Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1971, pp. 47-8
Darker than Amber
U.S.A. 1970 Director: Robert Clouse
Cert.: AA. dist: 20th Century-Fox. p.c.: Major Films. A Cinema Center Films Presentation. p: Walter Seltzer, Jack Reeves. p. manager: Frank Baur. assistant d: Ted Swanson. sc: Ed Waters. Based on the novel by John MacDonald. ph: Frank Phillips. col: Technicolor. ed: Fred Chulack. a.d.: Jack Collis. set dec.: Don Ivey. m/d.d.: John Parker. sd. rec.: Howard Warren. stunt co-ordinators: Roger Creed, Courtney Brown. l/p.: Rod Taylor (Travis McGee), Suzy Kendall (Vangie/Merrimay), Theodore Bikel (Meyer), Jane Russell (Alabama Tiger), James Booth (Burk), Janet McLachlan (Noreen), William Smith (Terry), Ahna Capri (Del), Robert Phillips (Griff), Chris Robinson (Roy), Jack Nagle (Farnsworth), Sherry Faber (Nina), James H. Frysinger (Dewey Powell), Oswaldo Calvo (Manuel), Jeff Gillen (Morgue Attendant), Michael De Beausset (Dr. Fairbanks), Judy Wallace (Ginny), Harry Wood (Judson), Marcy Knight (Landlady), Warren Bauer and Wayne Bauer (Roy's Companions), Don Schoff (Steward). 8,643 ft. 96 mins.
Travis McGee and his friend Meyer are anchored below a bridge on a late night fishing trip when a beautiful girl is flung into the water with a weight attached to her feet. McGee rescues her and takes her to his houseboat where she will reveal only that she is called Vangie Bellemer. When the houseboat docks at Fort Lauderdale, Vangie slips ashore to fetch money she has hidden in her apartment; but her would-be murderers, Griff and Terry, are waiting for her and stage a fake hit-and-run incident in which she is killed. McGee learns that Vangie and her friend Del had been involved in a confidence game, luring rich, elderly victims for Terry to rob and kill; and McGee surmises that Vangie had refused to co-operate after realising how far Terry would go and had consequently been eliminated. He flies to Nassau to meet a cruise ship in which Del and Terry are operating and persuades Del to co-operate in trapping Terry. A theatrical agent friend finds a young dancer, Merrimay Lane, who resembles Vangie and agrees to join the plan. Returning to Miami on the ship, McGee tries to frighten a confession out of Terry, who goes berserk, kills Del and attacks McGee. Though badly battered, McGee telephones the police to meet the boat in Miami; but he cannot warn Merrimay, who is waiting on the quay waving a greeting. Crazy with terror, Terry rushes down the gangway, but he is overcome on the quay by McGee and the police. Back on his own boat McGee sadly rejects Merrimay's advances--she only looks like Vangie.
Its bizarre opening, echoing that of Lady in Cement, is not the film's only resemblance to the Tony Rome saga. McGee, like Rome, lives on a houseboat in Florida and though his life-style is plushier (he drives a Rolls Royce station wagon), he has an equally sharp taste in women and as keen a nose for trouble. Unhappily, these similarities serve only to remind one how good of their kind the Gordon Douglas films were. The script of Darker than Amber is just not taut enough; there is only an occasional witty line, and the ramifications of the plot in the second half slow the pace intolerably.
Director Robert Clouse might have overcome these difficulties, but his weakness for long, significant close-ups and sequences that are just a shot or two over long only adds to the general heaviness. Nevertheless, he handles a few of the subtler moments with considerable skill, notably a tiny sinister scene in the mortuary and McGee's cautious encounter with the coloured maid in which the social implications are allowed to speak for themselves. It would seem that Clouse is more at ease with actors in intimate situations than with the slap-bang of action melodrama. As in all recent films of its type, violence is given free rein and gallons of blood are spilled. Both thugs are given terrifying authenticity in the performances of William Smith and Robert Phillips, and there are two excellent cameos--from Janet McLachlan as the cool and careful maid and Ahna Capri as the mindlessly voracious Del. But Suzy Kendall is unkindly photographed and given a dubbed American voice in her second appearance (as Merrimay). Though the film has all the marks of a pilot for a possible series, it is hard to see the beefy McGee becoming a cult figure. Tony Rome did it all with so much more style.