(UK/Italy/Brazil/US - 1979)
Directed by Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti). Written by Michael Rogers. Cast: Lee Majors, Karen Black, Margaux Hemingway, Marisa Berenson, James Franciscus, Gary Collins, Anthony Steffen, Dan Pastorini, Roy Brocksmith, Frank Pesce, Charlie Guardino, Fabio Sabag, Chico Arago, Jorge Cherques. (PG, 101 mins)
A hybrid of heist thriller, disaster movie, and JAWS ripoff, KILLER FISH is a perfect example of the kind of international co-production insanity that only could've happened in the 1970s. Produced by the UK's Sir Lew Grade, Italy's Carlo Ponti, the Brazilian company Filmar do Brasil, and American TV power couple Lee Majors and Farrah Fawcett-Majors, the film was designed as a star vehicle for Lee Majors, whose successful five-season run on ABC's THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN had just come to a close in 1978. Majors, a veteran of several past TV hits like THE BIG VALLEY, THE VIRGINIAN, and OWEN MARSHALL, COUNSELOR AT LAW, was trying to parlay his television success into a big-screen career and from 1978 to 1981, starred in several B-movies of usually dubious quality, while at the same time turning down an offer from Paramount to co-star with Nick Nolte in NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979). Majors' role--a hard-partying, good ol' boy star quarterback--went to Mac Davis and the film is now regarded by many as the definitive serious football film. While NORTH DALLAS FORTY was a box office hit and opened to almost universal acclaim, Majors was making KILLER FISH and other films like THE NORSEMAN (1978), STEEL (1980), AGENCY (1981), and THE LAST CHASE (1981), all of which were out of theaters in a week, and by the end of 1981, he was back on ABC for another series, THE FALL GUY, which ran until 1986.
THE SQUEEZE and brought that film's suddenly slumming co-star Karen Black along to Brazil for another heist plot. Shot entirely in some stunningly beautiful locations, it's very likely that it was the idea of a working vacation in Rio that lured much of KILLER FISH's cast, which had an unusually large number of American actors for such trashy European-ish fare. While the Italian/West German co-production THE SQUEEZE is probably Margheriti's most American-looking film thanks to some effective location work in some grimy parts of Manhattan and just over the river in New Jersey, KILLER FISH is right alongside the US/Spanish blaxploitation western TAKE A HARD RIDE (1975) and the rainforest-set Italian RAMBO ripoff INDIO (1989) as the most American-feeling of Margheriti's vast output. Much effort was made to package KILLER FISH like a typical Hollywood disaster movie, with only one Italian actor in the cast (former DJANGO Anthony Steffen, best known for 1971's THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE), several Americans, including model Margaux Hemingway, part-time actor and soon-to-be talk show and Miss America host Gary Collins and, as usual in these types of movies, an off-season football star--in this case, Houston Oilers QB Dan Pastorini. KILLER FISH also sported its own Maureen McGovern-mandated disaster movie theme song, "Winner Takes All," performed by flash-in-the-pan disco queen Amii Stewart, who had a chart-topping, Grammy-nominated hit in early 1979 with "Knock on Wood."
beginning of BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984) and returned to further incur Axel Foley's wrath in BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987), and he played gangsters in MIDNIGHT RUN (1988) and DONNIE BRASCO (1997). His story was chronicled in the 1991 film 29TH STREET, with Anthony LaPaglia as Pesce, and the film produced and based on a story by Pesce and Franciscus, who became good friends after working together on KILLER FISH (Franciscus retired from acting in 1985 and died of emphysema at just 57 in 1991, a few months before 29TH STREET's release). Pesce and Lustig get sidetracked, as old friends do, and don't start talking about KILLER FISH until midway through the segment, but Pesce's got some priceless stories about his and Lustig's late friend Joe Spinell, and about working as a stand-in for Robert De Niro on TAXI DRIVER (1976), and Roy Scheider on MARATHON MAN (1976) and in the NYC scenes in SORCERER (1977). He also talks about Black trying to convert him to Scientology and tells a great story about some KILLER FISH cast and crew members going to a popular Rio disco, where Pesce's working his magic on an attractive blonde and was about to make his move when a bat flew into his hair, startling him and prompting him to scream loudly. The blonde immediately lost interest and Pesce later saw her leaving with Majors, who was "with her" for the rest of the shoot. Regarding Majors and his then-wife Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Pesce recalls that it was during the filming of KILLER FISH that Majors got word that Fawcett was involved with Ryan O'Neal, or as Pesce eloquently puts it, "Lee found out that whatsisname, Ryan O'Neal, was bangin' Farrah."