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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Any Man’s Death’ a Soggy Political Thriller

“Any Man’s Death” (AMC Century 14) may not diminish you--but it won’t enrich your movie-going life either. This soggy political melodrama--which takes its title from the same John Donne sermon that supplied Hemingway with “For Whom the Bell Tolls"--is set in an Angola desert wilderness, populated with a set of walking, running or jeep-driving cliches.

The premise is feeble. A dropout photographer sends his editor a mysterious print of a gorgeous girl and a wispy old man. John Savage, as gonzo reporter Leon Abrams, is dispatched to unlock the unknown riddle. Since Abrams is a drunk recovering from a nervous breakdown--played by Savage with such a repertory of twitches, tics and eye-flutters that he seems on the verge of breakdown number two--this seems odd strategy.

How little we know. Abrams finds everything almost immediately. Soon, we are face to face with a cadre of Nazi war criminals--conducting experiments with snake venom: a task which has the cast waving at, killing or menacing each other with snakes for much of the picture.

The movie keeps reaching for “Salvador” or “Under Fire,” but it barely comes up with “They Saved Hitler’s Brain.” As the odious Herr Ganz, Ernest Borgnine spits out lines like “ Vot iss diss stupidity?” as if he were trying to exorcise the ghost of Otto Preminger.

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Toward the end, William Hickey, playing an ex-Nazi scientist with many secrets, appears, and, befitting his long career as a preeminent acting teacher, gives a demonstration of consummate hammery: hissing, muttering, yelling, drawling, whispering, glowering, holding us as spellbound as a master thespian working with the phone book . . . which might have been preferable. Considering the fact that Hickey has to say things like “Not even God should be forced to play God,” this is truly an achievement.

As for the rest of “Any Man’s Death” (rated R for language, sex and violence) snakes and all, we agree with Borgnine. Vot iss diss stupidity?


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