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ROBERT CONRAD DOUBLES 'SUDDEN DEATH' & 'MURPH THE SURF'

title: SUDDEN DEATH year: 1977 cast: Robert Conrad, Felton Perry, Don Stroud rating: ***
The tagline, “Robert Conrad is better than Dirty Harry,” makes little sense except his partner Wyatt is African American actor Felton Perry, Harry Callahan's doomed sidekick in MAGNUM FORCE. Sort of a Jim Kelly without the black belt, Perry's fun to watch and makes a good team with Conrad, their escapades enveloped by a glorious 1970’s wah-wah peddle soundtrack, keeping the boys moving like two sleek sharks in a sea of landmines.

Shot (and set) in the Philippines, SUDDEN DEATH begins with a grisly opening straight out of the bloodiest of Sergio Leone flicks – the family of an important American are massacred and only the father survives.
Robert Conrad faces off against Stroud
He tries hiring Conrad’s retired Duke Smith, who, with his own clan consisting of teenage daughter and young native wife, lays around and wants nothing to do with investigating the obvious culprits, and the shadowy figures behind everything corrupt in movies, the C.I.A. (and other big business bullies exploiting the locals). 

What makes this a cool action flick occurs after you set the plot aside (the bad guys making deals can get tedious) and narrow down to the essential gritty action. Once Duke and Wyatt team up we have gun battles, fist fights, and a kung fu finale between Conrad and an actor that, finally appearing after fifty minutes, you’ll forget was second billed in the opening credits.
Don Stroud making up for lost crime
Don Stroud’s lethal thug Dominic is hired to take out the good guys, making for a worthy adversary against Conrad, who has already been through the ringer. And the WILD WILD WEST icon goes against his usual form, being more vulnerable and desperate than one-dimensionally tough. Providing his character, and the film, more of an edge than if he were completely deathproof. 

Some of the dubbed dialog and stilted acting of the side-characters (especially Conrad’s real life daughter) would be frowned upon in anything but an overseas exploitation. As would lines like, “I’ll eat my shoes if that chump ain’t fuzz.” But in the drive-in universe, this kinda stuff only enhances the experience. Meanwhile, the plush cinematography has the bright grainy look of the Roger Corman Philippines flicks, providing an esthetic that becomes a character in itself – the perfect bloody playground for the good, bad and ugly to dominate with guns, knives, and big neat explosions.
Conrad beating up his future BLACKSHEEP pilot Larry Manetti
title: MURPH THE SURF year: 1975 cast: Robert Conrad, Don Stroud rating: ***1/2
The original title, and what appears on the screen in the opening credits, is MURPH THE SURF, later changed to LIVE A LITTLE, STEAL A LOT – both not very good but the latter makes more sense being that Murph, who surfs, isn’t even the main character.

Played by real life former surf champ Don Stroud, Jack Murphy is the cocky wild card of two jewel thieves that, like the alternate title implies, have good times after each score. But Robert Conrad’s slowburn Allen Kuhn, as we’re reminded constantly, is the reason Jack's not just a beach bum crook. Kuhn knows his trade like a routine – in every heist he teaches Murph a thing or two about sneaking in and out of hotels or museums to snatch up jewels like apples from a tree. 
Crooked cops Ben Frank and the late Morgan Paull
Kuhn’s so capable there's little suspense in the heists – most of the fun occurs after the partners score and wind up with a bevy of poolside beauties, and eventually buy a sailboat and plan the big score set up from the very beginning: a round diamond from India the size of a golf ball that, if taken, will give them enough money to, you know, retire forever. But after an hour of bliss, the cops (including Burt Young) finally move in and complications arise – yet those sporadic heists remain without intrusion... and now they’re much too easy, on purpose.

Earthy starlet Donna Mills plays Murph’s love interest who becomes a partner in crime, and it’s never realistic she’d fall so hard for a bombastic womanizing boob like Murph. Meanwhile, the kindhearted Kuhn's far too smitten with her, providing an unspoken love triangle that never really pans out. All that matters are the slick jewel thieves enjoying themselves and getting away with just about everything – including a pivotal speedboat chase where Murph’s having the time of his life thanks to his flawlessly crooked partner, who can do just about anything as long as it’s illegal and pays well.
CITIZEN KANE alumni Paul Stewart defends the boys
Donna Mills under Burt Young's interrogation
BUY THE CONRAD/STROUD DOUBLE FEATURE ON DVD
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