by Peter Nielsen
”Codename: The Soldier – You don’t assign him. You unleash him!”
It’s time to go back to the early 80’s again or more precisely to those lovely low-budget action-movies made in that era. I grew up renting and watching tons of this type of movies on VHS. We had a couple of places here in the little town of Klippan, which had tapes for rent during my early teens. We didn’t get a proper video rental store until the late 80’s, I think. It could have been in the very early 90’s too, I’m not really sure.
But before that there were a couple of small places that had movies for rent. I remember one of our hamburger joints having a small shelf with only a handful of titles on it, and they didn’t have it for long either, but we still managed to rent a couple there. We also had a small arcade here at one point and they also had a small selection of movies for rent, so not only did we spend money on the arcade-games, we also spent it on movies. I seem to remember renting a couple of spaghetti-westerns here.
But… the place where we mostly rented movies here in Klippan at that time was one of the local radio and TV shops. I suppose the owner saw the potential in having TV’s, VCR’s and also movies for said VCR’s, so he kind of remade the backroom of the shop with shelves upon shelves filled with lovely and colorful VHS-boxes. And this was the place we frequented quite often, Michael and I. At least until the video-stores arrived. Yup, that’s right… we had two!
The first time I rented The Soldier was not together with Michael, though. I think it was together with one of my cousins in Copenhagen on one of my numerous visits. I’m not 100% sure, it’s been a while, you know, so my memory is a bit hazy on that part. But now I think it’s about time I started talking a little bit about the actual movie, wouldn’t you agree?
The movie starts off with a group of black-clad men foiling what is obviously an assassination attempt on a foreign ambassador. It’s a violent and bloody shoot-out in the middle of the street but the scene is quickly cleaned up afterwards and the black-clad team disappears in a helicopter. In the next scene we find out that the would-be assassins were working for the Russians, who are of course none too happy with the outcome.
They then proceed to steal and plant a nuclear device in the middle of a Saudi Arabian oilfield and threaten to detonate it unless Israel withdraws from the West Bank. Should the bomb go off it would contaminate 50% of the world’s oil supply.
The U.S. president isn’t sure who’s behind it so he calls the director of the CIA and tells him to find out and this is where the soldier, played by Ken Wahl, comes in. His real name is never mentioned in the movie, he’s only referred to as “The Soldier”. I’ve seen Ken Wahl in a couple of other movies, but I mostly know him from the TV-series Wiseguy. He’s, perhaps, not the best actor in the world, but he does ok in this one.
The soldier decides to go meet with Dracha, a Russian agent who’s currently vacationing in the Austrian Alps. He wants to talk to him and hopefully learn if the KGB is really behind the bomb-threat. What he doesn’t know is that the Russians have him pegged for termination and no sooner has he arrived than he finds himself fleeing from three enemy agents down the winding slopes.
The chase sequence on skis that follows is actually pretty spectacular, where our hero at one point does a 360° turn in the air whilst shooting one of his pursuers with a machine gun. This scene is a little bit reminiscent of the one in The Spy Who Loved Me, but only a little bit.
The whole movie is actually a little bit like a James Bond movie, but one with a low budget. A very low budget! And just like most spy-movies, the plot takes us all around the world… Canada, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Germany and the U.S. for instance. And just like many spy-movies made in the 80’s, every foreign agent speaks English, with an accent, when talking to each other.
The soldier works outside of the official channels, which should come as no big surprise for you, and his only contact is the director of the CIA, so when he’s killed the soldier is left with no one to turn to. He assembles his own men, the black-clad team we saw briefly at the start of the movie, and also team up with an Israeli agent to come up with a plan to stop the Russians. They manage to seize control of an intercontinental missile, point it at Moscow and issue an ultimatum to the KGB to disarm the bomb or else…
As I mentioned earlier, this was one of those action-flicks I watched as a teen and then kind of lost track of as time passed. I later stumbled upon it, more or less, by chance and thought… “Hey, wait a minute? Isn’t this..?” So of course I bought it and when I finally watched it again, I found I remembered much more than I initially thought I would. That says quite a bit about the movie, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s not a fantastic movie, but it sure as hell isn’t a bad one either! Well, not that bad anyway.
It’s directed by James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator, McBain) and actually has some fairly recognizable faces in the cast. There’s William Prince (Spies Like Us, The Gauntlet) as the President and as Dracha, the Russian agent, we see the iconic Klaus Kinski (Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht).
Two of the men in the soldier’s team are played by Steve James (Hero and the Terror, The Delta Force) and, in his first feature role, Joaquim De Almeida from Desperado and Good Morning, Babylon for instance. Fans of the TV-series La Femme Nikita might recognize Alberta Watson as the Israeli agent helping the soldier.
But the one that kind of made me sit up straight in the sofa was the actor playing the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense. It’s a small part, but he actually has more lines than Mr. Kinski. It was Jeffrey Jones… Yes, the same one as in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Amadeus, Who’s Harry Crumb or Without a Clue. I thought that was pretty cool!
Once again I find myself finishing off a review with the musical score. The music in The Soldier is done by none other than Tangerine Dream, and it’s a damn good one at that. It raises the bar a notch or two, so to speak. Well, that is, if you’re a fan of the band. Which I am, of course!
And with the music ringing in your ears, I’ll leave you this week. Until next time, my friends, why not tell me if you’ve seen The Soldier and what you thought of it if you did!