig Young (Laurence Weyburn), Bo Hopkins (Jerome Miller), Burt Young (Mac), Tom Clancy (O’Leary), Mako (Yuen Chung), Tiana Alexandra (Tommie), Katy Heflin (Amy), Sondra Blake (Josephine), Tom Bush (Sam the Mechanic); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Martin Baum/Arthur Lewis; United Artists; 1975)

“Solid action pic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sam Peckinpah (“Straw Dogs”/”Ride the High Country”/”Major Dundee”)directs with his usual verve for violence this solid action pic, that features a number of well-executed action set pieces. They include an escape from a burning building in San Francisco by a team of corporate spy agents with a client in tow, who is in the witness protection program; an act of betrayal at a hideout location that has one mercenary agent turn on the other; an explosive Chinatown shoot-out; a dockland siege; and the uniformed army of sword-wielding ninja assassins fighting the three good-guy mercenaries in the climax aboard one of the Navy’s mothballed warships, where the fleet is docked at the San Francisco harbor.

It’s based on thenovel “Monkey in the Middle” by Robert Rostand(whose real name is Robert Syd Hopkins).Writers Marc Norman and Stirling Silliphant turn in your standard commercial thriller screenplay. The convoluted plot is enhanced greatly by Peckinpah’s gritty direction–though it could of and should have been more exciting. The film’s cynical message is don’t trust anyone because even your best friends might sell-out and betray you for money. Also the CIA is mocked as pretending that they do not have an assassination unit, but in secret are hiring out private contractors to do its dirty work.

Tough guy ladies man Mike Locken (James Caan) is a mercenary CIA-like security agent employed by the shadowy organization Com Teg, run by the mysterious Laurence Weyburn (Gig Young) and under him is the ambitious field boss Cap Collis (Arthur Hill). The company receives payments from the CIA to do jobs it is not sanctioned to do. Mike’s partner and best friend George Hansen (Robert Duvall) turns out to be a double-crosser who leaves him for a cripple, after he was richly bought off to go over to the other side. With one bullet placed in his kneecap and another in his elbow, Mike is lucky to survive. Bent on revenge, Mike works hard to rehab so he can walk again with the aid of a cane and he also diligently works-out in martial arts. Mike’s lured out of retirement by the unreliable Collis when there’s a failed attempt at the San Francisco airport by Japanese ninjas to assassinate Yuen Chung (Mako), an anti-Communist Chinese political leader. Mike is further told that the backup hit men team at the airport were Hansen and an associate named Hamilton.

Mike recruits for $500 a day a team of trigger-happy sharpshooter Jerome Miller (Bo Hopkins) and loyal wheel-man Mac (Burt Young), and the trio in a straightforward action-packed manner aim to take down the baddies while protecting their idealistic political client.