Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Kingfisher Caper (1975)

          Generic but watchable, this drama about siblings fighting for control of their family’s diamond empire was shot in South Africa, which is also the setting of the story. The location and subject give the picture a measure of novelty, although in most other ways The Kingfisher Caper—sometimes alternately titled Diamond Hunters—is quite pedestrian. The acting is competent but passionless, the direction (by Dirk de Villiers) is perfunctory, and the score is a silly mishmash of lounge-lizard slow numbers and vaguely discofied upbeat jams. In fact, excepting such impressive production values as the ship that’s used as a primary setting for the second half of the story, The Kingfisher Caper feels very much like a run-of-the-mill telefilm. Regarding the picture’s paper-thin characterizations, make what you will of the fact that one of the three leading actors is named Jon Cypher—because “cipher” just about covers each member of the story’s dramatis personae. Having said all that, the picture has just enough action and intrigue to hold the attention of casual viewers.
          Based on a novel by Wilbur Smith, The Kingfisher Caper begins when an aging patriarch receives a terminal diagnosis, causing him to divide his empire between dutiful daughter Tracy (Hayley Mills), ne’er-do-well son Benedict (David McCallum), and stalwart adopted son Johnny (Cypher). The title stems from Johnny’s pet project, a massive sea vessel called The Kingfisher, which he’s equipped with computers and industrial equipment for mining diamonds from the ocean floor via dredging. Johnny’s grasp on power is tenuous because he only gains control over the part of the empire related to the Kingfisher, which has yet to make its maiden voyage. Sensing an opportunity, the craven Benedict contrives to sabotage the Kingfisher in order to seize control of Jonny’s assets. (A deadline related to a bank loan provides the ticking-clock element necessary to make all of this plotting work.) The movie also features romantic elements, because Johnny and Tracy—who grew up together but are not related—realize they have feelings for each other once they’re faced with a common enemy in the scheming Benedict.
          The storyline of The Kingfisher Caper is serviceable (if a bit on the trite side), and it helps that darker textures including murder and suicide complicate the latter half of the film. Still, a potboiler only really connects if the performers add something special to the mix, and that doesn’t happen here. McCallum mostly sulks through his scenes, while former child star Mills (of The Parent Trap fame) contributes little except being attractive in a girl-next-door way. Thus it falls to Cypher to do most of the heavy lifting, dramatically speaking, and he’s never more than adequate. To their credit, however, the filmmakers up their game during the finale, a somewhat exciting action/thriller sequence set aboard the Kingfisher.

The Kingfisher Caper: FUNKY


Unknown said...

Been loving this site for some months now. Jon Cypher? I believe he played unsympathetic Chief of Police Fletcher Daniels on "Hill Street Blues." Wild to think of him outside that role.

Cindylover1969 said...

As well as being shot and set in South Africa, it's a South African production (albeit starring a Scotsman, an Englishwoman and an American).