Harrison Ford’s Debut

James Coburn stars in the oddly titled Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round as an unrepentant con man planning a huge bank heist at the Los Angeles International Airport. Also starring Swedish actress Camilla Sparv, the thriller is probably most notable for being Harrison Ford’s theatrical debut.

The film revolves around James Coburn’s talents, often serving as a showcase for his acting skills. Coburn’s rogue character switches up personas like changing socks while charming women and pulling off a series of small cons. He plays Eli Kotch, a heartless criminal who exploits every woman he encounters while running rings around the police chasing him.

The biggest issues with Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round are fashioning James Coburn as a serious ladies’ man and the main character’s fundamental villainy

First Eli escapes prison by seducing a naive psychologist for a crack at parole. His typical M.O. preys on vulnerable women, pulling con jobs behind their backs while romancing them. The wily grifter crosses the country to Boston, meeting a nurse (the stunning Camilla Sparv) who has been taking care of a wealthy estate for a dying woman. The smooth criminal adopts the persona of an exterminator by day who yearns to be a poet and writer, which is how the film earns its strange pulp name.

Camilla Sparv’s earnest character falls madly in love with the supposed poet. Soon she’s unknowingly drawn into Eli’s plans back in California. He’s been quietly masterminding a huge job which requires several key elements in place. Eli plots an intricate bank heist for when the Russian Premier is visiting the airport, figuring the police are preoccupied with their diplomatic duties at LAX.

Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round sees Harrison Ford make his screen debut in a 40-second throwaway scene as a bellhop. His cameo appearance doesn’t smack of greatness but it’s an interesting bit of trivia nonetheless.

Director Bernard Girard crafts a surprising story with a tricky final act, pulling together Eli’s schemes into a raucous caper. The biggest issues with Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round are fashioning James Coburn as a serious ladies’ man and the main character’s fundamental villainy. Coburn was better suited as a character actor than leading man most of the time during his heyday.

Most screenplays would have turned Eli into a thief with a heart of gold for more appeal. As he deceives his various love interests, it’s clear the con man is a heartless and wanton criminal with no redeeming qualities. It’s hard fully accepting a protagonist like Eli in a plot which heavily relies on the criminal’s charm.

Video

The 1966 movie hits Blu-ray courtesy of Imprint in a fairly steady 1.78:1 presentation worthy of 1080p video. For an older and almost forgotten catalog property, Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round looks better than expected. The film elements are in superb condition with no obvious wear, making the leap from DVD quality with far more fine detail and sharpness.

The Australian film label licenses their HD master from Sony, offering rather nice definition and solid film texture. It’s an unfiltered scan from the original camera negative, lacking notable processing. Black levels are firm and colors have pleasing saturation levels. The film-like effort contains excellent grain reproduction.

The main feature runs its original 107 minutes on a BD-25, encoded in fine AVC. The studio production features quality Hollywood cinematography from its era. There is excellent clarity in both interiors and the bright day-lit exteriors of LAX.

Without having seen the recent Kino Lorber version, both labels are likely employing the identical transfer struck by Sony. Visual differences are almost certainly negligible.

Audio

Hollywood composer Stu Phillips provides an engaging and often rambunctious score, heard cleanly in 2.0 PCM. The monaural track holds up with immaculate dialogue reproduction in a punchy mix. Audio quality here fares even better than the dependable video. This is a well-made recording offering crisp sound with depth, a sonic treat for those with a nice home theater.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

The affable criminal caper is brought to Blu-ray courtesy of Imprint, #271 in their collection line-up. The disc is region-free, limited to 1500 units. Arriving in a nice slipcase, there are no special features included.

Kino Lorber beat Imprint to the punch by issuing Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round earlier in 2023, both likely employing the same basic HD transfer made by Sony. Kino Lorber didn’t include any special features beyond the theatrical trailer.

It’s strange how an off-beat caper flick went years without a Blu-ray release and then got two separate editions months apart.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit DoBlu’s about us page.

Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round
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A crafty criminal caper from the 1960s starring a wily James Coburn mostly known for Harrison Ford’s inauspicious film debut

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 38 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots ripped directly from the Blu-ray:


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