Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
The Swiss Conspiracy

The Swiss Conspiracy shows off Switzerland's beauty – and Roku reaches a milestone

By Jim Bray
February 23, 2024

Film Masters' latest release is kind of an espionage tale, except it's more about Swiss banking intrigue than it is kind of James Bond adventure.

Meanwhile, Roku, the streaming platform and service, has announced it's now being used by 80 million people worldwide. That's quite the thing!

As far as the Swiss Conspiracy is concerned, the 1976 movie stars David Janssen as a retired DOJ officer who's hired to be a "security consultant" to solve a blackmail conspiracy involving some very high rollers and their Swiss bank accounts.

Five of these rollers have been "doxed" (a term that didn't exist back then, I daresay), something Swiss banks try to prevent from happening lest their credibility and reputation for discretion go up in smoke. One of the doxees is also a Chicago mob dude who has other problems of his own: he's being chased by American gangsters.

David Christopher (Janssen, who may have been best known as Dr. Richard Kimble in the '60's TV series The Fugitive, though he was also in such films as The Shoes of the Fisherman and The Green Berets)
keeps pursuing the truth doggedly, with mixed results. Mixed, in that these "doxees" start getting killed off.

When the bank finally decides to knuckle under to the blackmailer, paying the demanded ransom in uncut diamonds, the ransom rendezvous – which happens on a gorgeous and snowy Swiss mountaintop (for which the cast really should have dressed more appropriately) – turns into a showdown at the top of the world.

I'm not going to go deeply into the story, which isn't bad but isn't particularly great, ether. I'm glad I saw it, though, because the Swiss countryside is nothing short of spectacular, and this new widescreen 4K remastering really does it justice.

The Swiss Conspiracy also stars Elke Sommer, John Saxon, John Ireland, Senta Berger, David Hess and Ray Milland, which is a pretty good Who's Who of stars of the era. They look a tad tired, but they also bring some gravitas to the tale.

The film was directed by Jack Arnold, who sci fi movie buffs will probably remember as the guy who brought us such flicks as The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula, It Came from Outer Space and The Tattered Dress. This was apparently his final theatrical feature, though he was still involved in TV, directing episodes of such shows as Gilligan's Island, the Mod Squad, Wonder Woman and The Love Boat.

The new 4K restoration "from original 35mm archival elements" looks very good indeed, and that works well for the lovely locations. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio virtually fills the widescreen TV, the detail is very good (though I wish they'd release a 4K disc version rather than just this Blu-ray, as good as it may be). Colours are rich and black levels are nicely inky.

The folks at Film Masters supposedly enlisted "colorist and restoration expert Marc Wielage" to tweak the old colours, dragging them from 1976 to 2024. It shows. 

Audio is dts HD Master Audio and it's as good as one can expect from an analogue source of this vintage. There isn't a lot of surround, which isn't surprising since surround sound was really in its infancy back then, but the front channels are used well.

You get a reasonable selection of extras, too. First up is an audio commentary track featuring film historian Robert Kelly and writer/podcaster Daniel Budnik. There's also a video essay "A three-dimensional filmmaker", by Will Dodson and Ryan Verrill (referring to the fact that director Arnold was one of the directors who exploited 3D back in the day).

Jack Arnold: The Lost Years looks at at the later years of Arnold's career, while a booklet inserted into the box, with an essay written by Lee Pfeiffer, editor-in-chief of Cinema Retro magazine, gives some interesting insight into the film's production.

There's also a copy of the original 1976 theatrical trailer, also scanned into 4K, and a re-cut 2024 trailer as well.

As regular readers of my stuff probably know, Film Masters is a consortium of historians and enthusiasts who are trying to preserve and restore mostly forgotten films such as this one. They're previously worked their magic on TheTerror/Little Shop of Horrors and The Giant Gila Monster/Killer Shrews. I actually enjoyed those movies more than Swiss Conspiracy, but to each his/her/its own.

Film Master says that "by scanning in 2K and 4K, we give these lesser-known films the red-carpet treatment they deserve. Leveraging modern means of distribution to release forgotten films back into the world, we also produce original bonus materials, including feature-length documentaries, which aid audiences in contextualizing and celebrating these works of art as they were meant to be." And so they do!

The Swiss Conspiracy may not be the greatest thriller ever made, but it's well worth a view, especially if you love mountainous scenery.

Roku, meanwhile, says it now has more than 80 million active accounts, and more than 100 billion streaming hours as of last year. That's a lot of cable cutters, and I'm willing to bet the "major" broadcasters are feeling Roku's (and the other streamers) hot breath on the back of their necks.

This is a good thing. The broadcasters have gotten fat, lazy and greedy over the decades, and it's about time they had to sweat.

Not only that, but according to a Roku press release, "in the U.S., Roku's active account base is now bigger than the subscribers of the six largest traditional pay-TV providers combined " (according to the Leichtman Research Group, Nov 2023). 

"As the leading TV streaming platform, Roku aims to make television better for everyone," said Anthony Wood, Founder and CEO, Roku. "In a world where one day all TV will be streamed, we're immensely proud to be the programmer of the home screen for more than 80 million active accounts around the globe, connecting people directly to what they love to watch."

Roku isn't just a set of very nice streaming bits of hardware you can plug into your TV, however; it also offers an amazing variety of free "live TV" channels that include everything from the Top Gear channel, to Johnny Carson, Martha Stewart, various game shows, how to's, painting lessons, etc. etc. etc.

Now, these channels aren't really "live," in that they're offering brand new content or live sports events as they unfold (though you can pay for extras that do, such as sports, cultural apps, etc.). Rather, they're 24/7 streaming of older content – kind of like a video time machine. And you do have to sit through commercials and/or promos, which is the price for getting the content "free".

I don't mind this, as it's better than having to pay for cable or satellite and still having to sit through commercials.

The Roku channel isn't the only streamer that does this, of course. Pluto TV, Plex and others do as well, and though there's a lot of duplication there's also a great variety of programming. For example, if you don't want to see what's streaming right now on The Roku Channel's Top Gear, you can go to Pluto TV (or Tubi, or Plex…) and choose a different one. Sometimes, depending on the app, you can even bring up a menu of "all episodes" and pick and choose as your mood dictates.

It's great. In fact, I can't remember the last time I actually sought out "broadcast" TV other than for live sports. Heck, I watched last month's Barrett-Jackson classic car auction from Scottsdale, Arizona, via the Roku. Since it appears no Canadian broadcast outlet can be bothered offering its audiences this popular auction, I simply tuned into Barrett-Jackson's website on my spare iPad, then cast it to – my Roku!

This gave me full screen, high-definition footage of the entire auction, even more coverage than the U.S. networks provide. I did miss the networks' "expert commentary" on each vehicle because the guys doing it are bloody encyclopedic in their knowledge. Instead, we got the raw video feed and the only car info was from the auction stand.

But it was there, I could watch it and I could not only thumb my nose at the lazy and greedy Canadian broadcasters, I could also thumb my nose at the CRTC, since I was using the Internet and not a broadcast outlet.

I call that a win/win!

Roku seems to add more content just about every time I fire one of my devices up. As with Sturgeon's Law, however ("ninety percent of everything is crap" – attributed to sci-fi author Theordore Sturgeon), there's a lot that I don't care about.

But you might like some of it – and there's usually something new that appeals to me as well. Which means the service just gets better and better!

Copyright 2024 Jim Bray

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