By John Rieber
One of Hollywood’s veteran leading men was Rod Taylor – best known for this starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” as well as the sci-fi classic “The Time Machine”.
However, his greatest film is also a “great moment in action history: the brutal action thriller “Darker Than Amber“, a forgotten film from 1970 that features one of Hollywood’s most legendary fight scenes.
Introducing “Travis McGee”
The late Author John D. MacDonald wrote many bestsellers, but he was also known for creating Private Detective Travis McGee. MacDonald published twenty-one novels about the adventures of McGee, and each one had a color in the title.
The huge success of the books meant it was time to turn the McGee novels into a movie series as well. The plan was to create a big action movie franchise – like James Bond.
But when “Darker Than Amber” was released, audiences were surprised by the amount of raw violence in the film, which includes one action sequence that has been lauded as one of the most brutal and realistic fights ever shown on screen.
British sex kitten Suzy Kendall co-starred in the movie as Vangee, a young woman targeted by the mob.
Veteran “tough guy” William Smith co-starred as Terry, a sadistic thug who takes pleasure in causing pain – and Smith’s physical brawn plays into the movie’s physical finale.
The film’s poster showcased one of the most brutal fight scenes ever captured on film. McGee has spirited Vangee away on a cruise ship, and Terry goes aboard to find her. What started as a “movie fight” quickly escalated into a real battle between the actors!
With the cameras rolling, one actor accidentally struck the other (no one has ever revealed who struck the first real blow), the second threw a retaliatory punch, and a staged fight scene became a real fight, with real wounds, real lost teeth, and real blood all over their clothing! That’s right, what you see on film is a real, brutal battle between Smith and Taylor.
“Darker Than Amber” hasn’t been released on home video, but thanks to YouTube, the scene lives on. It begins with the fight in the bedroom on the cruiseship, as McGee enters Suzy’s stateroom to check up on her – only to be ambushed by Smith…that fight is followed by Smith’s rampage as he tries to flee the ship…
Whether this is the entire uncut battle is unclear, but there are several versions on the internet that purport to be so. Either way, “Darker Than Amber” has been optioned to be re-made…let’s hope they keep the action raw and brutal!
Director Robert Clouse went on to make “Enter The Dragon”, largely because Bruce Lee saw “Amber” and loved the choreographed fight scene!
To date, this is the only film adaptation of one of John Macdonald’s Travis Mcgee Novels.
Here’s one more fun fact: The clothing company Arrow created a special shirt design called “The McGee” for Taylor to wear in the film. When the movie flopped, so did the shirt.
Let us know what you think of this incredible movie mayhem.