Sol Madrid is a shiny piece of spy gloss, given substance by a charismatic supporting cast. Players Telly Savalas, Rip Torn and Ricardo Montalban all have their moments. They outshine a predictable plot and bland David McCallum in the titular lead of this new release from Warner Archive.
McCallum (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., NCIS) is an undercover narcotics agent who travels to Acapulco to find Harry Mitchell (Pat Hingle) an accountant who has stolen half a million dollars from the Mafia. While posing as a dealer, he plans to convince him to testify against the mob before he is killed for his theft. To increase his leverage, and gain access to criminal circles, including that of drug kingpin Dietrich (Savalas), he forces Mitchell's girlfriend Stacey (Stella Stevens), who has half the money, to come with him.
While Madrid makes an impression on Dietrich, the charismatic dealer is wary of this mysterious new heroin dealer. He isn't menacing though, which is odd for a man with so much power. As mob bigwig Dano Villanova, Rip Torn handles the threatening behavior, and with his sharp beak of a nose and unsettling gaze, he is truly terrifying. This vicious character gets ex-girlfriend Stacey hooked on heroin as revenge for her rejection of him.
Stevens is morose, but sometimes oddly appealing as a prostitute who has made some horrible decisions in her life and is beginning to pay for them. She can't handle the dramatic demands of her part though, sounding snippy and cranky rather than furious when she lashes out at her tormentors. Still, she gets some of the best wisecracks, second only to Savalas, and she gives them bite.
The Mexico locations and costumes are beautiful, and hip nightclubs and groovy music offer plenty of period flair. While, it's a little too bleak to qualify as frothy 60s spy fun, it has it's moments of high style and humor.
It's the trio of Savalas, Torn and Montalban that makes Sol Madrid something special though. They're always a compelling presence. Watching them is like gorging on candy, they're so darn good it gives you a rush and you know you're going to crash when camera focuses elsewhere.
Whenever McCallum is required to hold a scene on his own, the energy level drops noticeably. How can these crooks take this unimposing guy with the Dennis the Menace haircut seriously? I guess confidence counts for a lot.
As basic as the plot may be, David Karp's dialogue has punch. At first, I wondered how good it was, or if the fact that Montalban's taxi driver/undercover agent was rolling those words around made me like them more. It was the same with Telly Savalas. I think he could just say "doggy doo" a few dozen times and I would be enthralled, and maybe even a bit turned on.
Still, the last line might be one of the most efficiently cold I've ever heard in a movie. It was a surprisingly abrupt, but effective way to end that final scene. And there are lots of sharp touches and cynical laughs like that. This is actually one of the more witty spy scripts of the sixties.
Sol Madrid would have been a lot more memorable with a charismatic lead, but it's solid entertainment. Fans of 1960s spy drama, or the actors in the supporting cast should find much to love.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.