Tuesday, March 29, 2011


In an age in which accomplished Hollywood actors are more than happy to do TV, it can be hard to remember that things weren’t always this way. Back in the 1980s, if you were a successful movie actor, making the transition to TV was the kiss of death for your career, the thing you only did when all other avenues were closed. Only the callow, the desperate and the washed up considered it.

And made-for-TV movies? That was the most ignominious humiliation of all.

Other than doing a sequel to a made-for-TV movie, that is.

Which brings us to our final AndressFest ’11 film, 1989’s extravagantly-titled ‘Man Against The Mob: The Chinatown Murders’.

Detective Frank Doakey (George Peppard) is an honest cop who is assigned to investigate the murder of a bum on the Los Angeles docks. But as he delves further into the case, more bodies start to appear, including a couple of beautiful young Chinese girls. The people in Chinatown refuse to answer his questions, but Doakey is persistent and slowly uncovers a conspiracy of sex trafficking, crooked cops, mafia hits and, of course, Ursula Andress’ acting.

Ursula plays Betty Starr, an evil nightclub owner, and gets three costumes, three scenes, and a chance to catch up with George Peppard, with whom she starred in the 1966 war epic ‘The Blue Max’. Ursula puts in a serviceable performance, but it’s clear that both she and the producers of ‘The Chinatown Murders’ are coasting. She makes no attempt to give a character named Betty Starr an American accent, and the scriptwriters didn’t bother to change the name to something better suited to her teutonic vowels. And just because it’s supposed to be the late 1940s doesn’t mean that Ursula has to change the hairstyle that’s served her well for twenty years. After all, it’s only TV, dahling.

Despite all this, the funny thing about ‘The Chinatown Murders’ is that it’s actually an engaging little movie. Some of the supporting characters are miscast, and the sets betray the budget mindset of the TV movie, but it’s a well-crafted story and the film snaps along at a good pace. George Peppard, especially, plays his role with aplomb that the rest of the cast can’t quite match. Frankly many of them have more determination than talent, but hey, that’s the world of the TV movie. Ursula works quite well when she’s flirting and delivering veiled threats with Doakey, but I’ve seen more convincing death scenes from little kids forced to eat brussel sprouts.

The other flaw in hiring elderly, washed up actors is that they tend to have let themselves go. Ursula was still in good shape, but her male co-stars had clearly not been hitting the gym to more accurately play tough 1940s policemen.

Here’s a little gallery I like to call ‘Great Straining Beltlines of The Chinatown Murders’:

A few more sit-ups and a few less pies would have made a big difference. But meh… it’s only TV.


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