The title Zig Zag refers not only to the twisty plot but to the manner of its telling. The first act is handled elliptically, jumping around in time and allowing the audience to figure out what insurance agent Paul Cameron (George Kennedy) is up to. The film begins with his arrest surrounded by reporters and circles back to it, but before the credits we get a lengthy virtual documentary on the process of being booked; those who have been waiting all their lives for a George Kennedy nude scene have it here.
Through this highly edited approach of close-ups and wide shots, it gradually becomes clear that our protagonist has framed himself for the murder of an industrialist who was kidnapped a year ago. Once he’s convicted, his wife (Anne Jackson, thankless role) will claim a hefty reward. He’s doing this because he has a fatal brain tumor, so it’s the most elaborate insurance scam in history. His attorney (Eli Wallach, Jackson’s husband) is driven frantic trying to defend a man who seems unwilling to defend himself.
Naturally, there’s a twist that causes Cameron to spend the rest of the movie as an amateur sleuth, trying to figure out who’s really guilty of the millionaire’s murder, and at that point the movie turns into a combination of noir-ish detective film and man-on-the-run thriller. This would seem to be the most stylistically ambitious film of TV director Richard A. Colla, who next helmed the Burt Reynolds police procedural Fuzz, based on Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. Among his many TV movies, the most unusual is surely The UFO Incident and the last was Growing Up Brady, based on Barry Williams’ memoir of The Brady Bunch. But now we’re really zigzagging.
Reinforcing this movie’s noir vibe is the jazzy, funky music from Oliver Nelson and unlikely support from jazz club owner William Marshall (Blacula) and singer Anita O’Day (largely wasted). Although this is only a throwaway entertainment, its ambitions and attitudes are very early ‘70s (which we can’t explain further without spoiling it), and its sense of disorientation and fatalism has worn well. It’s now available on demand from Warner Archive in a faded print.