Drugs, and Mafia, and Undercover Cops, oh boy
Fairly straight cop 'n crime drama set in the mafia controlled heroin trade in the late sixties. After a prominent arrest, a couple key players disappear into the woodwork. The authorities track down the lesser - Stacey Woodward, a former mistress of the arrested mafioso. At an opportune moment, agent Sol Madrid uses her to help arrange a deal in Mexico with the drug lord Emil Dietrich, who supplies the heroin. The other missing character is Harry Mitchell, and he is staying with Dietrich. Hot to kill both of these disappeared folk is the New York mafia, but most especially Dano Villanova, who we met being arrested earlier.
Madrid is portrayed as the very soul of competence. He's at least two steps ahead of his own game, if not always the chaotic world around him. The movie makes a big deal about following vs. not following the rules in the pursuit of the bad guys. As an agent in the field who has to entertain us - meaning a certain amount of unpredictability - Mr. Madrid is therefore on the side of breaking the rules.
The story plays out without huge surprises. It seems shallow compared to more recent portrayals of the drug trade and the mafia. There some depth to the characters here, but they don't go beyond a bare first draft interpretation - the movie lives primarily for the plot.
Being shot in the late sixties makes for an interesting viewpoint. Drug use and addiction are interchangable here. The hallucinatory special effects to simulate heroin is particularly dating. The best portrayal of hallucination from this period that I've come across is still the episode "A, B, and C" from The Prisoner.
Telly Savalas is perfect as the suave Dietrich, but everyone else seems to be overplaying their role. I'm not sure exactly why this is true, but I am liable to put it on the direction, as many of these actors have gone on to long and varied careers - several, such as Rip Torn and Ricardo Montelban being quite well known. Actually, I'll say Montelban does a good job, but his character is peripheral and doesn't have any depth.
There's nothing here we haven't seen before, and nothing that hasn't been done better. Throw in a plot without much imagination and the largely atrocious acting, and there's nothing left to recommend this film.
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