Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Adrenaline Shot: DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR (1987)

After many years of bit parts on various TV shows, former L.A. Rams defender Fred Dryer met with a surprising amount of success as a stony, Los Angeles homicide detective in "Hunter" (1984). "Hunter" was a show that, for better or for worse, pretty much set the standard for TV programming for years to come. In the middle of the seven year run, Dryer attempted to use his new-found popularity to make the jump to feature films. This, his first starring theatrical film, didn't exactly kill his career, but it promptly kicked it right back to the small screen.

A gruff, but warm-hearted Sgt. "Gunny" Burns (Dryer) is volunteered to help out the aging Col. Halloran (Brian Keith) who has orders to assist in the security detail for a US Embassy in the fictional middle eastern country of Jemal. Jemal is, naturally, in the middle of political upheaval. Though we never really find out what exactly has got up their thawb, it seems pretty clear that they don't care much for Israeli's, who seem to be really nice people. On the way to the embassy, these "revolutionary freedom fighters" led by a guy literally named "Jihad" (Rockne Tarkington!), ambush the ridiculously undefended US weapons transport, killing all the soldiers except one and now he's mad! Or rather he is simply annoyed, as we find out when Gunny tells a journalist (Joanna Pacula) who is aiding the fighters: "Do me a favor and tell your terrorist friends something: Don't make us mad! Excuse me!" Apparently, they would not like him when he's mad.

Of course, Halloran and a green marine are taken captive and subjected to beatings and torture via electric drill (just so you know that the Arabs are evil). Now Gunny needs to hunt down the sheet-wearing bad-guys and teach them some Uhmerican justice! It reminds me of a musical poem I once heard. It goes "America! Fuck yeah!" Let's see, the under-appreciated American soldier stomping around in the middle east where they aren't wanted for a government that is just playing politics. Damn, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is actually surprisingly topical. Although if this film were made today, the film would be 2.5 hours long and half of it would be lengthy emotional dialogues and uncontrollable sobbing. The other half would be tactics and drawn out scenes of brutal torture. Compared to modern films, this movie is a light and breezy 90 minutes of right-wing idealistic death and destruction.

I think the thing that struck me the most was the fact that if it had been the same movie with a ninja instead of a soldier, the MPAA of 1987 would have censored the living crap out of it. There are rampant machine gun deaths (women and children included), blood-splatters, explosions with visible casualties and a multi-shot close-up of a drill-bit being run through Halloran's hand. A good ninja stabbing an evil mobster through the hand with a piece of wood, as in PRAY FOR DEATH (1985)? Oh hell no! An Arab terrorist pushing a power-drill into an American soldier's hand? That's cool.

Marines do it with any finger

The one and only film directed by veteran stuntman Terry Leonard, this movie benefits from a whole host of stuntwork including some excellent vehicular mayhem, such a scene in which (*minor spoiler alert*) Gunny drives his rag-top jeep over an embankment crashing squarely into the enemy van, completely obliterating it and the jeep, and then pops up with a small scratch and a slight limp. In addition to the John Wayne-inspired heroics, such as the scene in which another green marine takes a grenade to save Gunny, causing Gunny to shed a single, solitary tear before chasing after the bad guys, (as Will pointed out) this movie cribs pages from Clint Eastwood's HEARTBREAK RIDGE (1986), going so far as to use the 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beruit as inspiration for the action.

I remember seeing it back when it came out and thinking it was shockingly jingoistic trash, but somewhat enjoyable. I watch it now and think it is shockingly jingoistic trash, but somewhat enjoyable. It is definitely another volume in the Tea-Party Porn video library, much like JACK TILLMAN: THE SURVIVALIST (1987), but if you can divorce yourself from the feeble-minded politics and extreme xenophobia (much like the sequels to 1982s FIRST BLOOD), it's a lot of fun. Did I mention stuff gets blowed up real good? It does.

Moments of Clarity:

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