A lot of Alistair MacLean's books have made it onto the big screen. Some of them (The Guns Of Navarone, Fear Is The Key, Where Eagles Dare) have been translated rather well; some (Breakheart Pass, Ice Station Zebra, The Secret Ways) have been passable enough; a few (River Of Death, Bear Island, The Way To Dusty Death) have been pretty rotten. Caravan To Vaccares is another movie based on one of MacLean's perennially popular bestsellers, but alas this is yet another that deserves adding to the "rotten" list. Peopled by uninteresting characters who get into uninteresting situations and escapades, Caravan To Vaccares is an absolute failure, both as a thriller and an entertainment. Its only semi-redeeming qualities are: a) that it is filmed on very attractive Provence locations, and: b) Charlotte Rampling looks utterly ravishing (with fully nude scenes to boot) as the main female character.
Disillusioned American drifter Neil Bowman (David Birney) is travelling aimlessly through France when he meets British photographer Lila (Charlotte Rampling). They decide to accompany each other, and during their wanderings make the acquaintance of mysterious nobleman Duc De Croyter (Michel Lonsdale). The Duc persuades the pair to aid him in protecting and escorting Hungarian scientist Zuger (Michael Bryant), who is sought by various shady parties because of some information that he is carrying in his head. Kept secret from Bowman and Lila is the fact that Zuger has discovered a secret formula for using solar power as cheap, economical energy. The Hungarian needs desperately to get his formula to New York, but hired guns have been put on his trail to capture him presumably so that he can be taken back to some ruthless criminal lord and tortured into revealing his priceless secret, which they can then sell on to the highest bidder. Bowman and Lila find themselves and their terrified fugitive on the run in the French countryside from their deadly adversaries.
The film seems terribly cheap and amateurish, almost like an ultra low-budget independent film made by a non-professional cast and crew. Yet a fair sum of money was actually thrown at the film, and all those involved have, at various points in their careers, done much better work. Therefore, one has to assume that the film is bad simply because it has been written, acted and directed with a distinct lack of care and interest. The pacing is deadly slow, and the plot points become so laborious that the viewer has to put in too much unrewarded effort to keep up with the story. Birney's performance is uninvolving, and Rampling only creates a stir due to her nude scenes the character itself is an absolute bore, and the actress looks rightly bored by it. For those who manage to stick with the film right to the very end, there is an unusual scene featuring some deadly rodeo clowns and a fierce bull (!) which, while not particularly exciting or well executed, is at least different to the norm. Caravan To Vaccares is a very disappointing film in most respects, and once more a strong novel by the prolific author has suffered during its transition onto the screen.