Red Sun (1971)

Ursula Andress FestivalAKA: Soleil Rouge
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Charles Bronson, Toshirô Mifune, Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, Capucine, Anthony Dawson, Luc Merenda
Music: Maurice Jarre

By the early seventies, the Spaghetti Westerns (which had revitalised the Western genre) were starting to run out of steam. The look, the feel, and the violence weren’t enough to attract audiences anymore. Westerns needed another twist, or an angle to put bums on seats again. Then somebody took the old saying ‘East meets West’ and twisted West not to mean ‘civilisation’ but the ‘old west’. And for a brief moment in time we had Kung-Fu and Samurai Westerns. Entries in this short lived cinematic movement include Fighting Fists Of Shanghai Joe, the TV series Kung Fu with David Carradine, and this film Red Sun (okay it was a very small movement).

The idea is simply a variant on the fish out of water story, but Red Sun added another nice twist on top of that – the casting of Charles Bronson and Toshirô Mifune. How is that special I hear you ask? Well Mifune was one of the Seven Samurai and Bronson was one of The Magnificent Seven. I like the correlation.

But the film features many fish out of water. It was filmed in Spain, and starred the American, Bronson; Japanese, Mifune; French, Alain Delon; and the Swiss actress Ursula Andress.

The film opens in 1870, and the Japanese Ambassador is travelling by train, accompanied by two Samurai guards, across the wild west to deliver the gift of a golden ceremonial sword to the President of the United States. Unfortunately for the Ambassador, this is the train that outlaws, Link Stuart (Charles Bronson) and Gauche (Alain Delon) have chosen to rob with the help of their band of trusty outlaws. Well maybe ‘trusty’ is the wrong word. There is no trust. In fact Gauche double crosses Stuart and leaves him dead. Gauche also angers the Japanese Ambassador when he steals the ceremonial sword and kills one of the Samurai guards.

The Ambassador orders his other Samurai guard, Kuroda Jubie (Toshirô Mifune) to track down Gauche, kill him and retrieve the sword. They figure the best man to lead Kuroda to Gauche is Stuart. So begins a journey for the two men. Wise-ass Stuart, has no intentions of staying with Kuroda, who is dressed in full Samurai gear. But Stuart does want to get to Gauche, and retrieve the money that is rightfully owing to him. But his attempts at breaking away from Kuroda aren’t too successful, as Kuroda is dogged in his determination to complete his mission – retrieving the sword – and if that means sticking with Stuart, then that’s exacly what he does.

Stuart and Kuroda aren’t too successful in tracking down Gauche, so Stuart adopts another strategy. He let’s Gauche come to him. Or more correctly, come to Christina (Ursula Andress). Christina is a prostitute, and also happens to be Gauche’s girlfriend. Stuart figures that sooner or later, Gauche is going to have the ‘urge’, and when he does, he’ll come for Christina; and Stuart will be waiting.

Red Sun, while being very enjoyable in it’s way, is quite an uneven film. After the train robbery and betrayal at the start, the film spends quite a bit of time with just Bronson and Mifune’s characters; and here the film works very well as almost a character piece. But plotwise, with only two men making a journey together, not much story progression is taking place. But that’s not to say it is boring – these are characters that are engaging.

For the second half of the film, once Ursula Andress’ character is introduced, the story does move forward, but it doesn’t really have any place to go.

The ending itself, is very reminiscent of Bandolero (and numerous other Westerns), where the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys have to team up to defeat a common enemy – here they have to battle a number of rather European looking Comanche Indians. I always think it is a clumsy plot device when fate steps in to turn the tables in favour of the hero. A real hero would ‘think’ or ‘fight’ his way out of trouble.

Ultimately Red Sun is not a great film, but it is an interesting one. It’s Samurai Western with a likeable International cast performing a variety of Swordplay, Gunplay, and if you count Christina’s seduction of Link, Foreplay.

Red Sun (1971)

Teheran 43

Teheran 43 (1981)

Also Known as: Assassination Attempt and The Eliminator

Don’t know too much about this one. I found this poster while scouring the net, and I liked the Dali-esque touches [click on image for larger view]. It was a Russian film, but it received a substantial international release (apparently it was released on video in Australia as The Eliminator). The stars were Curt Jurgens, Alain Delon and Evelyne Kraft (who I always remember as the scantily clad jungle girl in Mighty Peking Man (AKA: Goliathon).

The plot concerns a plan by the Nazis to assassinate Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill.

Teheran 43

Scorpio (1972)

Director: Michael Winner
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Paul Scofield, John Colicos, Gayle Hunnicut, Vladek Sheybal, Joanne Linville
Music: Jerry Fielding

Scorpio, while being far from brilliant is an interesting examination of a spy who has outlived his usefulness. Burt Lancaster is Cross, a C.I.A. operative who used to be their number one assassin. But now he is old and ‘thinks’ too much. More so, a life time’s accumulation of knowledge means he knows too much! And as we all know, dear reader, there is no retirement plan for secret agents.

The film opens in Paris where a Middle Eastern colonel (from the fictional country of Ritria), Selon Zim, disembarks from a plane amidst tight security. This is to no avail, because as soon as he hits the tarmac he is killed by Jean Laurier, AKA: ‘Scorpio’ (Alain Delon). Lurking in the shadows is Cross, who is Scorpio’s mentor. Cross has trained him in the art of espionage and, most importantly, killing!

In some confusing political mumbo jumbo Zim was pro-American, but killed because his allies would blame his enemies and become more powerful and useful to the United States. All this introduction does is show us that spying is a very dirty business and the men who operate within it’s realm are just pawns in the game. Good and bad do not exist.

Both Cross and Scorpio head back to Washington. Cross’ wife, Sarah (Joanne Linville) lives in Washington, so it’s a happy homecoming for him. Scorpio chooses to take an extravagant suite at a hotel. The room he chooses already houses a cat which Scorpio takes a shine to. Before Scorpio has had a chance to unpack, C.I.A. Controller, McLeod (John Colicos) contacts Scorpio. At this point it is revealed that in Paris, once the mission was complete, Scorpio was meant to kill Cross. Why? Because Cross wants to retire. He wants out of the game. Being an assassin is a game for young men and Cross realises his time is running out. Scorpio doesn’t want to kill Cross. He wants to be left alone and refuses to go into headquarters.

Meanwhile Cross realises something unusual is going on. He notices his home is being watched. The next day he drives to headquarters but is being tailed as he does so. He disables his pursuers, by leading them into an alley and then deliberately crashes his car into theirs. Then Cross allows one of the men to follow him on foot to the bus station. Hiding in the men’s room, Cross gets the jump on his pursuer after he blindly follows Cross into the gents. Cross then asks some hard questions, but doesn’t like the answers he gets. Apparently the agency wants him dead.

Cross goes on the run. He buys multiple plane tickets to blur his trail, and then takes multiple planes and trains passing through Pittsburgh, Toronto and finally landing in Vienna. In Vienna, Cross seeks out another old-timer, Serge Zharkov (Paul Scofield). Zharkov is a Russian agent, who tries to convince Cross to defect. But Cross simply tells him, ‘I want out, not to change sides!’

Back in the states a drug raid on Scorpio’s hotel room lands him in hot water. Naturally enough, Scorpio had nothing to do with the drugs being there, but that doesn’t matter to McLeod, who promptly blackmails Scorpio into performing the sanction on Cross. And now the cat and mouse game begins.

Scorpio was directed by Michael Winner, who at this time was at the peak of his powers (and not the hack B-grade director that he would later become). He had just come off the success of his incredibly dated but subversive thriller Death Wish, with Charles Bronson, and needed another thriller to cement his reputation. So it had to be violent and provocative, and for the time, Scorpio was. But today’s audiences may find it hard to stifle a yawn.

What may come as somewhat of a surprise is the lack of empathy created by either Burt Lancaster who appears to be sleepwalking, and Alain Delon who plays an icy character in a cold aloof manner. Then again, maybe that is the point. These are not nice men. Both men are professional assassins, and I’d guess it takes a certain amount of emotional detachment to be a contract killer.

Look, it isn’t a bad film but time has overtaken it and the themes it encompasses. I must sound like a parrot, comparing old films to the Matt Damon version of The Bourne Identity. But clearly shows what happens when an agent is no longer wanted, and in a far more impressive and entertaining style than The Bourne IdentityScorpio. This may sound like I am saying, ‘ignore the old’ and only concentrate ‘on the new!’ Far from it. Many of the old films still have a powerful story to tell. But Scorpio is more of a seventies time capsule, and while it’s story of an aging secret agent, is played out quite truthfully, more so than Innocent Bystanders (1973) or even Never Say Never Again (1984), it never fully connects with the audience.

If you are a spy completist who loves to look at the evolution of the spy film over the decades, Scorpio is a must have addition to your collection. But if you are a viewer who likes to watch spy films for pure escapism, I’d suggest this film isn’t for you.

Scorpio (1972)