THE SALAMANDER is one of those films with a gob-smacking cast and wealth of talent both in front of and behind the scenes. It's based on a classic thriller novel by Morris West and adapted by TWILIGHT ZONE creator Rod Serling; it's directed by an experienced film editor, Peter Zinner, who ensures that his editing here is crisp and perfect, and it has both British and American backing, although it's an Italian film, shot in Italy with an Italian supporting cast. But what of the main cast! Remember those glory days of disaster films in the '70s, where an all-star cast was a guarantee of big audiences? Where the film poster could hardly manage to fit all those Hollywood names in? Well, that's what we have here, although THE SALAMANDER eventually succumbs to the same fate as those other movies: there are so many players and familiar faces that only a few of them get a substantial role and the rest are just window dressing.
Heading the cast is Franco Nero, playing a crusading investigator. His appearance immediately puts this film in line with the popular '70s polizia, or crime, flicks that packed out Italian cinemas in that decade. There's a requisite number of decently-done car chases and short action sequences, but this isn't really an action film, it's more of a mystery. It's the static nature of the plot that works against it and stops it from being fully entertaining. Essentially, the film has Nero questioning one character after another in a series of long-winded interviews, only to bring everyone together at the climax to reveal the villain(s). It's like something out of an Agatha Christie novel, and despite efforts from the film-makers to throw in MARATHON MAN-style torture scenes and assassins bumping off key players, it's a completely linear movie. Saying that I still enjoyed it, thanks to the great camera-work and performances.
Supporting the ever-great Nero is Martin Balsam, here teaming up with the star again after CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN. These two actors make for a great double act and they shine whenever they're on screen together – it just seems so natural. Glamour is brought to the proceedings by Claudia Cardinale and Anita Strindberg, although these two accomplished actresses barely get a look in – the main glamour girl is Sybil Danning, playing Nero's love interest. For once Danning doesn't go nude for the role, which ends up being one of her best in terms of acting. The main cast heavyweight is Anthony Quinn, and he acts everyone off the screen in a great role. Elsewhere we get villains essayed by Christopher Lee – who can do this kind of thing in his sleep – and Eli Wallach, who still seems too likable to be believable in his role. There are cameos for Paul Smith, typecast as a torturer, and Cleavon Little, who shows up to fire off a machine gun and then goes again! Italian regulars like John Steiner and Renzo Palmer help flesh out minor parts. THE SALAMANDER is far from great, but if you like the look of the cast and you enjoy beautiful scenery, you'll have a ball like I did.