Writing about John Wick earlier in the week put me in a professional assassin’s state of mind, or at least inspired a return to this forgotten 1975 thriller which, with a fresh lick of paint, could easily be re-purposed as a story from the Wick universe. A Canadian production, I saw this on Scottish television circa 1983 and it stuck in my mind for some cool plot twists, odd humour and some well-mounted action. Re-watched, Russian Roulette is worth recommending, cautiously because streaming watchers will find that their only option is the print on YouTube which is pretty lousy.
Director Lou Lombardo was principally knows as Sam Peckinpah’s second unit guy, and he was wrestling with substance addiction during this shoot; a second director was required to complete the climactic sequence. Lombardo seems to have allowed some degree of improvisation amongst the cast, which provides a strange, sub-Altman sensibility. George Segal plays Shaver, a Mountie who doesn’t get his man; hired to watch a mark during a Russian political visit to Vancouver, he breaks into his quarry’s apartment only to find bloodstains in the shower. Shaver tracks down the hit-man responsible, but accidentally kills him when he falls off a bridge into a river. With time running out, Shaver must escape from captivity and stop the assassination, taking to the rooftops with a high-spec rifle to stop the killing.
With non-US locations, enough cash seems to have been saved to bring in a roster of talents, including Brits Gordon Jackson, Nigel Stock and Denholm Elliot, plus Louise Fletcher as a switchboard operator, plus a dash of Val Avery. There’s plenty of neat touches, from the worldly way that espionage meetings take place in cinemas and Chinese restaurants, to some gallows humour involving the discovery of a corpse. Segal was a great 70’s leading man, and brings some snap to an underwritten hero, always wry in the face of mounting danger.
Any film that ends with George Segal climbing onto the roof of a hotel and shooting down a helicopter is a winner in my book, and this Elliot Kastner production works well in the style of his Alistair Maclean adaptations. This is a decent little film, with only a handful of reviews on imdb; based on a novel, it would be well worth a reboot, with some neat twists that lead to a vertiginous finale that’s quite unique in action cinema. If you like films like Marathon Man, Three Days of the Condor or The Eiger Sanction, this is very much in that kind of vibe.