Tiger by the Tail (1970) Blu-ray Review: The Lyons' Tiger's a Bear, Oh My

Christopher George, Tippi Hedren, Charo, and a lot of wood paneling star in this odd little thriller from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
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Outwardly, there isn't much for the average contemporary moviegoer to get excited about over R.G. Springsteen's Tiger by the Tail. But before you go wandering off in search of something else to view, consider what this fairly tepid, tiny thriller has to offer internally. Shot in the late '60s, this, the final film from one of the most prolific B-western directors ever, centers on a slightly disgraced Vietnam veteran who gets caught up in a thoroughly predictable web of conspiracy after his racetrack-owner brother is murdered during a hold-up coordinated by one (or more) of his corrupt colleagues amid the stale backdrop of rural late '60s New Mexico.

Portraying said protagonist is one of cult cinema's legendary crowned kings himself, the late great Christopher George (Enter the Ninja, Grizzly). Starring opposite of Mr. George is none other than Ms. Tippi Hedren, whose career had taken a considerable step back after appearing in Alfred Hitchcock classics The Birds and Marnie. And then there are the great supporting character actors appearing here: Dean Jagger, John Dehner, Lloyd Bochner, Alan Hale Jr., Glenda Farrell, Skip Homeier, and even R.G. Armstrong. There's also an abundance of wood paneling present in almost every damn scene. But then, most of the acting is wooden, too, so they sort of compliment each other.

Hell, even Charo is in this movie. In fact, this was her film debut ‒ although I think it goes without saying not many people noticed. Cast as a flamboyant performer with mucho sex appeal and a heavy accent (gee, what a stretch!), the well-known Spanish-American icon who would systematically arouse and annoy anyone who ever watched The Love Boat is indeed at her greenest here. But, considering how low Tiger by the Tail's production standards are in the first place, Charo's inexperience as an actress hardly constitutes a black mark against her. Rather, that honor would go to the production company responsible for the whole damn movie.

Which leads us to perhaps the most fascinating inner trinket behind Tiger by the Tail: the reason behind its meager existence.

In 1966, Francis D. Lyon and Earle Lyon (no relation) formed United Pictures Corporation. Over the next three years, the pair produced nine little genre oddities, most of which were created to be shown on TV following brief theatrical releases. Which explains why this supposed "big-screen" movie exhibits that funky TV movie aura about it throughout, from the ultimately flaccid sexy bits right down to the supporting cast who either phoned it in, did it for the free tiger's milk, or both (I'm looking at you, Skipper). Of course, all of the wood paneling can only be attributed to the fact it was filmed in the rural Southwest of the late '60s.

That said, John Dehner is the true highlight of the film here, as a small-town sheriff with an above-average IQ. Coming in a close second is the amazing R.G. Armstrong. Usually cast a heavy in an assortment of odds and ends ranging from movies by Sam Peckinpah to Metallica music videos (he was the Sandman, kids), Armstrong is at what could very well be his most likeable here as a State Police officer with a good heart and an open fondness for soda pop. If grabbing Tiger by the Tail doesn't do much else for you, at least there's that sweet little cushion to fall upon. Well, and the copious money shots to wood paneling manufacturers of the great Southwest, of course.

Making its official home video debut for the first time ever, Tiger by the Tail swings onto Blu-ray (and DVD) thanks to the Kino Lorber Studio Classics label. Presented in a matted widescreen aspect ratio, the transfer (as provided from an all-new 4K scan and restoration from the Paramount Archives) is quite gorgeous, boasting strong colors and contrast, with no noticeable flaws present (well, none that I noticed, at least) outside of the inherent grain in the credits and occasional cropped B-roll shots (and a hilarious bit of stock footage). English (SDH) subtitles accompany the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono soundtrack, which delivers the terrible dialogue perfectly.

But the real fun to be had here is in the audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Armed with a plethora of information about the title and its numerous benefactors and contributors (to say nothing about the occasional age joke), the pair graciously guide the viewer through the more interesting aspects of Tiger by the Tail. So much so, that this is one of those rare instances where I actually recommend watching the movie with the commentary on first, as this special feature undoubtedly adds a lot to the overall experience. Well played, Kino Lorber. Trailers for other Kino Lorber Studio Classics complete this very unique offering.

Tiger by the Tail arrives on home video from Kino Lorber Studio Classics July 24, 2018.

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