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The Ambassador (1985)

Under the employ of Cannon Films, more specifically Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, Robert Mitchum reteams with director J. Lee Thompson for just the second time since their 1962 triumph, Cape Fear, for this middle eastern tale adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel 52 Pick Up. For the record, Mitch, had an elongated cameo in the Thompson directed Shirley MacLaine satire, What a Way To Go, back in ’64.

A keen observer will quickly say aloud, didn’t Cannon adapt Leonard’s novel under it’s original title? The answer is yes indeed. A far different film than this, the latter film, directed by John Frankenheimer, was released in 1986 starring Roy Scheider in the Mitchum role and Ann-Margret in the role that was played by Ellen Burstyn here opposite Mitch.

The Mitch is playing the American ambassador looking to bring peace to Israel and it’s people. To do so he looks to the younger generation of university students in hopes that they will be able to sit with their sworn enemies and work towards a brighter future for one and all where opposing religions and peoples can live in harmony. Naturally there are those who oppose him and would like to see him eliminated.

The two key people in Mitchum’s inner circle are his wife, Miss Burstyn, and his best friend, tough guy and all around bodyguard/fixer, Rock Hudson. It’s Burstyn who will put Mitch’s political career in turmoil when she’s secretly filmed having an afternoon tryst with her lover Fabio Testi. Compounding the situation is the fact that Fabio is the head of a resistance organization against the plight of Israel. That X-Rated film will serve as a blackmail tool for a cool million. If Mitch doesn’t pay up then his wife’s infidelities will be exposed to the world thus ending his career in politics.

In what proved to be his final on screen role, it’s Hudson who gets to play it tough and not Mitch this time out. Rock is quick with the fist and gun when need be. He’s tracking the existence of the film only to find it’s been bootlegged from the very people Mitchum is serving as ambassador too. Israeli intelligence is overseen by Donald Pleasence and he’s in fine form behind a desk barking orders at subordinates wanting answers as to why his own organization made the film in the first place.

On the topic of Hudson, I thought he came off best of the three major leads. He seemed well suited to playing the greying tough guy in a tuxedo or overcoat with a revolver in the pocket as he exerts his considerable political power and brute strength over those that have placed Mitchum’s life in jeopardy.

Filmed on location in Tel Aviv and Israel, Thompson, a known action director with The Guns of Navarone under his belt injects some explosions and gunfire into the plot at every turn. A political bombing almost takes out one of our three leading players though I’m not about to give anything away.

I will add though that a deadly assassin has been dispatched from Russia to end Mitchum’s Middle East campaign once and for all with a well placed bullet.

As Hudson closes in on the extortionists, Mitchum turns to his wife’s lover, Fabio, to help set up a peaceful meeting of opposing sides. While it’s meant to offer hope for the next generation, it’s sure to be an ill fated idea that will only lead to violence and bloodshed gratuitously captured on camera in what I can only describe as “Cannon Fashion.”

Still the film seeks to offer us all hope at the fadeout and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that.

While I won’t swear to it, I can’t recall this Cannon production playing movie houses. I say that because if had come to my home town, I’d have been sure to so and see it due to the Mitchum factor and the movie trailer that promised action and explosive violence. Little did I know that Mitch wasn’t really going to be on it though he does get to use his fists at a key point in the film. No, this one just seemed to appear on the shelf of the VHS rental stores out of nowhere. Much like another Cannon production of the day, The Naked Face, starring Roger Moore.

By my count this was the second of eight films that J. Lee Thompson directed for Cannon as his career wound down. Five of them being Bronson thrillers, one a Chuck Norris roundhouse kicking adventure comedy and the hilariously inept King Solomon’s Mines.

Mitchum too had a handful of acting assignments with Golan and Globus. The others being the somewhat disappointing That Championship Season, Maria’s Lovers and a late studio entry, The Midnight Ride, in 1990. Only one of which, Maria’s Lovers, do I recall getting an actual theater release.

1985 proved a typical year for work horse, Donald Pleasence, he had six films in release while Oscar winner, Ellen Burstyn, was making her first appearance on camera after a three year hiatus. She’s never really been out of work since and remains busy to this day.

An interesting piece of trivia I picked up from Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1 was the reason for Fabio Testi’s being cast in The Ambassador. According to Trunick’s book, Testi, had been fired from the home movie that Bo and John Derek were making for Cannon slated to be unleashed upon the world as Bolero in 1984. As a consolation prize, he was paid his full salary and promised another role in a Cannon production. And so he appears here in solid support of our three Hollywood heavies. I generally associate Fabio with the Euro-crime thrillers of the 1970’s he frequented to good effect.

Like a good many Cannon outings, The Ambassador has been rescued from relative obscurity and released to blu ray via the Kino Lorber Studio Classics branch. Not it’s no classic but it’s got a solid cast and my being a big Mitchum fan guarantees it a spot here in the movie room. Not to mention it’s the final film of movie icon, Rock Hudson, which in itself commands a little of our respect.

If you do pick up the blu ray, you’ll note the two trailers for the film that are included. Bronson film buff that I am, I couldn’t help but notice that on the overseas trailer, the soundtrack being used has been lifted from Cannon’s Bronson/Thompson slasher classic, 10 To Midnight.

I know, just a minor piece of trivia but sometimes I can’t help myself.

3 Comments »

  1. I always thought of Rock Hudson as the matinee idol, the lead of many a Douglas Sirk Melodrama, and, of course, the favorite leading man of Doris Day, so to know he could be a tough guy is quite refreshing. So hard to believe the AIDS disease was killing him at the time as he still looked so healthy, vibrate, and youthful. Robert Mitchum playing a more vulnerable type is also refreshing I think too as he rarely got to express other facets of himself.

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