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Movies From the Black Lagoon: The Ultimate Warrior
Movies From the Black Lagoon
The Ultimate Warrior - 1975, Rated R
The future looks pretty bleak in this Sci-Fi yarn that pits an aging warrior against a band of cutthroats in the pitted remains of New York City.
The story opens in Manhattan, in the year 2017. It quickly establishes that mankind is on its last legs. Government is a thing of the past and society consists of gated communities that compete for the ever-diminishing supplies of canned goods. One band has an edge. The professorial Baron whose daughter, Melinda, is married to Cal, the only living botanist on the island, leads them. Cal has managed to cultivate five vegetables in his rooftop greenhouse, but the resulting seeds need a larger pasture if they're ever going to bring back a green planet. Leaving their compound, however, is a dicey proposition as the outlying streets belong to a ruthless gang piloted by the brawny, and cunning, Carrot.
Hope appears in the form of a lone warrior, Carson, who shows up one day and stands atop a wrecked vehicle to announce that his services are available for hire. Baron is able to purchase the warrior's protection with promise of three squares a day and a "vermin free" apartment. Carson jumps at the offer. He gets his first mission when Carrot's men, while foraging for powdered milk, capture the couple.
Carson efficiently dispatches Carrot's goons, with his trusty knife.
Unfortunately he's too late to save the couple or their infant daughter.
Things get worse when Carrot's men invade Baron's compound to steal vegetables (you gotta love a movie that illustrates that it would take the end of the world to get us to appreciate eating our greens). Carson shows up in time to thrash most of the thugs, but he's too late to save Cal from getting tossed off a four-story roof. This development spurs Baron to go for broke with a plan to save the earth.
He instructs Carson to take the seeds, and the nine month pregnant Melinda, out of the city. Baron opts to stay behind with his people, who are not in on the plan. He stresses that the seeds are most important and to save them over Melinda if the situation demands it. Carson agrees to the scheme but Baron pays a heavy price for being so selfless when he's stomped to death by his own people who are too hungry to share his benevolence.
It all leads to a superb finale, which finds Carson charging threw the subway system with Melinda. Along the way he must take out Carrot's hoods, deliver a baby, and chop off his own hand but he's up to the job. The final battle with Carrot is a humdinger and delivers on the action front while also offering up a fitting demise for Carrot, involving a putrid sewer line and a pack of subway rats.
What makes this effort work is its deliberate approach to the material. There is little melodrama, and that's apparent in how things got so bad in the first place. This time there was no nuclear war (too often the root cause in these types of films). Over population merely led to overtaxed resources .The talent involved helps sell the material. First off you have a director, Robert Clouse, who is mainly known for action flicks with more punch than smarts (Black Belt Jones).
Here he avoids the use of flashy fight scenes and concentrates on the narrative. The brawls feature low-key sound effects that mimic the muffled volume of hands pounding on flesh. The actors are also well chosen. Yul Brynner (West World) is in top form as Carson. Brynner may seem an odd choice for Clouse, after working with Bruce Lee on "Enter the Dragon", but he is totally believable here. He also handles the action well for a guy that was 55 years old. He's even better in the quieter moments where he is won over by the optimistic Baron (well played by Max Von Sydow). William Smith steals every scene he's in as the menacing Carrot. This guy can play tough in his sleep but he's also an accomplished thespian who has gone toe to toe with the likes of Nick Nolte (Rich Man, Poor Man) and Clint Eastwood (Every Which Way but Loose). Add in some very subtle humor (the film was made in Burbank so Yul is named after it's favorite citizen, Johnny Carson) and you have the perfect time waster. The disc also includes a bonus film, "Battle Beneath the Earth." The downside is it's a true stink burger.
The far out narrative finds America under attack by the Chinese, who are digging a tunnel straight up to us, or is that down?
Best Line: " Your room will be dry and free of rats."
Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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