Tuesday 7 September 2021

Movie Review: Cabo Blanco (1980)

A mystery thriller, Cabo Blanco (also presented as Caboblanco) offers decent ideas but never comes close to recreating the coveted Casablanca vibe.

It's 1948 in the coastal Peruvian town of Cabo Blanco. American fugitive Gifford "Giff" Hoyt (Charles Bronson) operates the town's hotel and bar, the local authorities are represented by the corrupt Captain Terredo (Fernando Rey), while reclusive and wealthy Nazi official Gunther Beckdorff (Jason Robards) wields his influence from a hilltop mansion. Off shore, a British intelligence ship encounters sabotage while searching for the wreck of the Brittany, which sank with a cargo of Nazi treasure worth millions.

Mysterious French woman Marie Claire Allesandri (Dominique Sanda) arrives in town to inquire about her lover, a French wartime resistance fighter who may have uncovered the wreck's location. British agent Lewis Clarkson (Simon MacCorkindale) comes ashore to investigate the sabotage. Marie and Gunther start to suspect Giff may know the secret of the coveted coordinates, but he's not telling.

From the title to the setting and the collection of characters, Cabo Blanco does not try to hide it's source of inspiration. The elements may be familiar and promising, but the script by Morton S. Fine and Milton S. Gelman is clunky and often logic-challenged. J. Lee Thompson directs with general disinterest and the production design struggles to convey the 1940s, with Bronson's wardrobe and mannerisms stubbornly holding onto the 1970s.

Some scenes and actions are simply confounding. Mysterious murderous divers appear twice but the killings are never properly explained, since no one appears to have yet discovered the location of the Brittany. Clarkson goes on an ill-advised solo exploration of Beckdorff's compound, a misadventure made more puzzling by Giff's sudden appearance and intervention out of nowhere. Dominique Sanda is asked to either climb or descend the stairs every 15 minutes, an appropriate representation of a character who does not know whether she is coming or going. In fact, it's never clear what leverage Marie has over any of the men she tries to negotiate with. 

A good chunk of the final third is occupied with Bronson making fools out of Captain Terredo's men, doubtless to satisfy the star's action-demanding fans. But after all the cheap running around, the climax is decent, Thompson finally conjuring up a rain-soaked mood as the principals convene for a final showdown. A parrot and a gargoylian jukebox are pressed into service, but alas, without the talent to start a beautiful friendship.

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