Forgotten Action Titles For the VHS Fan
Every generation has their very own outlet for lower tier flicks aimed at the fans who love to wallow in less than stellar “A” list productions. MGM and the other studios may have released all those glorious classics, but they still had a “B” unit for the double bills. Poverty Row studios cranked them out. Drive-Ins hit the open fields in the fifties on through the seventies bringing with them countless exploitation flicks of varying quality. By the time the 80’s rolled around, it was straight to video and into our homes for just such product.
Here’s a sampling of some recent finds/rewatches from those days I love to relieve.
Operation Nam (1986) aka Cobra Mission
With Uncommon Valor, First Blood Part II and Missing In Action hitting movie screens across the continent, why shouldn’t director Fabrizio de Angelis helm this tale of four Arizona good old boys who served in Vietnam wanting to go back and bring home the POW’s they left behind. Wonky camera work, atrocious dubbing and Christopher Connelly lead the way over seas to the Philippines subbing in for Nam against the orders of General Gordon Mitchell . Coming along are not so household names Oliver Tobias, John Steiner and Manfred Lehmann. The quartet will arrive and meet an ally in man of the cloth and screen favorite Donald Pleasence who generally never said no to a paycheck. Thankfully in the back of his church he keeps a large arsenal of weapons for the boys return to glory. From here on in it cover familiar territory but on the plus side it features plenty of pyrotechnics when it comes time to blow the hell out of the enemy.
Would you believe that one of our soon to be rescued captives is none other than Ethan Wayne. Yes, that is the son of the Duke. Give that boy a gun and he takes to warfare just like Dad did when laying siege to The Sands of Iwo Jima or putting on that Green Beret. While the whole thing may be rather amateurish, the script does throw a few curve balls at us including one I didn’t see coming concerning a love scene gone bad. A tip of the hat to the writer on that one.
This 90 minute effort did surface on a DVD collection of 10 war films called Mercs which I picked up for a couple bucks but here’s a snapshot of the VHS tape release and in true exploitation fashion, it borrows Duke’s name to get you reaching for it on the video store shelf on that line across the top of the box cover.
Coming across as a poor man’s Delta Force, this foursome of mercenaries are deployed by Oscar Winner George Kennedy turning up here with a surprisingly well known cast to bring justice to the middle east. Filmed in Spain, this get together includes team leader Jorge Rivero, Andrew Stevens, Isaac Hayes, Louis Jordan, Hugo Stiglitz and obviously impressing the casting director for his terrorist acts in The Delta Force, Robert Forster finds himself typecast playing another such role that looks a lot like Muammar Gaddafi.
Louis Jordan plays a political figure looking to regain control of his nation after having to flee once Forster has laid siege to the country claiming power. He wants Jordan assassinated to solidify his rule. In comes Big George with his group of professional soldiers. Pros they may be but if I were seeking protection, I’d be looking elsewhere. While under their watch, ex Bond villain Jordan gets shot twice though he thankfully survives. That doesn’t stop Forster’s army of killers. Next up they kidnap Jordan’s wife and son, holding them hostage in exchange for Louis himself. All of this while Kennedy’s force of four are on patrol.
This doesn’t instill much confidence in me that they’ll be able to right all the wrongs on the 90 plus minute running time.
Not to worry, Rivero, Hayes and Stevens will scale mountains and swim ocean waters in stealth mode to save the day and bring peace and tranquility to the middle east. I really love the fact that they do this wearing their cute counterforce badges on their uniforms.
Weak in script with a fair amount of lame dialogue and machismo bullshit, it’s films like these that made excellent fodder for a youngster on rental day with the family. Having George Kennedy was considered a bonus at the time. Mainly due to his participation in some great films (Cool Hand Luke) of the sixties on into the Airport films of the seventies. As for Andrew Stevens? I somehow expected bigger things from the young actor who was making a name for himself when I started to tune into films. The Fury, Death Hunt and others had me thinking he’d become a better known actor with some box office pull but it seems that the straight to video market and a move into producing films lay ahead for the son of Stella.
Action U.S.A. (1989)
The title alone made this one a flick I thought I’d check out for the first time. That and the fact that William Smith and Cameron Mitchell turn up for a payday.
An appropriate title for this Texas filmed production. A speeding Corvette and a topless babe bless the screen before the director’s name, John Stewart even hits the screen. When leading lady Barri Murphy’s boyfriend is accosted by some mobsters looking for his stash of hidden diamonds, the plot is set in motion. What follows is a high wire act on a helicopter featuring a steep dive, a speedy car chase with some major car wrecks and hi flying jumps before Cam Mitchell’s thugs kill their mark leaving Miss Murphy a witness who is now marked for death.
FBI agents move in to put her in protective custody while Mitchell sends in his number one hitman, Ross Hagen to finish the job.
This one turns into a bit of a road movie with Murphy and her two FBI escorts played by Gregory Scott Cummins and William Knight trying to stay one step ahead of her would be killers. Aside from a couple of minutes for Cam Mitchell and William Smith looking mean with that raspy voice to match, this low budget effort is all about the stunt work. And it’s worth watching for them alone. Just watch out for those double crosses.
Apparently the director, Stewart has made a career doing stunt work on other productions so he brings some exciting set ups to this VHS special.
Skeleton Coast (1988)
Star Power can go a long way. Even if it’s on the decline. How about Ernest Borgnine at a Grandfatherly age personally taking the lead when a group of mercenaries including Leon Isaac Kennedy set out to save his captured son from a guerilla army in the deserts of Africa.
Back to that star power. Joining Ernie in this VHS feature is Herbert Lom as a slippery businessman selling information, Robert Vaughn as a villainous ex-Nazi military figure and how about the legendary Oliver Reed chewing the desert scenery and raising hell for a short cameo.
This foursome works for me no matter the film.
Ernie takes center stage here in this John “Bud” Cardos directed feature from exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers. As is the custom with Harry’s films, the story is credited to Peter Welbeck. Welbeck and Harry are one and the same for you newbies. Veteran Herbert Lom had a long history with Towers appearing in film as far back as 1966’s Bang Bang You’re Dead among many others.
Using a desert location of Namibia, Ernie and his crew tangle with Ollie and his diamond smugglers while enroute to locate Ernie’s son in Robert Vaughn’s highly guarded compound. It’s not quite The Dirty Dozen here but Ernie and his men will infiltrate the fort and cut loose with the fireworks facing off against evil Vaughn and his sadistic soldiers. Look closely at Ernie’s gang of mercenaries and you’ll spot a young Arnold Vosloo who would find fame as The Mummy opposite Brendan Fraser in the 90’s update.
This one is a great example of the product that was turning up regularly at the video stores that offered aging stars a chance to prolong their careers. Who knew that Borgnine would carry on for almost 30 more years! No harm done checking this one out for fans of the four name actors involved. My main beef is that we didn’t get more of Dear Ollie but what we do get is worth the look alone.
You can find this on youtube if you’d like to have a look.
There’s a wonderful story from Robert Vaughn in his autobiography “A Fortunate Life” about his meeting the legendary hell raiser Oliver Reed. It concerns a dinner engagement at a posh restaurant where Ollie was well on his way to inebriation and asked Vaughn. ” Would you like to see my living, beautiful bird?” I won’t finish this story but it’s another hilarious encounter with Reed who Vaughn also points out “was never late, never missed a line or a cue and was the quintessence of professionalism on the set.”
P.O.W. The Escape (1986) aka Behind Enemy Lines aka Attack Force Nam
As I began this journey of action films with a tale of Vietnam POW’s I’ll conclude with a similar topic in this David Carradine actioner from Cannon Films meaning Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.
Firmly believing no one get’s left behind, Carradine plays it rugged in this action fest that sees him stranded behind enemy lines after a rescue mission turns sour leaving his group of commandos dead. He’s taken captive and imprisoned with a group of other American soldiers presumed dead or MIA. The prison camp is overseen by that wonderful character actor, Mako. Cruel and determined, he intends to use Carradine’s legendary status among the fighting men to find a new life in America with a fortune in gold.
The problem is Carradine refuses to help unless every fighting man in the cages is cut loose and comes back too. Mako of course has no intention of saving anyone but himself and greed is his motivator. When he becomes separated from David and his cache of gold, he’ll trail the men across the jungles of Vietnam or the Botanical gardens of L.A. according to the IMDB to kill his enemies and face Carradine down for his gold bullion.
Surprise! Things aren’t going to work out to well for Mako by the end of this one. Mako and Carradine had shared the small screen together back in the Kung Fu series that David headlined and also filmed Armed Response together that was released to the home video market the same year as this title. Had I not already featured it as a solo article, I would have surely included it here.
Carradine was a perfect fit for plenty of these VHS action flicks (click here for more Carradine nuggets) and this one offers non stop adventure on a low budget scale. Explosions and gunfire populate this entry making it a poster flick for the VHS exploitation market that Golan and Globus practically cornered the market on during this era for Cannon Films. Finally the subject material makes for one kick ass poster for the Carradine collectors.
Feel free to share some favorites of your own offering up recommendations to the rest of us.