Mako

The Killer Elite

1975

United Artists

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Produced by Martin Baum

Screenplay by Marc Norman and Stirling Silliphant

Based on the novel “Monkey In The Middle” by Robert Rostand

THE KILLER ELITE is most definitely a lesser Peckinpah entertainment. But lesser Sam Peckinpah is still better than most other directors on their best days. It hasn’t got the wild, chaotic and yet balletic violence of some of his earlier movies. It’s not as energetic as his other, earlier movies. And the story doesn’t deal with the themes Peckinpah is known for such as men searching for redemption and justification in a violent and dishonorable world. The two reasons for this could be because Sam Peckinpah wasn’t allowed to rewrite the screenplay and this was when Peckinpah began using cocaine. (allegedly it was the star of this movie, James Caan who introduced him to the stuff) and adding the yayo to Peckinpah’s already legendary intake of alcohol didn’t make for the best of working conditions.

In any case, whatever the reasons for the way it turned out, THE KILLER ELITE is essentially a straight-up cloak-and-dagger action flick. We got double crosses, gun fights, car chases, ninjas, martial arts…it all adds up to a satisfying package.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are mercenaries working for a company called Communications Integrity. It’s a private intelligence/military/espionage corporation that contracts itself out to official government intelligence agencies to do the jobs that for one reason or another they can’t do. Locken and Hansen have been friends and partners for years and that’s the only thing that saves Locken on their last assignment together. Hansen has sold out to a rival corporation. He kills their latest client, an East European defector and goes against orders to kill Locken as well. Instead he shoots out Locken’s knee and elbow, crippling him.

As far as Locken’s bosses, Weybourne (Gig Young) and Cap Collis (Arthur Hill) are concerned, his career is over. But Locken undergoes an intensive period of rehabilitation that includes studying martial arts and actually becomes pretty damn fearsome at using his cane as a weapon. And the rehab pays off when Cap Collis comes to him with a job. An Asian client , Yuen Chung (Mako) needs protection from assassins while he’s in the United States. While the C.I.A. are supposedly in charge of his security they pass the job along to ComTeg because of who’s leading the assassination team: George Hansen.

Locken recruits two former ComTeg operatives as his backup for the assignment. Mac (Burt Young) is an expert driver who now owns his own garage where he builds custom made vehicles for security work. Jerome Miller (Bo Hopkins) is a weapons expert who doesn’t have all the spots on his dice. But what none of them are aware of is that they’re all pieces on a bloody chessboard and the game is an internal power struggle between Cap Collis and Weybourne.

You have to sit through a lot of plot exposition before getting to the good stuff but it’s worth it. I like the scenes of Locken regaining the use of his leg and arm and I appreciate that the story doesn’t turn him into a Jim Kelly level martial arts master. He’s good but he’s not that good. I enjoyed the humor in the scenes of him recruiting Mac and Miller. Burt Young and Bo Hopkins obviously are having a lot of fun in their scenes together and I wish they had had more. Burt Young gets a lot of mileage out of his character Mac who is an unashamed slob. Unkempt is a polite word for his appearance. But put him behind the wheel of a car or a .45 automatic in his hand and he’s pure dynamite. And quite unexpectedly he takes on the job of being Locken’s conscience, forcing Locken to re-evaluate his own worth in this shadow word of death and deceit.

There’s a couple of terrific action sequences such as a Chinatown shoot-out and a battle between Locken, Mac and a hoard of katana wielding ninja. There’s a really goofy scene involving Mac’s wife Josephine (Sondra Blake) who calls everybody ‘Mr. Davis’ when Locken is around. The funniest scene is probably the one where Mac is trying to defuse a bomb attached to the underside of their getaway car while a cop is standing over him, kicking his legs, demanding he come out from under there while Locken is calmly explaining to the cop why that isn’t such a hot idea.

So should you see THE KILLER ELITE? Yes. I will be the first to say it’s not one of Sam Peckinpah’s best but it’s a solid action flick that has good performances from everybody and more than enough story to hold your interest until the ass-kicking commences. Highly recommended.

122 minutes

Rated PG

Conan The Barbarian (1982)

1982

Universal Pictures

Directed by John Milius

Produced by Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella De Laurentiis

Written by John Milius and Oliver Stone

Based on the character/stories created and written by Robert E. Howard

I knew that director John Milius and his screenplay co-writer Oliver Stone got the character of Conan five minutes into the movie.  During the opening credits we see Conan’s father (William Smith) forging a mighty sword.  He then takes the young Conan (Jorge Sanz) to the top of a mountain.  He explains how The Riddle of Steel was stolen from Crom, the god of Cimmeria and that Conan must learn The Riddle of Steel for himself because as his dad succinctly sums up: “For no one in the world can you trust.  Not men, not women, not beasts.  But this-“ and he holds up the gleaming sword.  “-this you can trust.”

It’s not long after this that Conan’s parents, along with all the other adults in his village are slaughtered by the servants of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) a powerful sorcerer who is also the leader of a cult that worships the snake god Set.  Conan, along with other children are taken as slaves and chained to The Wheel of Pain, a gigantic mill which they push night and day, through weather fair and foul.  It’s torturous work but it has its benefits.  The young Conan grows up into Arnold Schwarzenegger as pushing that damn thing has built up muscles of Herculean proportions.  He’s bought by The Hyborian Age’s version of a fight promoter and wins fame as a gladiator.  He’s freed by his master and after meeting up with the master thief and archer Subotai (Gerry Lopez) takes up a career as a thief himself.

It’s during their attempt to infiltrate The Tower of The Serpent and steal The Eye of The Serpent that Conan meets swordswoman and thief Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) who will become the great love of his life.  It’s their successful and daring theft that brings them to the attention of King Osric (Max von Sydow) who hires the trio to rescue his daughter from The Cult of Set.  While Valeria and Subotai see this as a chance for a really big payday, Conan has his sights on taking the head of Thulsa Doom.

Now, you can say whatever you want about CONAN THE BARBARIAN but it won’t faze me because if nothing else, John Milius and Oliver Stone respected Robert E. Howard’s enough that they obviously not only read his stories but incorporated elements of some of those stories into the movie including what is probably the most famous scene in any Conan story; his crucifixion and his killing of a vulture pecking at his flesh with nothing but his bare teeth.

This movie, along with “The Terminator” launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career and it’s easy to see why.  Schwarzenegger at that time looked like he was designed by Frank Frazetta and he inhabits the role as well as Sean Connery did with James Bond or Michael Keaton did with Batman.  For those who claim that Schwarzenegger can’t act, I point out a terrific scene where Conan, Valeria and Subotai plan their assault on Doom’s stronghold.  While Bergman and Lopez have all the dialog, Schwarzenegger says far more than they do in the way he’s sharpening his sword.  And even though Schwarzenegger gets a lot of mocking for his dialog and accent in this movie, I like it.  I mean, the guy does sound like a barbarian from pre-history.   In fact, I like it that 90% of the characters have accents in this movie as they do sound as if they come from another age rather than modern day Californians playing dress up.

The supporting cast is outstanding.  James Earl Jones infuses Thulsa Doom with enormous presence and a true sense of not being entirely human.  His henchmen, played by Sven-Ole Thorson and Ben Davison are suitably impressive.  Bergman and Lopez back up Schwarzenegger well and create their own characters in some really wonderful intimate moments such as the one where Subotai tells the wizard Akiro (Mako) that since Conan, as a Cimmerian will not cry to show grief, Subotai must do it for him.  Mako contributes comedy relief without being buffoonish or degrading his own character.  But that’s to be expected because Mako is epic in everything he does.

And speaking of epic, the musical score by Basil Poledouris has become respected as one of the finest musical scores ever and rightly so.  A large part of the enjoyment of watching CONAN THE BARBARIAN comes from the sheer power of the score.  Poledouris also has done the scores for “Quigley Down Under” and “Lonesome Dove” that are easily as epic as the one for this movie.

So should you see CONAN THE BARBARIAN? No doubt you already have.  It’s one of those movies that everybody and their mother has seen, it seems.  Even chicks who normally shun this type of movie like it was the Ebola virus have seen CONAN THE BARBARIAN.  It’s violent, it’s raw, it’s sexy, and it’s fun.   There’s an excellent reason why CONAN THE BARBARIAN is rightly regarded as a classic.  It truly is inspired by the spirit of Robert E. Howard in a way that the recent remake never even comes close to.  If you’ve seen it, what the hell…watch it again.  And if you haven’t, I envy you discovering it for the first time.  Enjoy.

129 minutes

Rated R

http://youtu.be/RkYoIU-uRy0