As a little boy Raymond Castor (Chris Mitchum) saw his father beaten to death by four mobsters. Now twenty years later he sets out for revenge. From New York to Rome, Madrid and Provence, Raymond hunts down three of the culprits and kills them. Meanwhile the Mafia take note there is a killer out for revenge. They send corrupt New York cop Captain John Kiley (Karl Malden) to find this assassin and bring him back to face mob justice. In Portugal Kiley begins piecing the mystery together. He arrives in time to inadvertently foil Raymond's assassination attempt on the fourth man: former mob boss turned wine magnate Alfredi (Raf Vallone). In desperation Raymond hatches another plan. He kidnaps Alfredi's estranged illegitimate daughter in the hope of luring him into a trap, but instead the angelic Tania (luminous Olivia Hussey) melts his heart.
Chris Mitchum, son of the more famous Robert Mitchum, briefly relocated to Europe in the early Seventies because, or so he claims, Hollywood black-balled him as an ultra-conservative after he made two films with John Wayne. There he headlined two Euro-crime thrillers, this one and Tulio Demichelli's delightfully lurid Ricco the Mean Machine (1973). By comparison with the latter Summertime Killer is a relatively classy affair boasting two big international stars, a healthy budget, and gorgeous sun-drenched scenery in a variety of locations. While no more than a cult favourite among cineastes in the USA (Quentin Tarantino used a portion of Luis Bacalov's lush score in Kill Bill Volume Two (2004)) the film is viewed as a bonafide classic in Asia. Its fusion of hard-boiled action, psychological angst and glossy romance struck a chord in Japan where glossy youth-oriented action films were all the rage. And in Hong Kong where the genre was on the rise and inspiring the likes of John Woo.
Spanish-born Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi (a talented, occasionally inspired craftsman of European action-adventure fare including the all-star caper film They Came to Rob Las Vegas (1968) and jokey Eurospy romp That Man in Istanbul (1965) with Horst Bucholz) crafts a delicate, dreamlike mood here with flashy editing, snatches of acid rock and subtly stylized visuals halfway between art-house fare and a Seventies Coca-Cola commercial. The deliberately fragmented first act dwells on a string of murderous vignettes crafting an air of mystery around Mitchum's brooding pretty-boy assassin. Co-written by British writer-producer Brian Degas (who also had screen credits on Barbarella (1967) and Danger: Diabolik (1968) and went on to create the landmark BBC war drama Colditz), Summertime Killer has a level of moral complexity. Ostensible bad guy Alfredi is drawn as a ruthless but outwardly affable family man whose love for his daughter is genuine. Meanwhile Raymond treads a line between sympathetic and unintentionally callous. His revenge spree claims a lot of bad men but also inadvertently harms the occasional innocent. Such as Alfredi's lovely secretary Michèle played by former Bond girl Claudine Auger. Raymond charms her with some showy biker stunts that go awry in hilarious slow-motion. To Raymond's credit he does pause to mourn a canine companion that sacrifices itself to aid his escape.
Mitchum, an affable interviewee but indifferent actor, struggles to ooze the same effortless cool as Steve McQueen (or indeed his dad). Luckily Isasi-Isasmendi had the sense to surround him with more accomplished players including Olivia Hussey at her most appealingly winsome and photogenic. Karl Malden also brings no small amount of gravitas to his role as the cop who sold his soul to the mob. The story is as much about Kiley coming to terms with his own past while unraveling Raymond's revenge crusade. Isasi-Isasmendi also benefits from the action input of French car chase specialist Remy Julienne who stages some cracking sequences where Chris Mitchum gets to show off his bike skills. Much as he did in Big Jake (1971) only with more connection to the plot.
Once Raymond drugs and abducts Tania (which hardly seems like a meet cute but wouldn't you know: sparks soon fly) Summertime Killer shifts from Euro-crime thriller to heartfelt, if somewhat twisted in retrospect, love story. Olivia Hussey's wide-eyed schoolgirl vulnerability instantly renders kind, loving Tania an engaging, sympathetic figure. Which makes Raymond's initially cold-hearted determination to control her every move that more uncomfortable to watch. Happily unlike the vast majority of Seventies Euro-crime thrillers he never molests her in any way and instantly regrets his brief use of force. Their relationship thaws in a disarmingly sweet-natured way, vaguely evoking The Collector (1965). If Mitchum is simply not a charismatic enough presence to convey Raymond's inner angst, Olivia Hussey and Karl Malden capture the pathos inherent in one of the most unabashedly romantic Euro-crime thrillers.