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YAPHET KOTTO & DIRECTOR CORNEL WILDE IN SHARKS' TREASURE

Year Released: 1975
In the 1990's, Jack Palance doing hot shot pushups at the Oscars wasn't anything new. Cornel Wilde, not quite as old but not young either, not only did them with one arm but used his fingers...

Pulpy Big Box VHS Cover
It was in a movie that won no Awards, probably didn't get much publicity and has been lost in VHS purgatory ever since (although now it's streaming on Amazon and free on youtube): Wilde's SHARK'S TREASURE, a Neo Noir in the Ernest Hemingway tradition of the TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT novel-version, centers on machismo verses elements of the sea. The title killer fish seems to be intentionally guarding a treasure of golden coins at a location that takes over half the film led by Wilde's semi-famous fortune hunter boatsman, Jim Carnahan, along with the map's bearer, a young man played by TERROR HOUSE actor John Neilson: Although Wilde had been a very good actor since playing the inside-man to Humphrey Bogart's first starring role in HIGH SIERRA, it takes a 1970's acting ace in Yaphet Kotto, as Ben, along with his Vietnam vet buddy Larry, played by sporadic BONANZA guest star David Canary, to make the picture more believable and intense...

TreasureTotal: ***1/2
Well that's the ship's party, and before TREASURE hits the three-fourths mark, the villains arrive: a band of escaped convicts, five of them, though herein only two need naming: Cliff Osmond is a tall, mustached, balding Spanish Alpha Male, cursed within a creepy, bullying love affair with a young blond man you just know was his bitch in stir. As an actor, Osmond's turned up as a heavy in Disney movies, which this is anything but... And taking two to tango, Ray Milland's passive, sheepish FROGS grandson David Gilliam plays the put-upon blond punk wherein the most bizarre and sadistic homosexual romance occurs (without sex or kissing, of course) while the main players, who, minutes earlier, were so full of life having just succeeded in finding treasure: dodging sharks by either outsmarting or killing them, and a good deal of suspense relies on how quick those suckers are...

Exploitation style poster art & tagline
So Al Giddings, the underwater photographer, must be given credit as this particular shark picture, while feeling like a pulpy fortune hunting programmer, looks as good as any documentary on the legendary menace of the deep: A horde of Tiger Sharks as opposed to one menacing Great White. Never have so many sharks looked so pointed, feisty and mean, and all in their natural habitat as opposed to cheating with stock images...

With a slash of their tails and a quick bunt of the nose, they guard "their" treasure while the men, hard to discern underwater where characterization means little compared to the sport of "sharking," turn into harpoon wielding hunters, doing what some viewers may find cruel and pointless when it's really just plain necessary. Especially dark and morbid is gothic row of dead sharks hooked from ropes, hanging in a sort of underwater gallows from the floaty balloons above. So, overall, this forgotten lost TREASURE is a decent yarn despite suffering through many overlong scenes to get to the proverbial gold. Unlike Steven Spielberg's request to never show land, during this Third Act, while the boys are hand-tied and threatened, stretches of land are visible so we don't really feel completely out there like in JAWS. Once a bizarre sadistic fight occurs between the head baddie and his abused boytoy, things get so bizarre it's up to the film's writer/director, Wilde himself, to make things watchable again, bringing back the lean energy from his Film Noir days, remaining cool and calm while playing the long game, getting inside the head of the only vulnerable convict. The man's acting peaks during these 11th hour moments.

Back of the big box VHS of SHARKS' TREASURE
A few scenes, using literal inserted photographs of the treasure hunt after the initial discovery has been established (with a cool yet campy song titled "Money Money" by Ken Barrie plays), seems like a cop-out shortcut but looks creative and moves the story smoothly forward despite hitting a dead calm once the antagonists board. There's some adventure during the climax but the most fun for the viewer take place during the first half where SHARK'S TREASURE is a bonafide oceanic treasure hunting flick that, like TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, has the men getting more uptight and then at each other's necks... particularly Wilde and his bitter employee Kotto, who's forced not to smoke on deck. The tension is more palpable between the four cohorts than the nine or so captives and captors. And while it's the epitome of an uneven picture, after a few viewings the jigsaw pieces together, and you may just find it a fulfilling experience at sea, deeply rooted even while in shallow regions.
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