After scoring a major success with the independently produced canine caper Benji (1974), writer-director Joe Camp made two attempts at expanding his film career beyond Benji sequels and spinoffs. First came Hawmps! (1976), a silly lark about cavalrymen using camels instead of horses, and next came this youth-oriented Hitchcock homage. As any good student of the Master of Suspense knows, a “McGuffin” is a plot device that triggers action, such as the key in Notorious (1946) or the microfilm in North by Northwest (1959). Therefore the gimmick behind this movie, as Orson Welles explains during brief narration toward the beginning, is that the plot involves two separate McGuffins. Specifically, a mischievous boy discovers a suitcase filled with money near a sewer pipe, then brings his friends back to the area, where they discover the suitcase has been replaced with a dead body. Thereafter, the lads embark on a mystery-solving adventure that becomes a race against time once clues reveal a plan to murder someone at their school’s homecoming game. Echoing the classic Hitch tradition, the scenario grows more convoluted with each new development, so the kids discover international intrigue as well as hitmen and payoffs. Dogging the youthful investigators is a kindhearted local cop.
On the plus side, The Double McGuffin is slickly produced, with peppy work by the young leading actors and proficient supporting turns by Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, and Elke Sommer. On the minus side, Camp’s writing is not as strong as his filmmaking. Too often, he slips into mawkishness and triviality, and several long scenes of interplay among the schoolchildren are boring. Worse, the film’s pacing is so unhurried and the narrative events are so inconsequential that the film nearly evaporates at regular intervals. One gets the sense of Camp being way too nice behind the camera, since much focus is given to the performance of newcomer Dion Pride, son of country singer Charley Pride. Papa Pride, of course, crooned the theme song for Benji, and Pride the Younger does the honors here. Doing a solid for a pal is lovely, but it doesn’t make for engrossing cinema. And let’s be honest: There’s only so high a juvenile Hitchcock riff can rise when the leading lady is Lisa Whelchel, later to achieve fame as “Blair” on The Facts of Life. One of the great screen sirens she is not.
The Double McGuffin: FUNKY