Monday 29 November 2021

Movie Review: Puppet On A Chain (1970)

A hard-hitting thriller, Puppet On A Chain investigates the illegal drug trade with an impressive combination of action, conspiracy, and cold-blooded murder.

After three drug traffickers are murdered near Los Angeles, US Special Agent Paul Sherman (Sven-Bertil Taube) heads to Amsterdam, the European hub of drug activity. The Interpol's Jimmy Duclos is murdered while awaiting Sherman at the airport. Amsterdam's Chief of Police De Graaf (Alexander Knox) is not too pleased to have an American agent on his turf, but Inspector Van Gelder (Patrick Allen) is more welcoming.

Sherman connects with undercover agent Maggie (Barbara Parkins), and they start exposing a heroin cartel centred on businessman Morgenstern's warehouse and a local church run by the priest Meegeren. Sherman also encounters the murdered Duclos' acquaintance Astrid Lemay (Ania Marson) and her addicted brother, as well as Van Gelder's child-like niece Trudi, whose brain was severely damaged by drugs. With Sherman's investigation triggering gruesome murders, he still has to uncover the shipment methods and criminal masterminds.

An intriguing gimmick-free variation on Bond-type escapades, Puppet On A Chain adapts an Alistair MacLean novel with the author contributing to the script. The film is directed by Geoffrey Reeve with an eye for dour efficiency mixed with scenic Dutch locations. But Don Sharp is the credited director for a quite magnificent boat chase sequence on the Amsterdam canal system, a stunningly executed eight minute highlight setting new standards for breathtaking aquatic action.

Leading up to that climax is a dense but coherent plot propelled by a muscular synth-dominated Piero Piccioni music score. The drug trafficking business is exposed as a labyrinth of criminals and insiders hiding behind facades of respectability, using elaborate open-sea drops for import then everyday items to export heroin far and wide. The details are imaginative, and include drug couriers disguised as nuns and heroin hidden in innocuous items for ease of transportation.

Also impressive is a streak of no-nonsense violence bordering on brief moments of terror. The bad guys convey threats through creepy means, and when it's time to eliminate nosy intruders, death is swift and at times horrifying. 

Swedish leading man Sven-Bertil Taube, better known as a singer, melds Roger Moore looks and George Lazenby stiffness into a serviceable contribution. The Paul Sherman character is more purposefully intense than charismatic, and Taube cuts through the action with a grim businesslike demeanour but also absorbs his fair share of punishment.

Puppet On A Chain remains impressively unpredictable and serves up a couple of late and decent twists. With immense profits at stake, holy smoke is just one way to conceal criminality.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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