Though I wasn’t old enough to see this or any of the other Ninja films that were surfacing at the dawn of the 1980’s, I do recall the trailers that were being shown on TV advertising the latest martial arts craze to storm into North America whipping all us youngsters into a frenzy about black clad killing machines with pointed stars and other deadly weapons at their disposal. The new Bruce Lee’s were upon us. Chuck Norris, Sho Kosugi and ……………
A dubbed Franco Nero!!???
This proved to be my first viewing of this Cannon Produced feature and little did I know it was going to play out as an intentionally camped up comedy. I loved it for all the wrong reasons. Aside from Susan George who I love for all the right reasons.
Before morphing into an updated martial arts version of Shane, this Menahem Golan directed feature starts off with Nero receiving his bona fide diploma from the ninja training school after taking out his entire group of classmates dressed in red and evading Sho Kosugi’s master ninja in black. Nero’s color of choice? All white. Just like the good guys in western features of the 1920’s. Being clad in an all white outfit except for a small slit to see out of makes it very handy for Nero’s stunt double to twirl some knives and engage in some hand to hand combat.
Kosugi becomes an instant enemy when he shows disdain for Nero’s outsider receiving the school’s highest honor. Rest assured, he’ll return later on after the Shane like plot develops.
Nero moves on and visits an old military pal and his wife played by Alex Courtney and Miss George. They run a plantation of sorts in some tropical location. Nero’s about to discover that some wealthy landowner is pressuring them to sell out and to do so is driving off their hired hands. Now it’s beginning to sound as if Nero has entered an alternate version of Mr. Majestyk. Let’s stick to the Shane comparisons instead though we will have one major discrepancy. In the classic western, it’s fairly obvious that Jean Arthur could easily find herself falling into a haystack with Alan Ladd behind her hubby Van Heflin’s back but remains true to her marriage vows in the end. Here in this 80’s update, Miss George has no problem with that mentally taxing decision. In no time at all, she’ll join him for a night of passion once the script points out that hubby Alex isn’t much of a lover.
Keeping the camp quotient at a high is Christopher George taking on the role of the baddie. All he wants is to acquire the land owned by Susan. Apparently there’s oil under the ground that is worth a fortune. When the hoodlums he continually sends in return beaten all to hell, he decides he needs a ninja of his own to face off against this man with the lethal weapon hands. Time for the nasty Kosugi to reappear for a showdown with Nero.
Only after Nero takes out more flunkies than I can count. Make that Nero’s double in long shots and Franco for the grimacing close ups.
Anyone care to guess who wins the final showdown?
I can easily guarantee you I’ll be watching this one again and now that I’ve seen it, I have to wonder what took me so long in the first place. Nero may be dubbed and I can’t for the life of me imagine why but that only adds to the campy quality on screen. Christopher George, always an actor I liked growing up gets his chance to play a Bond like villain on a low budget scale and has fun with the role. Miss Susan is of course a favorite from my early years of watching movies going back to Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry. Probably the first film I saw her in.
Even the ending is rather campy as Nero, like he’s Richard Kimble getting set to move on to his next adventure for next week’s episode of The Fugitive winks at the camera after responding to Susan’s begging question, “Will you write?”
His response before that cheeky wink? “I’ll be back.”