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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Mystery > Salamander (Thriller)

The Salamander


Picture: C     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Film: C+



Sir Lew Grade and ITC did anything they could to put out thrillers with international casts, but that did not mean they always worked.  One that did not work as much as it might have is the major directorial effort of editor Peter Zinner called The Salamander (1981).  When James Bond editor Peter Hunt directed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, reviewed elsewhere on this site), it did not do well initially, but is now recognized as one of the series best.  Grade was obviously hoping for a repeat critically here.


Dante (Franco Nero) is out to solve what apparently is an assassination and the killer left a calling card familiar to authorities, with a picture of the title creature on it.  He interviews as many people as he can to get to the bottom of the case, sometimes putting himself in jeopardy.  Those playing suspects include Eli Wallach, Claudia Cardinale, Anthony Quinn, and Christopher Lee.  Cleavon Little and Martin Balsam also star.


This is never a serious political piece, it is not the kind of strong Mystery film it could have been ala Agatha Christie, it is not a great thriller, it is not a major action piece either.  Instead, it is trying to be a little of all of these, but never develops into something we have not seen before.  Several action sequences are cut short.  All in all, the screenplay by Robert Katz, based on the Morris West book, is too busy trying to be respectable to move.  To show the age of the material, the film credits note that Rod Serling did a story treatment in between the book and screenplay.  He died in 1975, so some of this had been sitting around for a while.


The performances are not a problem either, with Zinner trying to make a good picture, but the end-result is a curio that never gets off the ground.  The Salamander is worth a look if you are a fan of any of the stars or curios to see a classy product that should have went further.


The letterboxed 1.85 X 1 image is on the soft side, despite the clean print and color consistent transfer.  Too bad those colors are offset by the softness.  Cinematographer Marcello Gatti delivers the kind of “High Euro” look ITC offered in their feature film and TV thrillers (Return Of The Saint).  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono fares a little better, but the age of everything is obvious.  Extras include a trailer, very long interview with Nero, stills section, biography, and exceptionally good audio commentary by Zinner.   The latter shows how ambitious this was.  The Salamander at least tries to work, something most Hollywood mega productions are preoccupied with digital effects than story, even though it does not ultimately succeed.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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