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Death Of A Snowman (1978)

Director: Christopher Rowley
Also known as: Soul Patrol; Black Trash
Tagline: “Rougher & tougher than anything you have seen before.”
Plot: In crime-ridden South Africa, a shadowy organization emerges from the underground to take on the pimps and drug-dealers. They call themselves “War On Crime,” and announce plans to take their proceeds from crook-busting and divert them to needy black children. In actuality, though, the WOC is itself a criminal endeavor, run by a mysterious Mr. X, who’s looking to wipe out the competition. At his side are multiple henchmen, most notably a hairy, ruthless hitman played by the movie’s screenwriter, Bima Stagg. Whenever Stagg leans in to kiss his waifish girlfriend, and the light hits them just right, he looks like an ape from Planet Of The Apes about to violate some ape law.

Enter Ken Gampu, the indestructible beat reporter of Soweto. Gampu has all the inside scoop on crime and who’s responsible for it. Mr. X tries to throw Gampu off the trail by feeding him scoops, which puts the reporter on the bad side of the local police captain. But Gampu has a friend on the force in Nigel Davenport, a lieutenant who works alongside Gampu to investigate War On Crime. Gampu also has colleagues in New York digging through their archives to see if they can match a sketch of Mr. X to any known American black militants or gangsters. While they do the legwork, Gampu wanders the city, forlornly feeding the ducks like the badass loner he is.

Ultimately, Gampu does find out that Mr. X is up to no good, and he and Davenport take War On Crime down, though they suffer some casualties on their own side. As the movie ends, Davenport notes that Gampu is making a new opening move in their regular game of chess, and Gampu sighs, “Well… it’s a different game.”

Key scenes: Director Christopher Rowley and editor Alfred Cox go montage-happy a couple of times in Death Of A Snowman. First, they pop in an old-fashioned stop-the-presses scene, after Gampu receives his first letter from War On Crime:

And later, when Gampu hears from Mr. X again by phone, the cops track the call via zippy edits:

Rowley also has a yen for shootouts, and squeezes a couple of good ones into Death Of A Snowman. One marks Stagg’s introduction, as he stops a cop from nabbing some smugglers, then shoots the smugglers for good measure:

And later, another henchman and Davenport draw beads on each other while a cute little girl obliviously plays in their potential field of fire:

Can easily be distinguished by: The funky music, which represents the first soundtrack composed by future Yes member—and go-to blockbuster-scorer—Trevor Rabin.

Sign that it was made in 1978: While on a stakeout, Gampu and Davenport pound down a couple of Lion Beers and a couple of boxes of Kentucky Fried Chicken with the old-school KFC logo on them.

Timeless message: Screenwriter Stagg gives himself the defining line of the movie, saying, “Each man kills the thing he loves, to coin a phrase.”

Memorable quotes: Actually, Stagg’s dialogue is one of the main attractions of Death Of A Snowman. His lines can be wry (as when a bored Gampu on stakeout says, “Funny how a car doing nothing can be so intriguing”) or cutting (as when Davenport warns one of Mr. X’s associates, “You’d better practice telling lies in front of a mirror”) or smutty (as when one of the New York reporters demands “a blow-by-blow account” after a buddy’s upcoming date, to which the buddy replies, “With any luck.”). Or Stagg can cut just to the chase. When one of the drug dealers in the film walks up to his lady, he keeps his seduction short and sweet: “Baby,” he says, “bed.”

Available on DVD from Synapse.