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The Soldier (1982)
Offbeat and worth watching
The people who have been trashing this film are missing the point. Of course the film's premise is implausible, many of the scenes are improbable to the point of being ridiculous, and some of James Glickenhuas' political views may be offensive to some, but as far as I'm concerned, The Soldier is more entertaining than all the 007 movies combined. This is a very offbeat, unusual film that requires a complete suspension of disbelief in order to watch from start to finish, but it's definitely worth watching.
Ken Wahl was an interesting choice for The Soldier. I'm surprised that Robert Ginty wasn't offered the role considering that Glickenhaus and Ginty enjoyed great success with The Exterminator less than two years prior. Still, Wahl turns in a good job, although the brief appearance of Klaus Kinski as Dracha is one of the highlights of the film.
James Glickenhaus had a good run in the 1980s (The Exterminator, The Soldier, The Protector, Shakedown) and offered an interesting alternative to all the lousy mainstream movies of that decade. This is one cynical, jaded New Yorker who wishes Glickenhaus would return to film-making and give us another interesting film like The Soldier.
The Exterminator (1980)
A product of its time period
Although highly derivative of both Death Wish and Taxi Driver (and with a climax stolen directly from Badge 373), The Exterminator still successfully depicts a dirty, crime-ridden, God-forsaken New York City of the late '70s in ways that no other film has before or since.
Robert Ginty portrays John Eastland, a disillusioned and apparently disturbed Vietnam vet working the night shift at the Bronx Terminal Market with his old army buddy, Michael Jefferson. One morning, John tries to stop a group of gang members ("The Ghetto Ghouls", apparently based on the notorious South Bronx street gang The Savage Skulls) from stealing cases of beer from a storage container at the market, and nearly gets his throat cut for his trouble. Jefferson rescues Eastland once again (as he did in Vietnam), but of course their trouble is far from over. When the gang catches up with Jefferson and leaves him paralyzed and fighting for his life at Lincoln Hospital, Eastland begins his campaign of vengeance. During the course of this extremely violent movie, Eastland avenges not only his old friend, but other victims as well, using blowtorches, a meat grinder,an M-16 and a .44 Magnum loaded with mercury-filled dum-dum bullets as he systematically takes out mobsters, chickenhawks and other assorted street scum.
Critics of this movie have contended that Eastland's violence is too randomly directed after initially taking out the gang bangers who hurt his friend. My feeling is that Eastland had been suppressing a lot of rage since Vietnam, and had been seething over the deteriorating conditions of his city, and that the mugging of Jefferson was the last straw. After avenging his friend, Eastland decides to wage war against every criminal and degenerate that he sees. Of course, this being the cynical seventies, the NYPD detective assigned to the case (himself a Nam vet) would just as soon let The Exterminator continue to clean up the streets, but it is an election year, and public officials are embarrassed by the fact that The Exterminator is succeeding in eliminating crime where they have failed. The federal government actually believes that The Exterminator may be a foreign agent working to undermine the current administration, and sends a CIA operative into the city to investigate. By the end of the story, the CIA assassin only THINKS he has exterminated The Exterminator - and, as Eastland has promised in the past, "I'll be back".
When creating the character of John Eastland, James Glickenhaus was obviously influenced by Robert DeNiro's deranged Vietnam vet Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and by Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey character, who was affected by violence to the point that he was himself driven to violence in Death Wish. But in spite of this (and in spite of criticisms that Ginty's character is stiff and wooden), The Exterminator emerges as an interesting character study of a traumatized man who unravels under the stress of life in inner-city New York after the senseless violence of that place strikes a little too close to home.
Those of us New Yorkers who are old enough to remember that city back in those bad old days of the late '70s - early '80s will agree that The Exterminator captures the grit and grime of places like the South Bronx and Times Square, as well as the lawlessness and general chaos of the place. Thank God the place has been cleaned up somewhat.
Death Wish (1974)
A powerful film, all these years later
Death Wish can be viewed on two different levels. On one level, it's a superb thriller and a social commentary on the condition of New York City in that grim, post-Vietnam, post-Altamont, Watergate era in which we saw a considerable increase in violent crime. But on another level, it's a character study of a man whose personal politics change considerably after his family is victimized by exactly the type of people he would have previously been quick to defend. At the beginning of the movie, one of Paul Kersey's co-workers accuses Paul of being a bleeding-heart liberal, to which Paul replies, "Sure, my heart bleeds a little for the underprivileged". Minutes later, we see Paul Kersey's family destroyed by examples of these poor, "underprivileged" souls. Once the reality of this tragedy sinks in, Paul Kersey's apparent mental deterioration begins, and we see him resort to the type of violence that he was once repulsed by. Interesting.
The pros and cons of vigilante justice have been debated at length, so I don't want to continue that debate. But consider this: as United States citizens, we have the right to walk the streets of our cities at any time of day our night without fear of being victimized by a criminal. That's exactly what Paul Kersey was doing in every scene of the film where he was set upon by muggers, and if he wasn't carrying that gun, he is the one who would have ended up dead, not the muggers. Just a little food for thought.
This movie was considered highly controversial and violent when it was first released, and remains powerful all these years later. My father-in-law, a retired New York City police officer who witnessed and experienced a great deal of violence during his career, once told me that he was so disgusted by the rape scene that he walked out of the theater during the film's original theatrical release. I think that speaks volumes about the film's impact. It's too bad that Bronson found it necessary to make all those TERRIBLE sequels. He was obviously in it for the money.