Friday, March 09, 2012


Reviewed by Tim Ferrante

The Delta Factor is a 1967 Mickey Spillane novel featuring the debut of Morgan the Raider, an escaped con and modern-day opportunist whose expert criminal background is put to use by the US government. Spillane originally intended Morgan as an ongoing character and crafted 108 pages of his next adventure, The Consummata. He never finished the manuscript, instead telling his wife that it be left to fellow scribe Max Allan Collins to do so upon Spillane’s death. The author died in 2006 and Collins fulfilled his wish five years later -- The Consummata was at last published (by Hard Case Crime) in 2011, some 44 years after Morgan’s introduction.

THE DELTA FACTOR movie (hereafter TDF) is nearly as heroic as Morgan’s bravado when facing the impossible. Its overuse of sub-plots and parenthetical characters are harmful and counterweight the likeable primary players and their purpose. There is a genuinely good movie lurking beneath it all, one that’s sorted out upon reflection. Less would have been more, but this is Spillane’s world where nothing is ever easy.

Christopher George (post-THE RAT PATROL and pre-THE IMMORTAL) is cast as Morgan who’s alternately smug, tough and vulnerable behind his ever-present smile and arresting charm. It was a shrewd casting move; George’s medium, yet toned physique and cutely-handsome looks are immediate winners. Regardless of his intentions with ladies or foes, you’re firmly on his side. Another casting plus is Yvette Mimieux who portrays Morgan’s Fed assigned partner (and temporary spouse), Kim Stacy. She is a beautiful actor who is expert at conveying hot and cold running passions through perilous encounters with antagonists and Morgan’s sly and overt advances.

The film’s opening car chase through rain-soaked streets utilizes a clever technique for the introduction and apprehension of the recently escaped Morgan who’d been wrongly convicted of a $40 million currency heist … a fraction of which has been recovered by the Feds. Agent Ames (Ted de Corsia), recounts to the apprehended Morgan how no one else could have pulled off such a robbery especially since Morgan associate, Sal Dekker (Joseph Sirola), was also involved. Surprisingly, the Feds couldn’t care less about the money. Instead, Ames proffers our escape artist antihero a truncated jail sentence in exchange for help in breaking out a political prisoner, Victor Sable, on the corrupt island of Nuevo Cadiz. It’s a convenient coincidence because Nuevo Cadiz is also the location where the Feds suspect the stolen money is hidden.

Morgan briefly gives his captors the slip and pays a visit to Valerie (Yvonne De Carlo) who runs a high end brothel. The minutes long sequence does little to advance the narrative as it serves as nothing more than providing a helpful contact name, Art Keefer (Ralph Taeger). It’s one of TDF’s needless tangents before Kim Stacy’s brazen apartment intrusion on a barely towel-clad Morgan. The pair embarks on their undercover assignment with new names, a quick wedding ceremony and covert arrival in Nuevo Cadiz.

Morgan’s luck at the hotel craps table is sidetracked by a distracting sub-plot of helping jetsetter Lisa Gordot (the supremely lovely Diane McBain) off of the island, she an unwillingly girlfriend to one of its several crooked lawmen. Complications ensue when Morgan and Kim endanger night club singer Rosa (Spillane’s real life wife, Sherri Spillane, in her feature debut) who also works as a portal for obtaining a radio transmitter and informant confidant. Betwixt attempts on their lives with booby trapped television sets, eavesdropping devices and outright gun battles, the duo manage to set up a plan to extract the imprisoned Sable.

The entire mid-section of TDF is rife with sometimes confusing motivations and implausible moments thanks to the aforementioned weighty screenplay. All the while Kim and Morgan grow closer and, for better or worse, know they’re facing overwhelming odds. Nevertheless, Morgan is driven by reconciling who really stole the $40 million and more so, perhaps, the challenge of rescuing Sable from the notoriously secure prison.

As a ruse, he convinces prison security he can deliver over a pound of heroin that will be administered to prisoners, rendering them into cooperative and dependant addicts. It’s a complicated compound, but Morgan manages to extract his target with the help of a turncoat guard. A plane with Kim waits, but not before an ensuing car chase and fire fight gets in their way. It’s not until the final moments when Morgan learns who masterminded the robbery (somewhat telegraphed early on). How, though, will he escape the clutches of the Feds once airborne? Oh, fret not dear friends. Morgan will find a way!

TDF was directed by Hollywood veteran Tay Garnett who also wrote the overloaded screenplay, a man whose career dates back to the silent era. Garnett spent the first half of his profession directing A-list talents such as Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, John Garfield (THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE) and dozens of other name above the title stars. In the mid-‘50s he switched almost entirely to directing television shows and amassed a huge resume in that medium. TDF was the aging auteur’s exclusive return to feature films. He’d direct two more low budget efforts, Pacific International’s CHALLENGE TO BE FREE and Howco’s TIMBER TRAMPS, before retiring. In TDF it’s plainly obvious he understood the visual necessities and coverage required, but one can’t help sensing he probably wished he was back on an MGM soundstage with Harlow, Gable and Wallace Beery filming CHINA SEAS. Credit is due for the final reel car chase that hints at the comedic. The relentlessly fast and silly pursuit in some ways gives us a glimpse at Garnett’s earliest movie days as a gag writer for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.

TDF’s music score is shared by veteran Raoul Kraushaar and Howard Danziger. It’s mentioned here as this is Danziger’s sole film music work. While deciphering who wrote what would require extensive research, the resulting cues and pre-title theme are generally pluses throughout.

The completed TDF landed at Continental Distributing, the theatrical distribution arm of the Walter Reade Organization whose most notable release is NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Its domestic playdates were scattered and unnoticed and was eventually relegated to a Continental television syndication package carrying the company’s Medallion TV logo. Happily, it retains the WRO logo’s musical signature, an all-time fave of yours truly.

TDF struggles to keep as much of Spillane’s storytelling style intact. Alas, its pinched budget couldn’t possibly allow all of its intricacies to be adequately played out. Why an experienced writer and director like Garnett didn’t streamline the narrative is anyone’s guess. He had to have known there were too many spoons trying to stir in the same bowl. Along with Spillane, the Internet Movie Database lists the great Raoul Walsh(!) as an uncredited writer. If true, it’s a stunning revelation I chose to ignore.

Still, TDF moderately succeeds as an entertaining movie thanks to its non-stop spirit and thoroughly invested cast. Even with is overall rocky cadence and self-disruptive attempts for sinister intrigue, we can still cheer that Morgan the Raider is somewhere out there making other’s lives difficult…including his own.

Happy Birthday
Mickey Spillane!

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