Friday, March 16, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: $395 AN OUNCE (1988)

Confession time: I am a huge fan of prison movies. Not sure why, but I’d put good money on it resulting from me watching THE LONGEST YARD (1974), ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979), and BRUBAKER (1980) in quick succession as a kid. So when we started the BIG MAN journey and there was a clip of what seemed to be a prison episode in the opening credits, I got my hopes up. Turns out the fifth episode, $395 AN OUNCE, is indeed that episode and fortuitously fell on my review schedule. But if BIG MAN has taught us anything, it is to never get your hopes up.

The episode gets right down to business as we get a brawl in a French prison yard where Harvey Gaudin (Michel Constantin) is beating the crap of a fellow prisoner. Cut to the boardroom of Lloyd’s of London where Mr. Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) explains Gaudin’s action - the day before his release - has tacked on another 5 years to his sentence. Now why does an insurance house care about the fisticuffs of a criminal? Well, turns out Gaudin was the prime suspect in the robbery of a gold shipment fifteen years ago that Lloyd’s insured. The company paid out the policy, but was hoping to have him followed when he was released to reclaim the hidden loot of 700kg of gold. With the price being $395 an ounce, there is roughly $9.7 million dollars of gold waiting to be reclaimed. And if we know one thing, it is old white dudes are crazy about their gold. Naturally, Winterbottom knows the perfect man for the job.

We get introduced to Jack Clementi (Bud Spencer) once again at his French seaside hotel. Clementi, however, is different this time as he suddenly has a passion for fish. Huh? This is the first time they’ve mentioned the character is really into his pet fish. Hell, in the first episode he was eating fish. Weird. Anyway, he soon gets the call and heads to London to meet Winterbottom. Clementi hatches a rather unorthodox strategy and heads to France where he informs a French inspector of his plan - he is going to go undercover into the prison to befriend Gaudin and find out where the gold is hidden. The inspector agrees but says, “You can not reveal your true identity and you can’t expect help.” Ha, like the big man needs help.

So we soon see Clementi in handcuffs and being transported to la grande house. To establish his hardness to his jailers, when asked for his name he says, “Call me Santa Claus, asshole.” Yikes! The Bud man cursing? Shit must be serious. When pressed for his real name, he says it is...wait for it...Jack Renetti. Ha! He better hope someone from his past as a cop isn’t in this slammer. “Hey, aren’t you Jack Clementi?” “No, I’m Jack...Renetti! Totally different guy.” Jack is housed in the same cell as Gaudin and soon establishes his prison cred with his fellow inmates. Not by cursing but by beating up five guys in the chow hall (this is the scene shown in the opening credits). Jack’s ability to throw down and keep his mouth shut impresses Gaudin and he invites him to join a prison escape he has planned that night. Wait, what? We’re leaving prison already? Color me disappointed. Gaudin, Jack and two other guys - Bobby and Marcel - make it out in what Tom called perhaps the “fastest prison break eeeeever.” They put the express in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. Hell, we don’t even see them get out of the gates or crawl over a fence. Color me verrrrrry disappointed. By the way, what is Jack's disguise on the outside? A blue cap. Unrecognizable!!!

Of course, Jack has to go along with all of this law breaking because he can’t reveal his true identity. In one of the series’ darker moments, Baudin shoots the two accomplices dead and remarks they were “extra weight.” To compound the gravity of this grim scene, Jack jokes, “What do you got against extra weight?” Nothing sums up BIG MAN’s schizo direction than that. Anyway, back at the hotel, a young girl shows Fernande (Mylène Demongeot) the mugshot of Clementi/Renetti in the paper. She dismisses it, but then immediately shows it to Simon (Denis Karvil). Ah, hell. Simon now begins his own investigation. Meanwhile, Gaudin and Jack have driven to an isolated hotel in the countryside run by Daniel (Daniel Langlet), his wife Marilyn and their daughter Blanche (Geraldine Pailhas). Apparently 15 years ago this is where Gaudin and his accomplices hid out for a while. It is also in close proximity to a bog where the gold is stashed. Baudin and Jack eventually get the gold out of the swamp as Baudin explains (and is shown in a flashback) that years ago the drivers freaked out during the robbery attempt and drove into the swamp (the emphasize the grimness here, Steno makes sure to include a shot of their rotting skeletons). To complicate matters, Baudin’s two accomplices also saw his picture in the paper and have headed to the hotel with the hope of getting their hands on the gold they were cheated out of.

"Thanks for the nightmares, Steno!" 

- Italian kids everywhere

After getting over the shock of finding out this wasn’t the prison escapade I was hoping for, I settled into what was another stock BIG MAN episode. Meaning it was pretty standard stuff that never bored me for its 90 minutes, but it didn’t set me on fire either. The episode is notable for a few interesting and odd touches though. First, there are the supporting players including Michel Constantin (not to be confused with Michael Constantine) and Geraldine Pailhas. Constantin was a veteran French heavy seen in lots of crime films of the 1970s; fans might also recognize him from his baddie turns in the Charles Bronson films VIOLENT CITY (1970) and COLD SWEAT (1970). He was winding down his career here and proves to be a perfect villain opposite Spencer. As Constantin was winding his career down, Pailhas was just beginning her career with this being her second feature. She would go on to star opposite Johnny Depp in DON JUAN DEMARCO (1994) and Daniel Auteuil in THE ADVERSARY (2002). The second interesting thing about the episode is in this one Jack actually uses his smarts instead of his fists to get out of a hairy situation. About an hour in Gaudin confronts Jack and lets him know he knows who he really is. Instead of freaking out, Jack openly admits he is an insurance investigator and former cop. He then convinces they can work out a deal with the insurance company to get him some money for the returned gold. Gaudin doesn’t fall for it and kidnaps Blanche and offers to return her and the gold for $1 million pounds. Not sure if trading $1 million for $10 million in gold is the smartest move, but Gaudin was just bluffing and took both. However, Jack was one step ahead of him and put a smoke bomb in the money. A double double cross? This Jack guy knows his criminals. I also found myself laughing at a couple of little bits by Spencer, like how he intensely studies a mustard bottle while Gaudin orders around the innkeeper or when a shootout happens and he sits unfazed in his seat. The final notable (and odd) thing about this episode is how dark it is at times. In addition to the aforementioned cold blooded murders and rotting bodies, there is a rather sadistic streak with the Harvey Gaudin character. He is always casually mentioning how he’d like to do something to the underage Blanche and even joyfully tells Jack “all three of us dipped our wicks” in her mom fifteen years previous. Yikes, what is up with dudes named Harvey being total creeps? Of course, nothing is as dark as Jack Clementi’s newly revealed fish fetish. This came out of nowhere and you think there is going to be a punchline as he is telling folks to care for his fish. But Steno says, “No payoff for you!” I’m betting the next and final episode will have no follow up to this because Jack Clementi will have...wait for it...bigger fish to fry.

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