It's not really a revenge flick. Yes, it has Lee Marvin on the rampage through the criminal underworld of San Francisco, trying to get back his $92,000. However it's based on a novel and directed with lots of flashbacks and arty experimental bits. If you go in expecting an action movie, you'll end up deeply confused. Hell, Lee Marvin isn't really out for revenge. He wants his money. That's it, really. He's not particularly bothered by the small matter of being betrayed by his wife and her lover, shot on Alcatraz and left to swim to safety. It took me quite a while to get my head around this, but in the end I had to admit that had the villains simply given him his money in a suitcase, he'd have probably left them alone.
The "based on a novel" thing is important. On the one hand, Lee Marvin is playing the role as cold as a refrigerator, barely reacting to anything at all. I'd have said he wasn't acting at all if it weren't for his moments of being almost out of control. I've never seen anyone shoot inanimate objects like Marvin does here. Wow, that's one unlucky telephone. However that coldness is part of the role, with the other characters actually asking him if he has any plans or goals in life apart from getting his $92,000, or indeed what he plans to do with it.
This is distracting, since it makes the film look as if it's going to turn into a one-dimensional criminal kill-fest. In fact it never really does. There are deaths along the way, but some of the film's most interesting moments for me involved women, not gangsters. Marvin tracks down that wife, you know. He's certainly not there to comfort her, but equally you are made aware that he did care for this woman. His wedding ring still holds meaning for him. That's just one scene that to me smells of being adapted from a novel rather than being some kind of eighties sub-Schwarzenegger romp. Later on he meets up with her sister, played by Angie Dickinson, and one of the film's few laughs comes when he drives her so mad-dog angry that she goes berserk, pummelling him while he stands there like a tree.
The source material was Donald E. Westlake's Parker novels, by the way, and it's been remade as Xia dao Gao Fei (1993) and Payback (1999). Yes, starring Mel Gibson. Apparently the director's cut of that film brought back Angie Dickinson, but as a baddie. Shame it got cut.
The supporting cast is fun, with an "introducing" credit for John Vernon. You know, the Mayor in Dirty Harry. He's fun, although don't expect him to survive to the closing credits. If you're looking for an anecdote about him, then during a rehearsal at home, Marvin hit Vernon so hard that he made him cry.
This isn't a deep movie. It looks very 1967 to me, with the sets, costumes and film stock of all things reminding me of Goldfinger. The art direction's different, mind you. That had me wondering at one point if Marvin was hallucinating. Using a mechanical digger to dig a grave also startled me. Otherwise, this is a film that's a little less fun than I'd expected but is still efficient, slick in its own way and reasonably violent when it wants to be.