Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Script Problems Disable "Clay Pigeon"

Cleveland Press October 29, 1971

In simpler times white hats and black hats identified good guys from bad guys in the movies. Now everybody is bad except the fellow with long hair, beard and sandals and you can't be sure about him.

In "Clay Pigeon" Telly Savalas, who not only doesn't wear a hat but doesn't have hair either, is some sort of super federal cop in the war on narcotics.

But the first time we meet him he is busy murdering a fellow, the bullets going plunk instead of bang because he has a silencer on his gun. It's not a fight, you understand, it's just plain murder.

There isn't much he does from there on that's very nice either.

Then there's Robert Vaughn who wears funny hats and talks philosophy and is surrounded by flowers. He looks ok, a little fruity maybe, but otherwise all right. But he's the big fellow in the narcotics business on the west coast and he orders people killed, those he doesn't kill himself.

"Clay Pigeon" isn't about Savalas or Vaughn however; it's about Tom Stern who produced it, co-directed it and stars in it. Stern is a refugee from motorcycle movies where staple ingredients are sex and sadism. Stern sticks with the staples.

Aside from the aforementioned hair, beard and sandals Stern has a pouch around his neck. Inside is the Silver Star. The fellow is hero of the Vietnam war and also an ex-policeman but now he has dropped out.

"I'm here on loan," he says, "and I really dig it."

Savalas sets Stern up as a clay pigeon, identifying him as a wanted narcotics chief in order to bring the real one -- Vaughn -- out in the open.

Why this should work is never clear, but then most of what happens isn't clear. Stern tries to drop out even further but the bad guys (the illegal ones) commit mayhem on his friends.

No movie stands a chance without a decent script and that's one of the big troubles with "Clay Pigeon." The workings of its plot seldom make sense. It's anti-establishment attitude is clear enough, but it needed the framework of plot.

And whatever happened to motivation as an essential ingredient for drama?