Color, 1984, 91 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
Starring Henry Silva, Harrison Muller, Woody Strode, Carole André, Deborah Keith, Danika
Code Red |
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
After blessing the world with some of the finest poliziotteschi ever made, director Fernando Di Leo ended up with a very troubled career in the late '70s thanks to the fate of his extremely shocking To Be Twenty and the barely released Madness. Following a six-part crime series for TV that ended up on the shelf, he took a page from the successful Vietnamsploitation films of Antonio Margheriti and made The Violent Breed, his last theatrical feature. (The only one after that, Killer vs Killers, went straight to video.) This title was part of a short but wild wave of Italian features Cannon either bankrolled or acquired (Treasure of the Four Crowns, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, The Berlin Affair), with the most famous being Luigi Cozzi's two Hercules films. This one was a pickup after the fact a la The Final Executioner and The Throne of Fire, but it fits the Cannon aesthetic well enough and comes with a couple of familiar faces from Di Leo's earlier glory days.
In the middle of the Vietnam War, soldiers Kirk Cooper (The Italian Connection's Silva) and Mike Martin (2020 Texas Gladiators' Muller) are surprised when their buddy Polo (Loaded Guns' Strode) decides to stick around in the jungle during a rescue mission and disappears into the wilderness. Flash forward a few years later to the CIA where Cooper is now a honcho who's gotten word that Polo has set up a big compound that's turned into a major Southeast Asia hub for illegal gun running and drug smuggling bankrolled by organized crime syndicates. It's up to Mike to head back into the jungle to straighten things out and take down Polo's empire, along with saving any helpless locals in need along the way.
Anyone expecting to see top-billed Silva should be aware that, after taking a bullet in the opening minutes, he spends what little is left of his screen time mostly sitting behind a desk following the progress of Muller, the real star of the film. However, Strode gets a ton of screen time as well as a somewhat complex character, while Yor: The Hunter from the Future's Carole André gets a far bit to do as Muller's girlfriend. Speaking of Muller, the showbiz heir was one of several American actors earmarked for Italian action movie stardom around the time; however, he's easily the most enigmatic of the bunch since he disappeared from the public eye entirely at the end of the '80s after making less than a dozen films. The role doesn't require him to stretch many acting muscles, but he's fine running around shooting at stuff once the action finally kicks in around the one-hour mark. The film itself is obviously very cheap and ragged (a clear paycheck gig for Di Leo) with some insane cost-cutting tactics on display, but if you love chintzy Euro shoot-'em-ups, that might be a big selling point.
Given a very marginal theatrical run from Cannon, The Violent Breed ended up on VHS in one of those great oversized MGM/UA boxes where it lurked in the action section of mom and pop stores for years. Apparently ignoring the film's very valid ownership, Xenon snuck out their own VHS later under the completely appropriate title Real Soulja touting Strode as the only star, complete with an unwatchable dupey transfer that did the film no favors. In 2022, Code Red brought the film to Blu-ray via its distribution through Kino Lorber with packaging noting a new 2K transfer. The source is definitely a print (likely the best thing MGM had lying around given the film's background), obviously looking better than anything we've had before but definitely confined by the limitations of what it is including some specks here and there and the usual murky blacks you see in 35mm print transfers from sources of the era. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track (with optional English subtitles) is fine considering it's an optical track, and the film was shot with live sound in English (though Strode was looped later, as usual for the time). The theatrical trailer is included (in HD) along with bonus ones for The Last Hunter, The Violent Professionals, Street Law, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, and Blastfighter.
Reviewed on June 12, 2022.