Sunday, February 26, 2012

Zig Zag (1970)

          This twisty thriller kicks off with a terrific premise before faltering due to sloppy execution. George Kennedy stars as Paul Cameron, a claims investigator at an insurance company who learns he’s got only a few months to live. Desperate to provide for his wife and daughter, Paul digs through his company’s records and discovers that a $250,000 reward is still outstanding for the capture of an unknown criminal who kidnapped and murdered a millionaire. (Paul’s company paid a substantial death benefit to the victim’s family.) Using his wife’s maiden name as an alias, Paul sends a letter to the millionaire’s company claiming that he, Paul Cameron, was the murderer. Paul’s complex scheme is to get himself indicted and jailed for the crime so his wife, her identity hidden behind a web of bank accounts and P.O. boxes, can claim the reward. As this description indicates, the plot of Zig Zag ties itself in knots, stacking implausible developments until the storyline is impossibly muddled. Furthermore, the filmmakers present the story in a jagged style that justifies the title, jumping back and forth between the “present” (which begins with Paul’s arrest) and the “past” (which depicts his methodical planning).
          That said, a number of interesting things happen, like the casual revelation that Paul used to be a jazz drummer and therefore has connections in the hepcat underworld of drug dealers and musicians. Additionally, the relationship between Paul and his exasperated lawyer (Eli Wallach) is entertaining. On a stylistic level, director Richard A. Colla, a TV veteran who directed a handful of middling features, executes Zig Zag with visual panache, building many scenes around trick shots that open by peering deep into some partially obstructed background, then pull back to reveal previously hidden details. In fact, the gimmicky camerawork makes some sequences feel more interesting than they actually are, though the sleight of hand loses efficacy once the shortcomings of the script become impossible to ignore. Kennedy barrels through scenes with watchable intensity, employing vigor in place of nuance, while Anne Jackson (costar Wallach’s real-life spouse) delivers credible anguish as Paul’s worried wife, and Blacula star William Marshall lends his sonorous voice to key role as a nightclub owner who helps Paul out of a jam. These appealing performers and Colla’s kicky visuals make Zig Zag a pleasant distraction—until the confusing mess of a finale, that is. (Available at

Zig Zag: FUNKY

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