Archive for February 5, 2019

A Small Town in Austria

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2019 by dcairns

Having gotten some interest out of LE MANS, I was interested to see more of director Lee H. Katzin’s work — Peter Nellhaus, via Facebook, commented “Katzin followed up with the reportedly incomprehensible spy movie, THE SALZBURG CONNECTION, killing any aspirations Anna Karina may have had of being an international movie star.”

Well, say the words “incomprehensible spy movie” and I am ON IT. In fact, I’d call this one merely garbled and narratively inefficient — you can work out easily what the MacGuffin is — they explain it, thereby destroying everybody’s chance of sympathy — and you can more or less tell who the goodies and baddies are. As usual with this kind of thing, a few surprises are attempted there.

Barry Newman is a lawyer gently press-ganged into undercover work for the CIA. Anna Karina is another innocent mixed up in the caper.

The MacGuffin, I guess I have to explain now, is a box full of details of Nazi collaborators’ IDs. It could be used by Israel for revenge or by other nations for blackmail — the Americans have employed and protected many war criminals, and they don’t want to wind up with the Russians, for example, pulling their strings. This is what our man in Salzburg, Barry Newman, is fighting for. I couldn’t exactly get worked up about whether he succeeded in protecting all those poor Nazis.

The film also suffers from a setting that seems uncinematic — Salzburg is undoubtedly beautiful, but the skies are grey and the place is small — it’d do for a visit in some globe-trotting Bondian romp, but to be stuck there for a whole film seems claustrophobic and limiting. And, shorn of exotic glamour, the film probably needed more edginess, a bit of sex and violence. The latter is all red paint, the former comes not from Anna Karina in a rather dowdy, downbeat role, but from Karen Jensen as a duplicitous honeytrap, brazenly coming on to Newman throughout, to lure him to a sticky demise. Unlike Eva Marie Saint’s fey faux-casual pick-up routine in NORTH BY NORTHWEST (comparably suspicious), Jensen plays it HORNY. DIRTY, even. The film threatens to come to life.

Among the action highlights are a slow car chase through orderly Austrian traffic and a punch-up between Karl Maria Brandauer and Udo Kier, which should give you some idea of the low octane character of the whole venture. On the other hand, a sequence with Karen Jensen trapped in a stairway is highly tense and cinematic, with a bit of Katzin’s extreme slomo on display when Jensen drops the cardboard tube full of evidence she’s carrying and it bounces downstairs, end over end, huge echoing CLUNKS on the soundtrack, revealing her position to her pursuer.

Hitchcock, of course, would have realized (after his British period, anyway), that such a sequence should never be assigned to a minor character. It has to be the hero or heroine in jeopardy.

Another bit of nifty technique, though: Katzin, perhaps alone of the feckless freezeframers of the seventies, is able to use stop-start motion PSYCHOLOGICALLY: the film pauses for a moment of shock, an adrenalin-surge felt by a character and transmitted, showily, to the audience. It’s pretty OK. But somehow the movie still feels like TV, perhaps because most of Katzin’s direction is fancy, decorative, rather than dramatic and emotional. And his tricks, the lens flare and the crash zooms and the freeze frames, had all found a home in telly. As had Barry Newman, or he was about to.

THE SALZBURG CONNECTION stars Anthony J. Petrocelli; Natacha Von Braun; Alfred Redl; Dr. Mabuse; Dr. Frank Mandel; Floyd Evenright; Professor Teenage Frankenstein and the Wiener Spatzen Boys’ Choir as itself.

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