1973. 81 minutes.
The first and only time I saw Birds of Prey forty-one years ago, it blew me away. As action films go, I still think it's superior to many; and the fact that it was made for television on a minimal budget makes it even more remarkable.
David Janssen plays an ex-World War Two Flying Tigers fighter pilot whose aviation career is winding down; he's now relegated to being a traffic reporter flying over Salt Lake City and quietly going nuts from boredom.
One day he happens to observe a bank robbery in progress, which he duly reports to his good pal from the war (Ralph Meeker), who is now a police captain with the Salt Lake City PD. But Meeker doesn't believe him at first, thinking it's another one of Janssen's middle-aged pranks.
That's all it takes: Janssen sees it as a challenge—and the chase is on. From this point forward, the film is indeed one giant chase sequence. The bad guys transfer themselves, their loot, and a hostage to a helicopter only to be relentlessly harried by Janssen every step of the way. The pacing is terrific.
Kudos to the late James W. Gavin for these sequences. Whenever Hollywood needed a master pilot who could also deliver lines in an acceptable fashion, Gavin was their go-to guy. He did lots of screen work in films and TV series, such as Adam 12.
If you really get into the characters in this film—as I did—then the final line will be especially poignant: "Damn you, Walker! I didn't ask you to do that!"
Tech note: If I remember correctly, Janssen's chopper was a Hughes 500D while the criminals had an Aerospatiale Alouette.
NOTE: A slightly different version of this article appeared on Steve Lewis's MYSTERY*FILE weblog HERE.
Category: Detective fiction
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