Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Revenge Is My Destiny (1971)

And then there was the time I stabbed myself in the eye.  I was prying the top hinge cap off a refrigerator with a flat screwdriver when the driver slipped off the cap, slid right past my glasses, and jammed straight into my eye.  If you have ever met me, I bet you couldn’t tell which one it is could you?  That’s because I didn’t lose the eye, thankfully; just put a nice ding in it (unlike proto-Snake-Plissken Ross Archer [Christopher Robinson] in Joseph Adler’s Revenge Is My Destiny).  My optometrist gave me eye drops.  Hooray.  

Those who do manual labor on a regular basis can attest to the myriad injuries (minor and not-so-minor) that one can and will incur no matter how careful one is, leaving one with a certain stunned stoicism immediately afterward (“well, that happened”).  The question then becomes, “do I go to the ER for this one?”  My general rule of thumb is, unless I stand to die and/or lose an appendage, that’s not necessary.  Many is the time I’ve had to wrap gashed open knuckles with about a half roll of paper towels and electrical tape to get the wound to seal and prevent me from bleeding out all over a person’s appliance.  The judicious application of hydrogen peroxide and a well-stocked bandage supply carry the rest of the day.  I don’t think this necessarily makes me a hard ass (I think I’m quite the opposite), but maybe it’s somewhat hereditary.  One of my brothers has been known to stitch himself up after rugby injuries and even took a Dremel to his teeth to make them flat across (don’t ask).  Then again, maybe this aversion is all born out of fear.  After all, you know what you have with a limb split open at home.  You never know what the hell will happen to you in a hospital (especially our local one, but that’s a whole other issue).

After having it out with some Viet Cong, Ross is injured by mortar fire and captured (we get to see up to the injury portion in the prologue).  One year later he returns home, a newly-eyepatched man, only to find his wife Angela (Elisa Ingram) gone and go-go dancer Ellie (Patricia Rainier) taking up her space in his houseboat (which is more like just a boat on which Ross happens to live).  Driven by a burning hatred, Ross scours the Florida underbelly and begins to turn up much more than he anticipated.

Like so many movies that came out in the wake of disillusionment that ended the Sixties, Adler’s is also about the damage done by war generally and the atrocities of the Vietnam War specifically.  The VC at the film’s open have no problems shelling peasants, clearly marking them in cinematic terms as bad guys.  However, the tables are turned and evened in short order when Ross drowns an enemy combatant only to discover it was a woman.  For when this film was produced, I’m sure this twist was pretty shocking, and it is certainly emphasized to the audience in the dramatic use of music.  Seconds later, Ross is injured.  He is punished not only for killing a woman (in a time of war, granted) but also for partaking in the war in the first place, and the two together make him worthy of being sanctioned.  

Once back in America Ross is still filled with hate, only now it’s aimed at his wife who, from what we’re told, basically just dropped off the face of the Earth while Ross was in a POW camp (the VC woman is a stand-in for Angela and Ross’s subconscious [and conscious] desire to hurt her).  The loss of his eye is the physical toll of his choices, but the scars of war travel deeper in Ross.  We get the distinct impression he was something of a prick even before Vietnam.  His experiences overseas didn’t change him so much as augment him.  It is the actions he takes pursuing his wife which will determine the arc of his destiny.  These two, in fact, have a strong love/hate relationship, and this is what draws them to each other (“Can I get in touch with you?”  “You’re just begging me to break your neck, aren’t you?”).  This is also why Ross may have a tryst with Ellie, but he can never have a long term relationship with her.  She’s too nice.  There’s nothing about her to hate, so the hate Ross would need in order to love her would never be sustainable.  

The search for Angela is Ross’ search for completion.  They are two halves of a whole, both of which are kind of shitty.  This is highlighted in the beach footage.  Early on, we see Ross in silhouette running into golden surf.  Later, Ross and Angela are shown at a beach from the same angle, only now it is at night.  Later still, Ross and Angela’s story will come full circle, and this will also occur on a moonlit beach.  Water as a rebirth motif is strong in the film.  Ross wants to wash away what he was before he came back from Vietnam (especially the “sin” he committed against the VC woman despite this being something Ross craved at that moment), though it’s pure yearning at this point.  His relationship with Angela is reborn at the ocean.  His fate is resolved at the ocean.  He lives on a boat, and he wants to find himself abroad, wandering the ocean.  Sonny Crockett could probably learn a thing or two from Ross Archer.

All that said, I think the film is mistitled, quite frankly.  Revenge in Revenge Is My Destiny is not focused on strenuously.  If anything, this is a gritty, pulp action story, straight out of a men’s adventure magazine.  There are convolutions on top of convolutions in the plotting.  They do connect up by the end, but the route they take to do so is circuitous.  The script is something to which I think Ellroy, Lansdale, Thompson, or Westlake would be proud to have their name attached.  Oh, it has its share of problems.  There is the facility of low budget filmmaking that spans plot holes for the sake of putting film in the can and footage on the screen, most noticeable in the fact that it feels a lot like two film plots pushed together.  The pacing could be tightened up some.  But there is a charm at work here, and there are some decent action scenes that give a nice dose of value to the production.  Part of me is surprised to not hear this film discussed more among crime and cult movie circles, and that’s a shame because it certainly warrants some attention.  Hopefully this little review will help get it some.  Okay, even I laughed at that one a little bit.

MVT:  The film has an unassuming, forthright attitude which fits it like a new pair of lifting gloves.  This is stripped down, almost raw storytelling which isn’t hurt by its shortcomings; it is enhanced by them, in my opinion.

Make Or Break:  The opening scene in Vietnam is impressive.  It clearly was made on the cheap, but the action has a nice sense of scale, and it is blocked out solidly, so we know what is happening at all times.    Lots of films from this era and of this ilk don’t even give you that much.

Score:  6.75/10                    

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