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6 Degrees Entertainment

'Clay Pigeon'
(Tom Stern, Telly Savalas, Robert Vaughn, John Marley, Burgess Meredith, et al / DVD / R / (1971) 2020 / MVD Visual)

Overview: Joe Ryan, a returning Vietnam veteran, (Tom Stern, 'Hells Angels 69') thinks his life is on borrowed time because he jumped over a grenade to save his platoon and it didn't go off!

He just wants to be left alone to collect scrap, pay his rent, and smoke his weed!

Into his life comes Redford (Telly Savalas, 'Kojak'), a CIA operative looking for a drug kingpin Neilson (Robert Vaughn, 'The Magnificent Seven'), running heroin, cocaine and other habit-forming illegal drugs into the LA area.

The CIA names our 'Joe' as the Kingpin in order to draw him out into the open, where they can catch him, making Joe the "Clay Pigeon".

DVD Verdict: Co-directors Tom Stern and Lane Slate's 'Clay Pigeon' qualifies as a grim, but ultimately lethargic crime thriller about the Los Angeles heroin trade.

Telly Savalas, after 'The Dirty Dozen' but before 'Kojak,' co-stars in this activist-oriented, anti-drug, message picture. Savalas plays an unscrupulous FBI agent who bends the rules so he can play the game his way.

Robert Vaughn, in one of his worst performances (it has to be said, sorry), is cast as the villainous Mr. Big of the heroin trade. Vaughn postures and shouts threats throughout this 97-minute, R-rated, movie about murder and mayhem.

He slaps around vulnerable, helpless young women, while his henchmen do far worse. Tom Stern looks like Steve McQueen in a bushy beard with long hair, but he isn't a charismatic hero in the slightest!

Indeed, he is a passive hero who does nothing until the villain prompts him into action with their murderous ways. Eventually, the villains get our lackluster hero to react.

Initially, after the authorities arrest for taking a joyride on a motorcycle cop's bike, Ryan turns down a deal from FBI Agent Frank Redford (Savalas) to serve as Redford's undercover agent.

Our hero, Joe Ryan (Tom Stern of 'The Hallelujah Trail') is a lucky Vietnam veteran whose claim to fame is his risked his life and dived onto a grenade to save his fellow soldiers.

As it turned out, the grenade didn't blow up, and Ryan received a Silver Star. Redford ushers Ryan on a tour of a local drug rehab center so he can witness first-hand the shocking effects of heroin.

Noted character actor Jeff Corey appears in a cameo as the clinic doctor who supervises hopeless heroin addicts.

Of course, the hippie-looking Ryan knows about the drug, loathes its side-effects, but he refuses to accommodate Redford. Ryan believes the wily Neilson will pay off a judge and land a short sentence.

Ryan complains about how penniless kids in Texas, Alabama, and elsewhere wind up doing hard time for smoking marijuana.

However, Ryan agrees to tackle Neilson, but he wants to play by his own rules. Instead, the treacherous Redford allows Ryan to walk without prosecution for his joyride.

Nevertheless, Redford has Ryan's face plastered across the front page as the mysterious heroin dealer. Predictably, Neilson wants Ryan located and dispatches his two most trusted henchmen, Simon (Ivan Dixon of CBS-TV's 'Hogan's Heroes') and Jason (Mario Alcalde) to ferret the reluctant hero out.

Basically, Ryan becomes the titular 'Clay Pigeon' because Neilson treats him as one. Simon and Jason then embark on a killing spree!

They shoot-up one of Ryan's heroin junkie friends, Tracy (Belinda Palmer), with enough muck to kill her! Later, Simon murders another heroin junkie, Saddle (Marlene Clark), after she divulges Ryan's whereabouts.

Simon puts his gun to her ear and shoots her without a qualm and then Neilson and his two henchmen surprise Ryan after he has just awakened.

Simon wounds Ryan and they kill Ryan's stripper girlfriend Angeline (one-time only actress Marilyn Akin) and everything boils down to a desperate foot chase to the Hollywood Bowl where Ryan kills both henchmen.

Some of the violence is staged with believable horror, especially to one of the tortured heroin addicts. Meanwhile, Stern pulls his punches in one physical encounter with Savalas.

The dune buggy chase is a brighter moment, while Ryan running circles around the cops in their patrol cars in the desert. FBI agent Frank Redford and free-wheeling Mr. Neilson (Robert Vaughn of 'Bullitt') represent the Establishment, but they are equally corrupt.

Mind you, the local police captain (John Marley of 'Love Story') doesn't like Redford. The bittersweet ending has Ryan assaulting Redford after the authorities tear him off Neilson who he is struggling to drown at the Hollywood Bowl.

There are a few good lines of dialogue, but 'Clay Pigeon' drags on interminably at times when some judicious editing might have accelerated its sluggish pace.

Also, the blood looks too bright, but there are a couple of nude scenes for those that applaud such things! One scene involves Ryan's stripper girlfriend twirling about on a dance floor as naked as she was the day she was born.

The second nude scene occurs in a swimming pool when a guy swims with two bare-breasted babes.

In closing, Stern's righteous-to-anger hero lacks initiative thus 'Clay Pigeon' amounts to a tepid so-called crime thriller, and yet, well, I might just watch it again to see if I missed something the first time! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) and enhanced for 16x9 TVs.