‘l have seen death many times. He wears the face of a man. Your face.’
Sinister forces attempt to obtain the pieces of an ancient medallion which may provide evidence that alien astronauts visited planet Earth in the distant past. One fragment is passed from a Native American shaman to a hitchhiker, and he attempts to unravel the mystery of its origin and meaning.
American Network television in the 1970s wasn’t noted for its edgy or unusual content; and many films commissioned for broadcast were specifically designed as pilots for a possible weekly series. These were generally formulaic and bland, and many attempted to emulate the recipe of other hits. So it’s rather pleasing to find something like this effort; a strange amalgamation of extraterrestrials and Native American mythology.
The subject is understandable to an extent; Erich Von Daniken’s ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ was originally published in 1968 and, by the early 1970s, had become a sensation, and a staple of airport bookstalls everywhere. His theories of alien visitation in ancient times have been largely debunked since, but they were certainly a hot topic of debate when this film was made.
Our main man here is Stephen McHattie, playing the son of a federal judge who has rejected a life of privilege for the pleasures of life on the road, drifting in search of personal enlightenment. His quest takes him to Mexico where he meets medicine man, John War Eagle; a Native American actor actually born in Leicestershire, England! Unfortunately, War Eagle’s in the grips of a couple of local thugs hired by ruthless collector Raymond St Jacques, who wants the piece of the medallion that he holds.
McHattie and War Eagle end up in the local jail where they run into a local rabble rouser played by a 24 year-old Kurt Russell(!) and then War Eagle passes the fragment to McHattie as he dies. Our confused hero is all at sea, but teams up with the shaman’s grand-daughter (Victoria Racimo) and they enlist the assistance of local museum curator Ralph Bellamy to get the low down on the medallion and its origins. The dubious Russell invites himself along for the ride, although it’s no surprise when his motivations turn out to be financial, rather than spiritual.
Sadly, after the setup, there’s not a lot of story development and, unlikely as it may have seemed at first, it becomes obvious that this was just another pilot for a show that was never picked up. All the action centres around one piece of the MacGuffin in question and, as soon as that becomes clear, the audience knows there’s not likely to be any real resolution to the story. Pacing is also a definite issue. There’s a very lengthy (and underwhelming) tribal ceremony to sit through, and some character work in the final third when things should really be working up toward a climax.
lt’s fun to see a genuine classic era Hollywood star like Bellamy with the young Russell, although there’s not a great deal of interaction between them. Russell had actually been appearing on TV for over a decade, with child roles on shows like ‘Lost ln Space’ and ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ Of course, he’d also kicked Elvis on the shin at the start of ‘It Happened at The World’s Fair’ (1964).
McHattie has been a working character player for many years, appearing on dozens of hit network shows like ‘The X-Files’, ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’, ‘Walker: Texas Ranger’ and many others. He also has a occasional recurring role as the title character’s father on ‘Murdoch Mysteries.’ On the big screen, he’s featured in films like ‘Watchmen’ (2009) and Roland Emmerich’s ‘2012’ (2009). St Jacques was one of John Wayne’s troop in ‘The Green Berets’ (1968) and played ‘Coffin’ Ed Johnson in ‘Cotton Comes To Harlem’ (1970).
The serious tone of the project is pleasing, and there’s a welcome absence of cheesy SFX, but at around 100 minutes, it’s a little long and a bit on the dull side. What happens when the nine pieces ofthe medallion are assembled is, of course, the big question and it would have been interesting to see what the filmmakers would have come up with, but sadly we’ll never know.
An unusual subject for a U.S. TV movie, but one that would have benefitted no end from more story development and a tighter edit.