With the world in near total lockdown, the wanna be tough guy quartet known universally as The Video Store Action Heroes, have been binge watching movies in their respective man caves around the globe. From Arizona to Canada to New York and across the pond to the land of the Royals where it’s rumored Frank Drebin once remarked, “No matter how silly the idea of having a queen might be to us, as Americans, we must be gracious and considerate hosts.” we foursome are back with a vengeance as we select a film directed by one of the supreme action directors of the seventies, eighties and beyond. The great Walter Hill. The man who practically invented the buddy buddy genre going as far back as writing the underrated Hickey & Boggs which was brought to the screen in 1972.
The foursome? Todd at the Cinema Monolith, Greg at Destroy All Fanboys and Mikey the Wolfman alongside yours truly. Each of us has selected their own Walter Hill film to feature for this tip of the hat to a man who not only directed some TNT loaded action films but also wrote scripts including The Getaway that Peckinpah helmed back in 1972 and The Mackintosh Man brought to the screen by John Huston in 1973.
Hill kick started his directing career in 1975 with the gritty Hard Times and from then on became a favorite of this writer growing up during the VHS era. Which brings me to my selection, Red Heat, a buddy/buddy action flick that surely resembles a 1982 box office smash that Hill directed. Not hard to see that the producers and all those working on this project were looking to repeat the success of 48HRS.
Safe to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger was just hitting his peak as one of the biggest box office draws in the world who is teamed here with a loud mouthed Chicago cop played by James Belushi. Arnie is portraying a Russian police officer who puts the action into overdrive as the film begins with a jaw busting fight. In little more than custom made Tarzan briefs at a populated sauna, Arnie, takes on a pair of heavies who are holding out vital information on him. End result? Smashing through the window and pummeling these two on a hillside in a foot of snow. Barely a stitch of clothing between the three of them. It wouldn’t be for another 19 years until Viggo Mortensen gave new meaning to the sauna brawl in Eastern Promises.
Yeah there’s no doubting Arnold was indeed better known as Mr. Universe to the world at large.
This battle leads Arnie to his prey, Ed O’Ross, who is running drugs into Russia and is pretty much involved in all aspects of organized crime earning him a Public Enemy #1 ranking in the Kremlin. Violence quickly ensues. Arnie kills the brother of his target and O’Ross kills Arnie’s partner, thus evening the score, before escaping and SURPRISE resurfacing in Chicago. Next thing we know, Arnie, is on a plane and will soon be meeting his assigned baby sitter, Belushi.
While O’Ross is in Chicago organizing a major drug purchase, he’d been arrested in a chance encounter with local police over a driving infraction. It’s this lucky break that has sent Arnie on his way for a straight forward pick up overseen by Belushi and local Police Chief, Peter Boyle. Let’s fast forward a bit, local drug lords bust O’Ross out just as Arnie is taking the exchange and Belushi’s own partner, Richard Bright, takes a bullet.
Stone cold Arnie, a man of few words, makes it cleat he isn’t leaving Chicago anytime soon and Boyle with little choice in the matter assigns Belushi to stick to the big guy like glue and keep him the hell out of trouble. Not likely.
“Who is Dirty Harry?”
Might be the best line in the movie coming from a straight faced Arnie when Belushi offers his new partner his very own Magnum.44, the most powerful handgun in the world. The same one Dirty Harry uses. More bloodshed follows and we get sexy gymnast Gina Gershon in on the action as a convenient bride for hire of our villain who got him into the country. Another face one and all are sure to know is that of Laurence Fishburne as a senior officer to Belushi who wants nothing better than to bust our funny man back to a patrolman handing out parking tickets.
It’s a rollercoaster ride in the windy city that is going to culminate with one hell of a duel between our two Russian warriors riding Greyhound busses. I couldn’t help but notice the destinations on the front of each bus making it a battle between St. Louis and Montreal. I’ll always be cheering for the Les Canadiens in that match up.
Truly I hadn’t seen this film since the VHS rental days which is why I chose to feature it here amongst my fellow Action Heroes. Not recalling the finer details there were a number of things that stood out to me when recalling 48HRS and a few other Hill films/scripts. Cheap, seedy hotels so prevalent in The Getaway and 48HRS are again used here as a means of laying low and ultimately a bloody shootout. I half expected Sally Struthers to turn up in the hotel shoot out screaming at the top of her lungs and maybe Dub Taylor manning the till. A locker containing a prized possession. Same with both The Getaway and 48HRS one again. The music from James Horner recalls 48HRS with many of it’s notes and why not, he scored both films. And even the grand finale recalls the fog shrouded Nick Nolte-James Remar showdown in 48HRS.
Let’s not forget the always entertaining Brion James who appears in Red Heat as a lowlife with some details that are sure to assist Arnie and Belushi from catching up with their man. Problem is he’s not talking which gives us another good cop / bad cop scenario resulting in a few busted fingers on our scenery chewing specialist. James was a regular in Hill’s films appearing in Hard Times, Southern Comfort, 48HRS, Red Heat and Another 48HRS not to mention countless other memorable roles in other projects before his career was cut short at just 54 years of age in 1999.
While this may not be the best of Hill’s output during his run of superior action flicks, it’s still a perfect 80’s popcorn shoot’em up with Arnie hitting his stride and noticeably not giving in to the one liners that he had already become known for with Commando and so on. Here he’s a man of very few words with a terminator like determination to get his man. I’d always liked James Belushi who by this time was far removed from his late brother John’s shadow. Also need to hand out an A+ to Ed O’Ross who nails his role as a cold blooded killer with an icy glare that is enough to stop anyone this side of big Arnie in their tracks.
Since the Video Store Action heroes resign themselves to films of the 70’s and 80’s, here are the films released during that time period directed by Hill. Hard Times (1975), The Driver (1978), The Warriors (1979), The Long Riders (1980), Southern Comfort (1981), 48HRS (1982), Streets of Fire (1984), Brewster’s Millions (1985), Crossroads (1986), Extreme Prejudice (1987), Red Heat and Johnny Handsome (1989). An impressive list with some iconic titles among them. Especially if you grew up when the VHS machines hit the market and you couldn’t wait to get your hands on that movie with the baseball bat wielding street gang with the painted faces.
Filmed in Chicago, Budapest and Moscow, Red Heat was dedicated in the closing credits to the 2nd unit director Bennie Dobkins who died during the production. Lastly, be sure to visit my fellow Action Heroes of the video age to see which Walter Hill film they decided to feature in our latest attempt to bring the VHS tape back on the market. Hey, the LP’s are back in store so who knows?