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  Syndicate, The Desert Rats
Year: 1968
Director: Frederic Goode
Stars: William Sylvester, June Ritchie, Robert Urquhart, Christian Doermer, John Bennett, John De Villiers, Omari Suleman, Sal Davis, Bill Dixson
Genre: AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's uranium in the Kenyan savannah, or so it is said, and four prospectors with a hastily drawn map of the region think they know the correct place to look for it. The man in charge is Kurt Hohmann (Christian Doermer), for he has that map, but there are tensions between him and his second-in-command, ex-pilot turned jack-of-all-trades Burt Hickey (William Sylvester), and the married couple who have been taken along because the husband, George Brant (Robert Urquhart) can speak the native language therefore is essential as an interpreter and middle man between them and the band of locals they have assembled to do the digging. But then there's his wife, Mari (June Ritchie)...

One look at that lot and you know there will be issues, shall we say, because if everything had gone swimmingly there would be no story, naturally. This was an adventure yarn in the Wilbur Smith mould, only with a number of degrees less action than you would get in one of his efforts: compare this with the contemporary Dark of the Sun where it was practically wall-to-wall shenanigans and you note that The Syndicate was lacking in that department. Not to say nothing happened, far from it, but it tended to rely on the squabbles between its four lead characters rather than any outside forces upsetting the applecart of their schemes to get rich quick, though there were external complications.

However, was one of those complications external or in fact internal, that's what we had to ask as a saboteur makes their presence felt? Obviously the first mishap they hit wasn't anything a human could have done as a lion savages the local team leader before they have even reached the river bed where the valuable metal is supposedly stored, but once they reach their destination, with not much of a window to dig for it, someone is definitely undermining the operation. That said, it wasn't much of a mystery, not because they were blatantly portrayed, but because that whole plot which should have been the main thrust of the suspense was relegated to the back burner when we were intended to be more interested in whether Mari would commit adultery.

George, you see, is a raging alcoholic, and I do mean raging, as Urquhart went all out in his portrayal of dipsomania, chewing the scenery despite the actors mainly being on a location where no scenery was needed. For that reason he raises the entertainment levels a few notches, he wasn't terrible, he was doing what was required to make something amusing out of what threatened to turn an adventure into a soap opera as we wonder who Mari is going to get it on with, George not being an option. Kurt looks like he'll have a go as he tries a most ungentlemanly attempted rape on the woman, as she just lies there muttering something about her being free with a packet of soap powder (eh?), but Burt is the better option since she actually likes him, to the point of developing a tentative romance.

Everyone here remains terminally jaded, make no mistake, and the filmmakers appeared to believe demonstrating this with acres of terse dialogue and a generally brittle demeanour for all except Burt (who thought it was a good idea to have a Kurt and Burt in this?). By doing so they would have us accept The Syndicate was so gritty and angry that it just had to be a movie for grown-ups, and this was definitely no kids' stuff that could be mistaken for an episode of Daktari! so you'd better set your jaw and sit back for an onslaught of... of lots of arguing, nay bickering, in a location that came across as weirdly setbound no matter that the cast were acting in an demonstrably expansive, genuine location. Perhaps if director Frederic Goode had spread out the action packed climax to further back in the narrative then it might have been a shade more enticing as a two-fisted tale, but as it was the dramatic denouement that saw a bunch of people get gunned down was relegated pretty much to the last five minutes, leaving you going "Was that it?!" Music by Edwin Astley.

[Network's DVD looks fine, with a trailer and gallery as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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