Tuesday, December 19, 2017


FOXBAT did not get a theatrical release in the US, alas (it premiered on TV), but I do remember seeing a poster for it in Variety back in 1977, which I would read at the library to learn about obscure independent and foreign films that I could then wait for in hope that they’d play in my area. The film belongs to that curious phenomenon of the Hong Kong-made western-style action film (meaning not a martial arts film) with an American star (another example being THE AMSTERDAM KILL with Robert Mitchum), meant to compete in the international market with both European crime films and American action films.

There are three American stars in FOXBAT, but the main one is surely the great HENRY SILVA, fresh off a series of excellent and internationally popular Italian crime films, bringing his usual jaded badass persona to the role of CIA agent Mike Saxon (!!!!)--now there’s a name that could exist only in the world of pulp male-fantasy spy fiction and/or films. A Soviet MIG 25 experimental fighter plane winds up in Northern Japan when its pilot pretends engine trouble to break out of the formation and try to defect by crash-landing in Japan. The Russians want the plane (and its errant pilot) back--the Japanese and their Western allies want to study the plane and interrogate the pilot. Silva uses such outrageous comic-book spy tactics as a hidden camera in a glass eye (had the makers of this film seen SPY IN YOUR EYE, the 60’s Eurospy film with Dana Andrews as a CIA man with a similar spy-eye?) and microfilm hidden in a cough drop.

The womanly charm in the film is provided by another spy, played by Vonetta McGee, whose impressive filmography includes everything from one of the finest Eurowesterns (THE GREAT SILENCE) to Clint Eastwood films (THE EIGER SANCTION) to urban action-crime films (HAMMER, DETROIT 9000) to REPO MAN!

The head of the CIA is played by Rik Van Nutter, whose second to last film this was (two years later he was in the Filipino WWII film PACIFIC INFERNO, starring Jim Brown). He’s best known for having been in the James Bond film THUNDERBALL (which no doubt got him this gig), but he’s already known to BTC readers for a film he made under his alternate moniker “Clyde Rogers,” the 60’s Italian historical adventure REVENGE OF IVANHOE, which Chris reviewed here in January 2016. Besides the Bond film, Van Nutter is also known for having been married to Anita Ekberg. I’ve always liked him, as he has both leading man looks and charm along with a sly, eye-winking humorous quality which suggests to the audience that he’s not taking things seriously and they don’t need to either.... (he even played Buffalo Bill once in a Eurowestern--as did Gordon Scott--which I’ve never seen called SEVEN HOURS OF GUNFIRE, which also features Austrian actor Adrian Hoven as Wild Bill Hickok!). He’s a bit older here than we’re used to seeing, and with his long graying hair he vaguely resembles the wrestler Ric Flair!

The film is full of subtle humorous details (often the particulars one finds in the rooms the characters are in), and when you add that to the non-stop action and double-crosses and Henry Silva’s star-power (and Vonetta McGee’s classy and seductive presence), FOXBAT is a must-see for the fan of 70’s off-shore action films.

The film also features a musical score by Roy Budd (of GET CARTER fame), after DIAMONDS and before THE WILD GEESE. While some online sources credit Terence Young as co-director, the film’s actual director (Po-Chih Leong) and other reputable sources state that Young was merely brought in as a script consultant, to tweak the dialogue and make it more like a European action/spy film, a genre Young knew well, and supposedly he contributed only a handful of lines. To drag in a few other interesting (I hope!) coincidences, Young was born in Shanghai, China, and directed THUNDERBALL. With THUNDERBALL alumni Rik Van Nutter and Terence Young both being involved in FOXBAT, I'm getting the idea someone on the production team was a big fan of that 1965 James Bond film (which, according to Wikipedia, is the most financially successful entry in the Bond franchise, when adjusted for inflation).

This kind of Asian action film has a very different tone from its American or British or European cousins. That unique feel adds another level of interest to FOXBAT. Any fan of Henry Silva or of films such as THE AMSTERDAM KILL will want to check it out.

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