Puppet on a Chain (1972)
Puppet on a Chain (1972)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: April 21st, 1972 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Geoffrey Reeve Actors: Sven-Bertil Taube, Barbara Parkins, Alexander Knox, Patrick Allen, Vladek Sheybal, Ania Marson, Penny Casdagli, Peter Hutchins




he film begins with a stellar over-the-shoulder shot, wherein a black-garbed hitman drives up to a California villa, saunters in through an open door, and swiftly executes three unsuspecting people. It’s a jarring cold open (an idea that would be reimagined for 1973’s “The Outfit”), though its audacity is only about as potent as a standard James Bond adventure. The music by Piero Piccioni is also comparable – and considerable – as it immediately spices things up with a groovy, jazzy theme tune that never disappoints or dwindles.

After the title sequence, which does not feature silhouettes of naked women, another assassination takes place at an Amsterdam airport. Here, former Dutchman Paul Sherman (Sven-Bertil Taube) witnesses the event as he makes his way into the country, coincidentally about to communicate with the authorities concerning a related case. Though Sherman is a junior member of an American police force, he’s tasked with tracking heroine smuggling into the United States, which seems to come predominantly from Holland. The uppity local chiefs who meet him aren’t thrilled with the idea that their territory is to blame, nor are they impressed with an American attempting to solve cases in their jurisdiction – but Sherman is certainly up to the assignment.

As in many 007 missions, the recent arrival becomes the target of hired killers literally seconds after he checks in to his hotel. The nameless thugs might be rather conspicuous, but it’s easy to believe that Sherman is also skilled enough to know when he’s attracted unwanted attention. Cool, calm, and collected, he’s every bit as formidable as the many super-spies upon which he’s modeled (the story is adapted by Alistair Maclean from his own novel of the same name, however, so surely a thing or two is an original invention). The undercover operative predictably has a female companion, too – in the form of Maggie (Barbara Parkins), an onyx-haired beauty who possesses a few tricks (and moves) of her own. She’s available and age-appropriate, but Sherman is the kind of agent so dedicated to his profession that he rarely has time to flirt – or change his expression.

As Paul slinks around the city, unafraid to torture suspects (one such brute has his spectacles shattered into his eye), stash bodies, and flaunt his deeds in front of his enemies, he also manages to collect clues, follow leads, and rendezvous with his associates. But there’s time wasted on subplots that involve drug addicts and damaged users, taking away from the more intriguing investigation into the death of a fellow American agent, which finds links to an Inspector’s ward; a network of conspicuously sexy nuns, who are clearly more than just women of faith; and a bizarre mark of death, depicted by a doll with features painted to look like the eventual victim, hung by the neck with a chain (a ridiculously elaborate forewarning that nevertheless has morbid charm). The film is clearly more interested with sleuthing than with action, yet it boasts a decent fistfight, an unnervingly deranged priest villain (complete with careless yet unique methods of disposing of his targets), and a spectacularly lengthy boat chase sequence – the finest orchestrated up to the ’70s, and one for which “Puppet on a Chain” would be best remembered.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10