Friday, February 17, 2017

146. Fighting Mad

146. Fighting Mad aka Death Force(1978)
Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Writers: Howard R. Cohen from a story by Cirio H. Santiago and Robert E. Waters
From: Cult Cinema

A Vietnam veteran, betrayed by his comrades and left for dead, trains as a samurai in the hopes of one day enacting revenge.

Doug Russell is heading home from Vietnam with his friends Morelli and McGee when they stop off at the Philippines to deliver smuggled gold to a generic crime syndicate. While they’re riding a boat back to base, Morelli suggests McGee join up with him to take over the crime syndicates back home. McGee’s interested, but, for some inexplicable reason, they have to take Russell out of the picture. Russell has a wife and kid back home that he’s eager to return to so he won’t be interested in the plan. Morelli, who’s white, tells McGee, who’s black like Russell, to ignore all this “black revolutionary” talk about being brothers and take the deal.

I don’t know why they can’t pursue their plan without Russell. Maybe it’s a Musketeer's curse from a prequel where they have to do everything together or it won’t work at all. Whatever the situation, McGee, who seems conflicted, immediately helps Morelli stab Russell in the neck and throw him overboard.

The movie goes in two directions at this point. Morelli and McGee return to the States, somehow take over the entirety of LA’s crime scene by being more ruthless than the mafia that’s there, and McGee tries to get Russell’s wife to go out with him. She’s a successful lounge singer, but gets fired for economic reasons and can’t find a new gig. McGee keeps putting pressure on her to date him since he can take care of her. I think the movie intended for him to be responsible for her getting fired and remaining unemployed, but it failed to mention that. Also, I have to mention her kid.

Kid’s cute. He’s maybe 3 or 4 and has no idea what’s going on. I never say this about these movies, but give the kid more screen time. He’s adorable. Also, while I think several years are supposed to go by in the film, the kid never ages so it feels like everything happens over, maybe, two weeks.

Meanwhile, Russell has washed up on the shore of an uncharted island. He’s found by the island’s two residents: Japanese soldiers who think it’s still WWII. They take him in as a POW and train him to be a samurai because he wants to get revenge on Morelli and McGee. Things kind of hang out there for awhile. The situation on the island is silly because the two Japanese officers keep insisting on maintaining rank, but then Russell, as a POW, seems to outrank the second officer. Then that second officer, after 30 years of living on the island, falls off a ladder and dies. After Russell and the other officer bury him, a boat with unspecified militaristic ne'er-do-wells lands. The Japanese officer kills a few of them, but Russell surrenders if they’ll take him away. He tells them he was the only survivor on the island (which means they’re comfortable with him having killed their comrades) and they leave allowing the remaining officer to rule over the island alone.

Then he goes home, immediately meets a Japanese cab driver who becomes his assistant (I’d forgotten this part! Why are you still reading this and not watching the movie right now?!) and goes on a murder rampage until he manages to kill Morelli and McGee. While that’s what the movie’s about, it’s not nearly as interesting or entertaining as everything leading up to that point.

Do I need to say I love this movie? It’s a blaxploitation/mafia/revenge/samurai/vet-coming-home film. It even incorporates the then-recent news of stranded Japanese soldiers who were unaware of the end of the war. If I said this movie was made by adolescents, that’d be both inaccurate and unfair. While the movie is not excellently made, it’s almost competently made. However, if I said this movie was made with an adolescent mindset, that’d be the heart of my recommendation for it. This movie is the way it is because the producers sat down and said, “What’s awesome?” Then they put it all into a script.

So you have Russell becoming a samurai seemingly overnight, except he forgets all those instructions about avoiding violence and rejecting revenge. He’s such a good samurai that he’s able to defeat all sorts of goons with guns, yet he never advances beyond swinging the sword like a baseball bat. Likewise, Morelli and McGee somehow manage to out-think and out-gun all branches of the LA mafia despite it only being the two of them and they constantly arrive at ambushes together. It’s amazing.

And I’ll admit, I watched this awhile ago so my memory of the movie isn’t fantastic, even though I remember that the movie itself is fantastic. The only reason I mention that is because my notes include a line from the movie, “I had a son like you. He went off to become a Muslim,” and the note, “heads on spikes in front yard.” I don’t remember what these refer to or how they come up in the movie, but you need to know about them so you can understand the precise sort of exploitation excellence that this film acheives.

This movie is produced and presented with a real sense of glee, and that’s to its credit. The premise is fundamentally silly and, if it were pursued in earnest, would either fall flat or the movie would cut almost every element that makes the film fun. On top of that, it’s in the public domain so I’ve added an MPEG-2 copy to the Internet Archive. This feels like it could be the sequel to Black Dynamite and is 100% beer-and-pretzel cinema. I recommend you grab it right now.

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