Puppet on a Chain (1971)

Sven-Bertil Taube and Patrick Allen star in this well made Alistair MacLean adaptation. Atlantic Film Sweden R2 DVD.

The Film

"I'd liked her and would liked to see her happy again.
I couldn't blame her. For her, all the doors had been closed..."

Alistair MacLean - Puppet on a Chain

American agent Paul Sherman (Sven-Bertil Taube) flies into Amsterdam after a triple homicide in the States is linked to drug crime. Along with his assistant Maggie he soon discovers that the city is rife with drugs and that those responsible seem to have inside information and be all but untouchable...

Adapted by MacLean himself from one of his best novels, Puppet on a Chain is very well written. Compared to the book there are a number of minor detail changes - the lead character becomes American, he has one assistant not two and the order of deaths is changed, fortunately though these changes are very minor, mostly going unnoticed and the script effectively retains the incredibly grim atmosphere of the novel with most of the important scenes played out to the full. Fans of the book will be pleased to see a lot of other minor details are retained (that might have been missed had another writer tackled the script), most notably the unmissable fairground organist outside of the hotel. On its own the film is an effective little thriller - despite containing a number of action scenes and marketed more like a James Bond film in the trailers, its utterly grim and humourless tone is more akin to a John Le Carré adaptation. The storyline provides solid characterisation and features plenty of unexpected (but always plausible) twists and turns, although exposition can be a little brief, so viewers who have not read the novel might struggle to follow the storyline in places. Pacing is brisk so the film moves very effectively to a thrilling chase scene and a dramatic finalé that retains the tone perfectly.

Infrequent director Geoffrey Reeve does a decent job behind the camera and while most of the film is helmed in a rather straight forward manner, there are some noticeable touches of the surreal that give it a unique edge. The Amsterdam locations are used very effectively and the city's distinctive look and feel are exploited to the full. Co-writer Don Sharp is credited with helming the film's stand-out sequence, a dramatic boat chase deep into the canals of Amsterdam itself - the chase is very well shot, with no use of rear-projection or miniatures and some incredible stunt work. More at home in the arthouse, Italian composer Piero Piccioni provides a solid soundtrack with a jazzy main theme and some rather cliché but effective romantic strings. The only dampener on the production is the less than perfect editing, a few scenes are rather choppily cut together and somewhat disrupting the film's flow.

Swedish actor Sven-Bertil Taube is rather unusual casting here as a Dutch-American, but seems to suit the role just fine. Hardly the horribly disfigured character from MacLean's novel, he is a rather dashing figure and importantly, very believable in the fight scenes and at 37 has a suitable gravitas in the role that the twenty-something who would inevitably star in a modern version, would simply lack. His assistant is played by Canadian actress Barbara Parkins who similarly looks to be more than just a pretty face - although surprisingly, considering her prior Playboy photographs, she does not really play a 'sexy' character. British character actor Patrick Allen should be very recognisable (at least when he speaks) as Van Gelder (although he really never sounds Dutch) and there are some familiar British faces in the rest of the cast.

Well adapted from one of MacLean's better works, this effective little spy thriller is boosted by a highly enjoyable boat chase sequence that is worth the price of admission alone. Recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Sven-Bertil Taube - a Swedish actor and singer who had a short run of popularity in England and America. Patrick Allen - A widely travelled British actor who also starred in Hammer's enjoyable Captain Clegg (1962)
Directed by anyone interesting? Geoffrey Reeve - a little known British director also behind the similarly low budgeted Alistair MacLean adaptations Way to Dusty Death (1995) and Caravan to Vaccares (1974)
Anyone else involved? Don Sharp co-wrote the script and directed the film's iconic boat chase scene.
Any gore or violence ? Some blood and a few brutal sequences.
Any sex or nudity? A couple of brief female topless shots.
Who is it for? Fans of MacLean and 1970s spy thrillers in general should enjoy this.

Visuals Cropped Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour.
The print is average - there is decent colour and detail but frequent light damage, some dropped frames and slight fading of the right hand side of the print in several scenes. Some tracking lines right at the top of the print might affect those with no-overscan on their televisions.
(OAR is 1.85:1)
Audio English mono. Decent but some flickering and background hiss.
Subtitles Swedish, Norweigan, Finnish and Danish - optional.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Biographies of Seven-Bertil Taube, Barbara Perkins, Alexander Knox, Patrick Allen and Vladek Sheybal
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Availability Released in Sweden - DVD Title: Marionett I Kedjor .
Other regions? An identical disc was released in Denmark, Norway and Finland. Released in the US by Scorpion Releasing in 2012 with a widescreen print of the US PG cut (the brief cut scenes [topless extras in a nightclub] are included as an extra).
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut as per the international release. The brief nudity was removed for PG rated US release. Titles and credits are in English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 15th February 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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