A “Lost” Film from 1967

When I was asked to write something for Strange World, I wanted to find a film that is not that well known to fans. So let me take you back to 1967. My first year as a freshman in public school. I hated that place, seriously, and I’d cut classes a lot. It was only a couple of miles from my local and favorite grindhouse, The Embassy Theater on Main street in Orange NJ.

Because of the projectionist’s union, the theater had a 1pm matinee daily. So I would walk to the theater and hide out. I didn’t care what was playing, anything was better than sitting in a classroom. Plus it was only a buck to get in. So the double feature was The Corrupt Ones and The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World (1965). I had seen 2nd Best. It was another James Bond knockoff film. James Bond films were hot in the mid 60’s and the Brits kept churning out knockoffs. 

The Corrupt Ones opens with two men fighting in a moving train car. One is white, the other Asian. The white guy kills the Asian guy and holds up a medallion. The late, great Dusty Springfield sings the title song over the credits. The cast is international, Robert Stack, Elke Summer, Nancy Kwan, Christian Marquand and Werner Peters. The location is Macao, the Deadliest City in the World, according to the poster.

Cliff Wilder (Stack) is a photographer who has crossed into Red China to take pictures. He is discovered and pursued to a boat by the border guards. The boat belongs to Danny Mancini (Maurizio Arena); he was the guy on the train. Danny grudgingly takes Cliff with him as they outrun a Red Chinese patrol boat. Cliff asks Danny to join him for a drink. Danny initially refuses, but sees he’s being watched by some people. He gives Cliff a small package and asks him to hold it for him. Cliff is told to meet him later at the House of Fans.

Cliff goes back to his hotel only to find a woman ransacking his room. She is Lily Mancini (Sommer), Danny’s wife. She wants the package and pulls a gun. Cliff takes it away and tells her to leave. He goes to The House of Fans. Jasmine, a working girl,  gives him a message telling him to meet Danny at a warehouse. Danny gets there first, but is knocked out by a big Asian guy and carried off. Cliff shows up, and can’t find Danny.

Danny is being worked over with a blowtorch. Cliff is attacked by two members of the Triads. A couple of mobsters intervene, but Cliff steals their car and gets away. Good fight scene here. Cliff goes back to his hotel and has a visitor, Pinto (Peters). Pinto is the top cop and asks about the fight. Cliff denies any involvement. Pinto asks why he was there. Cliff tells him that the girl, Jasmine, told him to meet Mancini there. “Well,” says Pinto, “let’s go talk to her.” 

Going back to The House of Fans, they find that Jasmine has been stabbed to death. “A pity,” says Pinto.

“She said she knew where Danny was,” Cliff tells him.

“Oh, I can take you to see Danny,” Pinto tells him. Pinto takes him to a funeral parlor where Danny is laid out. Lily is there. She tells Cliff that she is entitled to whatever Danny gave him. Pinto tells Cliff to pay his respects then he going to be taken to the police station and searched. Cliff slips the package into Danny’s coffin.

After searching Cliff, Pinto tells him that he wants to be rich, not just rich, but filthy rich. That package contains the Peking Medallion, a key to riches beyond your wildest dreams. Cliff is offered a job by Tina (Kwan) who is the leader of the Triads. The job is just to get him there and force him to give up the Medallion. Pinto just shows up to offer Cliff “a lift” back to his hotel. Tina is pissed. They were in the process of burning a guy’s face off with acid. He had killed Danny before he could get Danny to talk.

Lily comes on to Cliff, telling him that Danny basically pimped her out and she is entitled to something and offers to split it with Cliff. Cliff tells her that he put it in Danny’s coffin. Cliff wakes up and finds Lily is gone. He goes to the cemetery to find the grave dug up. The Triad and American mobsters converge on Cliff, but once again, Pinto shows up and takes Cliff in for questioning.

Cliff decides to push things. He goes to see Brandon (Marquand), the head of the mob. He tells Brandon that he’ll sell him the package for half a million. Brandon punches him out, screaming, “Who do you think financed Danny?” Cliff won’t talk, so they give him a boat ride. Well, sort of, they tie him behind the boat and drag him though the harbor. On the third pass, the boat comes back with two dead men and crashes into the dock. Now Tina has Cliff again.

Tina gives him a choice, the package or his life. But Brandon’s thugs attack. Cliff kills Tina’s second in command by impaling him with a broken tripod. It is a hell of a brawl with fists, knives, and guns. Cliff escapes by jumping though a window. A bloodied Cliff goes back to find Lily. Lily had dug up the grave and hid the package close by. Cliff goes to retrieve it.

Pinto calls Tina and Brandon in for a meeting. He proposes a truce. They decide that Cliff must have the Medallion. So they grab Lily as a bargaining chip. Cliff has figured out the Medallion’s secret. He places it over a map and locates the treasure. Lily is about to get the acid in the face treatment. Pinto balks. “Officially, I’m not here,” he tells them. “In fact, I was never here.”

Cliff shows up and offers a trade, The Medallion for Lily. Tina and Brandon go for it but cut Pinto out because “You were never here.”

Tina gets an expert to find clues on The Medallion, but he can‘t. Pinto is lamenting his shitty luck when Cliff visits him. Cliff tells him that if he wants in, he’s going to have to help. The map Cliff found leads to a temple, The Temple of Bells. Pinto orders the temple closed for repairs. One of Brandon’s thugs notices the closing and reports it to Brandon. Cliff, Lily and Pinto discover a secret trap door. That leads them underground and into a chamber filled with treasure.

Tina and Brandon kill the two cops left on guard and follow. Pinto yells that there is enough for all, but Brandon and Tina think otherwise. Gunplay causes a cave in. Now they are all screwed. Someone feels a slight breeze, so they follow it. There is a way out. Brandon and Tina make the others drag a chest of loot to the opening. Now Tina and Brandon are about to double cross each other, when Pinto yells, “We are in Red China!” Cliff, Lily and Pinto take off for the border dodging bullets.

Tina tries to shoot it out with the soldiers, but gets killed. Brando drags the chest back into the chamber. A soldier tosses a grenade into the hole, killing Brandon and causing a cave in. The threesome just about make it to safety. On the other side of the barbed wire, they lament about losing the treasure. Pinto takes off a shoe and shakes out a handful of gemstones. “I couldn’t resist a little souvenir,” he tells them. It ends with them running to safety and the title song playing again.

This film completely vanished until it got a VHS release from Avco Embassy Home Video. That was it. It was released originally by Warner Brothers, so I expected it would turn up on their Warner Archives. It never did. I got a Blu Ray from Germany as I really wanted this movie. It has been called a template for Raiders of the Lost Ark. This was a bit on the violent side. Shootings, stabbing, blow torch and acid torture, plus some great fight scenes. This was before we had a rating system.

The cast is great, Elke Sommer was a huge sex symbol back in the 60’s and 70’s. She was from Berlin, Germany and was in a lot of films both here and abroad. She is still with us as of this writing. Nancy Kwan got her “dragon lady” persona with this film. She kept that persona working with The Wrecking Crew and Wonder Women. Robert Stack was TV’s Elliot Ness in The Untouchables. He was in Airplane!, 1941, Uncommon Valor and others. He died in 2003 at age 84. Christian Marquand was a French actor who was also in Apocalypse Now and The Longest Day. He died in 2000 at age 73. Werner Peters played a lot of German soldiers and was in The 36 Hours and Dog Eat Dog (1966) with Cameron Mitchell and Jane Mansfield. He died at age 52 in 1971. 

The Corrupt Ones needs to be rediscovered. It’s a great film and it’s held up over repeated viewings. Why none of these “boutique” DVD companies haven’t discovered this is a mystery. In my top hundred films that I would watch over and over, The Corrupt Ones is on that list.

–Pete Chiarella 7/22/22

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *