Color, 1974, 84 mins. 11 secs.
Directed by Geoffrey Reeve
Starring David Birney, Charlotte Ramping, Michel Lonsdale, Marcel Bozzuffi, Michael Bryant Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
A potent sleep aid disguised as an action film, this one isn't exactly the height of 1970s globe-hopping adventures. Vaguely based on a 1970 novel by Alastair MacLean, this British-French co-production tries to cash in on the same appetite for action thrillers that propelled adaptations of his work like The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and Ice Station Zebra to big studio glory. Even more modest MacLean films could fare well, with Fear Is the Key and When Eight Bells Toll being particular gems that still haven't received their due. Enter Geoffrey Reeve, a military vet and TV commercial director who made his feature film debut with Puppet on a Chain. Though flawed, that Dutch-set MacLean thriller (adapted by the author himself) had a classic boat chase and a killer soundtrack to keep it percolating in theaters on double bills for a long time, so it made sense to go back to that well again. Reeve decided on Caravan to Vaccarès, a 1970 novel MacLean had originally begun as a screenplay but turned into a novel for publication just after Puppet. Unfortunately the final result is incredibly listless with characters yapping on and on in pretty French locales, tossing out most of the caravan-following espionage aspect of the original story and daring the viewer to care at all about what's happening on screen.
While driving near Provence, American traveler Bowman (Birney) picks up a British hitchhiker, Lila (Rampling), a freelance photographer shooting an international gypsy festival. Almost immediately they run afoul of an assassin who's just killed another man nearby, and when they end up connecting with the Duc de Croyter (Lonsdale), it turns out Bowman is to be hired to help spirit a prominent Eastern Bloc scientist out of the area and into the United States. However, that proves to be easier said than done with deadly ambushers lying in wait.
So languid it barely qualifies as an action film at all, Caravan to Vaccarès pins a lot of its hopes on the travelogue scenery (which is often shot to look parched and unattractive) and the presence of Rampling, sporting a blonde hairdo and magnetic as always. Unfortunately the casting of TV staple Birney is a major miscalculation as he's about as rugged as a bag of potatoes, though at least his actual performance is competent. Mainly though the film doesn't try to do anything distinctive until the very end with the odd spectacle of sinister clowns in a bullring, though even that gets capped off with a nasty bit of what looks a lot like real animal cruelty. Maybe worth a look for MacLean fanatics, but don't expect much more.
Not surprisingly, Caravan to Vaccarès has had a very sparse release history on home video outside of a handful of European VHS releases. The 2018 Blu-ray and DVD editions from Scorpion Releasing present the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, looking okay if unremarkable with flesh tones veering to the ruddy side and blues mostly faded out (especially in sky shots). The DTS-HD MA English mono track is also drab and devoid of anything really dynamic, with some age-related noise evident at times. To add insult to injury, this is the heavily edited 84-minute U.S. version of the film released in 1976 by Bryanston, whose indifferent treatment included the removal of Charlotte Rampling's nude scene (thus the current PG rating) and failing to subtitle any of the numerous scenes spoken in French. Not that any of the French dialogue is all that interesting, but it's baffling to imagine why they would expect casual audiences to sit through several minutes (including the entire opening scene) of untranslated dialogue. Equally baffling is the decision to dub over the very recognizable voice of Lonsdale, a terrific French actor seen in such films as The Day of the Jackal and The Bride Wore Black (with a stint as Drax in Moonraker soon to come). Lonsdale's original voice can be heard in the longer cut, but here it sounds like a bad imitator with a higher pitch. For anyone curious, a PAL-speed version of the longer European cut (which was originally 98 minutes but runs 93 on VHS) can be readily found streaming on YouTube. It's mostly padding apart from that nude scene though, so be warned. The only notable extra here is a new interview with Birney (9m), who explains how he was already in Europe and available when he was cast, with shooting in the Camargue allowing him to learn how to ride horseback. He also touches on some of his other career highlights including St. Elsewhere. The theatrical trailer is included along with bonus ones for Puppet on a Chain, The Salamander, Blind Date, Firepower, The Passage, Ten Little Indians, and Killer Force.