A Lovely Way to Die (1968)

A Lovely Way to DieCountry: United States
Director: David Lowell Rich
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Sylva Koscina, Eli Wallach, Kenneth Haig, William Roerick, Ralph Waite, Ali MacGraw
Music: Kenyon Hopkins
Title song: ‘A Lovely Way To Die’ sung by Marge Dodson

A Lovely Way To Die is perfect lightweight sixties popcorn fair. Every sixties cliché is present from the seriously swinging title song (with silly lyrics), to the mod fashions and sets, and even the plot, but it doesn’t really matter that you’ve seen these setups before. They only add to the rich swingin’ timecapsule. As the story is a murder / mystery, I’ll keep the synopsis rather shallow so as not to spoil the film for those who chose to seek it out in the future.

The film opens as a racetrack. For us viewers, there are two separate story lines to begin with. Don’t worry they converge pretty quickly. The first story line belongs to Detective Jim Schuyler (Kirk Douglas) or ‘Sky’ as everybody calls him. Sky happens to be on leave and is doing a spot of gambling and womanising – not necessarily in that order. The other storyline involves Loren and Rena Westabrook (William Roerick & Sylva Koscina). They are a filthy rich couple who own one of the horses running that day. Their horse wins, and they accept a nice trophy cup and get their photos taken for the society pages of the local paper.

After the race, Sky goes home with a dolly bird he met at the track. After testing the resilience of the mattress springs, the couple then head to a Chinese restaurant for a meal. Also at the restaurant are several mobsters. Even though Sky is off duty, he doesn’t like mobsters and decides to confront them. The conversation doesn’t go well, and Sky ends up in a fist fight. Even though he is outnumbered, Sky handles himself admirably, even if he does destroy the restaurant in the process.

Meanwhile the Westabrook’s are on the way home by car. At this stage, it is worth pointing out that the Westabrooks cannot stand each other. He is much older than her – she probably married him for his money – but now the novelty has worn off for both of them. Simply to antagonise her husband, Rena lets her scarf fly off in the wind as they drive (the car is a convertible). Loren has to stop and march back to pick up the scarf. As they continue their journey, as Loren attempts to overtake a slow moving truck on a narrow road, he ends up bogged in a ditch. Rena waits in the car, while Loren walks to the nearest house to get help.

Later that evening at the Westabrook’s palatial estate, Loren is taking a late night swim. As he dives from the high board, a shot rings out, and he hits the water dead. Where is Mrs. Westabrook? Well, she is off with young swinger Jonathan Fleming (Kenneth Haig).

The next day, Sky is called into police headquarters. He is to be dragged over the coals for beating up on the mobsters. I seems one of them is in a coma, and the another has a broken jaw. It seems that this isn’t the only physical transgression has made in his career. In fact, in the last year he has made 112 arrests, but half have needed medical attention. It just screams ‘police brutality’ doesn’t it? The assistant DA is waiting is waiting for him to strip him down. But Sky doesn’t give him the opportunity. He walks into the office and hands in his badge.

Now, Sky is looking for a job, and fast talking attorney, Tennessee Fredericks (Eli Wallach) has one for him. Rena Westabrook and Jonathan Fleming have been arrested for the murder of Loren Westabrook. And the evidence seems quite compelling. Tennessee needs someone to act as bodyguard for Rena Westabrook, while she stands trial. Sky thinks she is guilty but takes the job anyway. And it won’t surprise anyone when I say that these two slowly are drawn together.

The story is pretty clichéd – old husband / young wife / young lover – and it does get a little over wrought at the end, but hey, you come to expect these things. Douglas is at his best as the cynical, tough ex-cop, and Sylva Koscina looks absolutely gorgeous in every scene, outfitted in some of the best translucent sixties fashion. As I said at the top, this film is lightweight and certainly not a long lost classic, but it is damn fine entertainment if you love sixties cinema (and I really do).

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