Tuesday, April 28, 2015

You Can't Win 'Em All (1970)

A forgotten film from a forgotten director.  Peter Collinson was a British director who, for a brief period in the late sixties and early seventies, feted as the 'next big thing'.  However, he had the misfortune to come to prominence just as the British film industry went into terminal decline and his career rather petered out, until his untimely death from cancer in 1980 at the age of 44.  His best known film undoubtedly remains 1969's Italian Job, the success of which seemed to have established him as the pre-eminent new British director of action films.  You Can't Win 'Em All, his next film, looks as if it should have cemented his reputation: two major Hollywood stars, exotic Turkish locations, big budget and all action plot.  For some reason, though, it is now pretty much forgotten, even by fans of stars Tony Curtis and Charles Bronson - it's never shown on TV and unavailable on DVD, (there was a VHS release many, many years ago).  A film I'd been chasing for years - some of the plot synopses I'd read for it were intriguing - I'd begun to suspect that it must be some kind of disastrous dud. 

Having finally managed to track You Can't Win 'Em All down, I can honestly say that it certainly isn't a dud.  Like The Italian Job, it is a slickly made film with excellently staged set pieces, including a spectacular battle sequence, (involving some of the replica WWI biplanes from The Blue Max and numerous other war movies of the era), a train sequence and even a maritime battle.  As in the earlier film, Collinson makes good use of his locations and elicits entertaining performances from his leads: Curtis is his usual charismatic self, whilst Bronson gives - by his standards, at least - a light hearted performance, (he might even smile, but it's hard to tell).  The plot, as is standard in such 'buddy' action pictures, involves Curtis and Bronson as duelling rival mercenaries in 1922 Turkey, during the war between Ataturk's Turkish Nationalists - who were attempting to establish the modern Turkish republic - and the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and its Greek allies (the Greeks had invaded Anatolia to protect the large indigenous Greek population there from the Turkish nationalists).  Cross and double cross ensue as the two team up to carry out a mission for a local Ottoman governor, whilst still pursuing their own individual interests.

So why has the film been largely forgotten?  In part it could be down to the rather meandering way the story unfolds, it exists only to link together a series of action set pieces - that said, such a formula has served the James Bond series well over the decades.  More likely is the - to English speaking audiences, at least - unfamiliar historical setting.  Most people outside of the region are probably blissfully unaware that there ever was a civil war in Turkey, or that it, in its current form, the country didn't exist before the 1920s.  However, the setting makes a refreshing change from the Mexican revolution background used by most similar action movies of the era.  It's also probable that the market for this kind of action epic was beginning to dry up by 1970, certainly as the seventies wore on, such films became far less common.  Certainly, distributors Columbia seemed to have little faith in the film's box-office potential, releasing it in the UK as the bottom half of a double bill with the Gregory Peck movie I Walk the Line.  Incredibly, despite being shot on location with what appears to be the co-operation of the local authorities, You Can't Win 'Em All wasn't even released in Turkey, potentially its biggest market.  Apparently the fictionalisation of various historical events led to the Turkish authorities banning the film.

All of which is a pity - You Can't Win 'Em All deserves to be better remembered, if nothing else as an entertaining all action star vehicle of the kind they don't make any more.  It's easily as good a film as The Italian Job, but unlike that film it doesn't encapsulate an era - swinging London of the sixties, albeit in parody form - for future generations of TV viewers.  I'm guessing that it didn't set the box office on fire in 1970, as Collinson's next couple of movies were much more modestly budgeted psychological thrillers - 1971's effective blind-woman-in-peril entry Fright and Hammer's 1972 production Straight On till Morning - after which he worked on various international co-productions (some of which were very erratically distributed), until his death.   Perhaps the highest profile of theses later movies was the 1974 remake of And Then There None Collinson directed with an all star cast for the notorious Harry Allan Towers.  Despite the patchy nature of his later filmography, Collinson, like You Can't Win 'Em All, deserves to better remembered as a commercial director with a talent for suspense and action.

(Having bemoaned the fact that this film has all but vanished from view, I've just found out that it's just resurfaced as part of the Movie Mix channel's regular rotation).



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home