Friday, February 14, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Firefox (1982) ***

PG, 136 min.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Alex Lasker, Wendell Wellman, Craig Thomas (novel)
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Freddie Jones, David Huffman, Warren Clarke, Ronald Lacey, Kenneth Colley, Klaus Lowitsch, Nigel Hawthorne, Stefan Schnabel, Thomas Hill, Clive Merrison, Kai Wulff, Dimitra Arliss

I’ve loved “Firefox” from the first time I saw it. Much of that has to do with the fact that my father was a fighter pilot and he loved it. He pointed out almost immediately to me that the Firefox wasn’t really a Russian MiG, but looked like a suped up North American XB-70 Valkyrie, although it was described as looking like a MiG-25 in the book. My father read many military based novels, so I’m guessing he had read Craig Thomas’s 1977 book before seeing the movie.

While it was the flying sequences that interested me most as a kid, the scenes that really stuck with me are the ones set in Moscow. The notion of this all-controlling KGB presence was a powerful one perpetuated by Hollywood in the early 80s. As a great example of such, the scenes where Clint Eastwood makes his way through Moscow to establish his cover and then disappear are some of the best espionage suspense scenes from the era. Eastwood the director does such a good job setting up his character to ride on the edge of discovery throughout this sequence.

As always, Eastwood’s casting is impeccable. The supporting cast is made up of great character actors, many of who were on the verge of recognizability from their involvement in other well-known movies from the era. Kenneth Colley, who plays the Soviet Colonel hot on Eastwood’s trail, had just made a little splash as Darth Vader’s second in command, Admiral Piett, in the second “Star Wars” movie. Ronald Lacey, who was the ultra-evil Major Toht in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, appears as one of the Soviet Jewish scientists responsible for the Firefox technology. Nigel Hawthorne, who also appeared in the awards darling “Gandhi” that same year, plays the leader of the scientists instrumental in the theft of the Firefox plane. Freddie Jones is the brains behind the mission and had just appeared as the brutal keeper of “The Elephant Man” in David Lynch’s lauded adaptation. And Warren Clarke, best known as Alex’s opposing drooge Dim in “A Clockwork Orange”, is Eastwood’s inside contact in Moscow.

“Firefox” may not stand as one of the greatest films of the 80s. Many of its action sequences feel dated to day. However, it will always stand as one of Eastwood’s greatest films in my eyes, if only because of what it meant to me as a child and how it encapsulates they way Americans perceived the Cold War at the time.

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