McGee is the creation of famed Floridian author, John D. MacDonald, and from 1964 to 1984 he starred in 21 novels. He lives on a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (my hometown) and takes it easy until he runs out of money. When that happens he does what he refers to as "salvage" - helping people get back what's rightfully theirs and keeping half the value for himself. Over the course of the novels McGee's character grows and changes as does the ever-present backdrop of Florida. McGee and MacDonald are prolific modern literary figures and I feel like a mook for not knowing them sooner. MacDonald was Carl Hiaasen's literary progenitor, the boat slip where McGee kept his boat, "The Busted Flush", is a designated literary landmark - all this in my own backyard. I set out to do some research to make amends for lost time, and in doing so I found this:
Travis McGee in action! The climactic fight of "Darker Than Amber", a 1970 film directed by Robert Clouse ("Enter the Dragon") and starring Rod Taylor. This fight scene blew my mind and, it turns out, is regarded as one of the greatest fight scenes of all time. You can see the rawness in this fight - it's manic, it's real. Taylor and his co-star, William Smith (as the villainous Terry), used no stunt doubles, few precautions, and actually traded blows.
I hit that wall so hard, man. That was such a tough fight scene. We didn't use any stunt doubles at all. He broke three of my ribs and I busted his nose. ...After he busted three of my ribs, I hit him with a bottle, a real one. ...He busted three of my goddamn ribs and I couldn't even breath and he was still hitting me.Smith's character, Terry, is a perfect maniac villain. Check out how easily he looses control:
When he whacked me with that board, he missed the knee pad and hit me right there [indicating a spot just below the knee]. To this day when I talk to him, I accuse him of doing it on purpose. Luckily that was the last take of the whole movie.
Unfortunately, those two clips are all that exist on the Internet, and "Darker Than Amber" has never had a proper home video release. Most versions are censored, missing the bulk of that exceptional fight scene. It's never been released on DVD. The only uncut versions available are bootlegs with Dutch subtitles. Wikipedia claims that "pristine American prints disappeared years ago." This movie looks too awesome to be kept from the viewing public. Perhaps if the long-rumored movie of the first Travis McGee novel, The Deep Blue Goodbye, gets made we'll get to see "Darker Than Amber" released in all its glory.
In the meantime, check out this great article about MacDonald and the McGee series: John D. MacDonald: Florida's Master of Mystery by Sue Henry, and then pick up one of his novels.