“The Take” (1974)
Starring Billy Dee Williams, Frankie Avalon, Eddie Albert, Sorrell Booke, Vic Morrow, Albert Salmi, A Martinez and Kathrine Baumann. Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis. From Columbia Pictures.
San Francisco’s Lt. Terrence Sneed (Williams) arrives in Paloma, New Mexico to help the local police – lead by Chief Berrigan (Albert) – bring down local mob boss, Victor Manso (Morrow), who, by all appearances, is a respected public figure. Not long after arriving, Sneed heads to Manso’s home to pick up an envelope of money; Sneed is on “the take” and will act as a go-between for Manso and the police. While there, Sneed is surprised to find Capt. Dolek (Salmi) arriving to pick up his cash, too.
Sneed hooks up with his partner and money launderer, Oscar (Booke), and gives him his money to “clean”. Sneed asks Oscar to tail Capt. Dolek, hoping to get some dirt on him. Sneed then gets to work balancing between being an effective cop and protecting Manso’s interests. Sneed rousts hothead Danny James (Avalon) and gets James to become an informant; James tells Sneed that some drugs are due to be delivered to Manso’s home. Sneed takes Det. John Tallbear (Martinez) to the home of the dealer. They bust him and impound the cocaine, raising Manso’s ire. Dolek tells Sneed to let the busted pusher go on Manso’s orders and Sneed’s response is to blackmail Dolek into silence. This really ticks Manso and he has his boys – lead by henchman Benedetto (Luisi) – beat on Sneed.
During a clandestine raid on Manso’s house, Sneed and Tallbear gain vital information on Manso’s smuggling operation. They stakeout Manso’s warehouse and follow a van they think is carrying drugs but when they catch the van, driven by Benedetto, they instead find counterfeiting equipment. Benedetto bribes Sneed to reduce his charges and Dolek rats Sneed out to the Captain. Sneed is able to swap the envelope he received from Benedetto for one that Oscar slips him resulting in the captain not being able to disprove that the money is Sneed’s own. Tallbear kills Benedetto, thereby eliminating the only witness to Sneed’s corruption. Tallbear’s motivation? He wants to be cut in on Sneed’s action. Sneed tells him ‘no dice’; he’s just been made Captain.
The Take is a low-ish budget neo-noir crime film that lands somewhere between blaxploitation and TV movie. A British-American collab, this film was based on the first novel from Englishman G.F. Newman called, for some reason, Sir, You Bastard (1970). This book was the first in a Terry Sneed – an “unscrupulous Scotland Yard inspector” – trilogy. The director is another Englishman, Robert Hartford-Davis who directed many minor British films. In 1972, he directed Nobody Ordered Love, a film that was apparently so terrible that it was never released and is now considered “lost”; it is actually on the British Film Institute’s “75 Most Wanted” list, “a list of the most sought-after British feature films not held in the BFI National Archive, and classified as missing, believed lost”. Hartford-Davis actually has two films on this list. Apparently, the director thought so little of his work that he ordered all prints of the films he directed to be burned after his death. He died in 1977 before a TV series he was directing, Dog and Cat, aired its first of only three episodes. Dog and Cat starred Kim Basinger.
The music is by Fred Karlin, Oscar-winner for the song “For All We Know” from Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), a song that was co-written by members of Bread and was a #3 hit for the Carpenters in ’70. Karlin also co-wrote “Come Saturday Morning”, done in a lovely version by the Sandpipers.
By 1974, Billy Dee Williams had already scored hits with Lady Sings the Blues (1972) on the big screen and Brian’s Song (1971) on television. The former made him a major star and sex symbol and he was considered “the black Clark Gable”. He would go on to become one of the most visible and popular black actors of the Seventies. He is one of those actors that is less known for the films he was in and more known for just being a dude. Of course, he is best known for his portrayal of the super-suave Lando Calrissian in 1980’s Star Wars entry, The Empire Strikes Back and again in Return of the Jedi (1983). When he again played Lando 39 years after Empire in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it represented “one of the longest intervals between onscreen portrayals of a character by the same actor in American film history”. Billy Dee says he discovered LSD in the late ’60’s and it “saved my life”.
I ran into The Take while researching an article on Frankie Avalon. When I saw this title sticking out of his filmography, I had to check it out. The conditions that lead to Avalon making this film have been lost to time and you really have to ponder why he accepted the role of Danny, the skittish, slightly slimy Mob fringe player. Frank looks good here, although he only has three scenes. This is one of those curiosities that intrigue us so here at Your Home for Vintage Leisure.
Somehow, Academy Award-nominated Eddie Albert was cast as Capt. Berrigan. Albert – much too soft to play the captain in this film – was beloved by audiences and always a welcomed face in any film although he really never made many that were notable. He is best known, perhaps, for television’s Green Acres in the 1960’s. When he died at 99 in 2005, he was laid to rest near his co-star on the show, Eva Gabor. Albert was married to actress Margo (Lost Horizon) for 40 years.
Sorrell Booke is odd casting as the money launderer and would go on to mass visibility as Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg on television’s The Dukes of Hazzard. Albert Salmi is known to me from his role in the Matt Helm film The Ambushers (1967). In 1990, Salmi shot and killed his wife before taking his own life. A Martinez would go on to star in basically every daytime soap opera on TV for 30 years beginning in the early ’80’s. James Luisi played basketball for the Baltimore Bullets of the American Basketball Association during the 1953-54 season; he averaged 3 points a game. He would go on to extensive work on TV, particularly on The Rockford Files.
Vic Morrow – father of Jennifer Jason Lee – had been a respected and well-used actor in the Fifties, appearing in The Blackboard Jungle and King Creole. By 1974, he had been reduced to mostly TV work. In 1983, Morrow sadly cemented his place in film history by being killed on the set of The Twilight Zone: The Movie.
An interesting discovery among the cast – the kind I love to stumble on – is Kathrine Baumann, who plays the minuscule role of Danny’s squeeze. She has one scene and wears a towel. Baumann had been runner-up to Miss America in 1970 and then traveled with Bob Hope’s USO. She was in Chrome and Hot Leather (1971), a “revenge film about Green Berets vs. Bikers” that co-starred Marvin Gaye, Cheryl Ladd and Erik Estrada and The Thing With Two Heads (1972) featuring Ray Milland and Rosey Grier as…the thing. She would go on to found Kathrine Baumann Beverly Hills where she designs luxury evening bags (minaudieres?) that are often in the hands of those who appear at red carpet events.
“Supercharged, bad-talking, highly romanticized melodramas about Harlem superstuds, the pimps, the private eyes and the pushers who more or less singlehandedly make whitey’s corrupt world safe for black pimping, black private-eyeing and black pushing.”
I’ve seen The Take promoted as a blaxploitation film. But if we apply Vincent Canby’s 1976 definition of the genre quoted above, then The Take barely qualifies. Williams is the star of the film and he does portray “the brother with a badge” but Sneed lacks the audacious swagger found in any other leading man of blaxploitation. It is better described as a crime or neo-noir film. Perhaps, though, it’s even more accurate to say it’s one of those films that is so bad it’s…bad. It’s just bad but if you’ve read any of my articles you know that that doesn’t matter; you can still “get something” from the movie.
I thought the New Mexico setting was a rarity and a refreshing change. Shot on location in the summer of ’73, Albuquerque and Santa Fe make for a photogenic backdrop. The clothing, of course, is excellent as are some of the interiors that seem to be authentic New Mexican homes. Billy Dee Williams looks great although he makes a bit of a clunky entrance. Cruising though the airport as he makes his way to New Mexico, the attitude of his shirt collar as it relates to his lapels keeps changing and he makes a point of buying – and raving about – a sack of sour dough buns.
Like some other lower budget films I can name, you can spot the lack of quality from the moment the credits hit the screen. Don’t take quality titles for granted; when you see the style and the font that is used on The Take, right away you think of television. Indeed, this film in its entirety has the look and feel of a TV movie or pilot. It’s great to stumble on a rare film, though, a deep cut, and The Take sure is that. For some lightweight kicks, it fits the bill.