Explosive Media, the German based boutique video label, has released the 1975 Charles Bronson crime thriller "Breakout" on Blu-ray. Bronson was riding high at the time, coming off the sensational success of "Death Wish". The film was originally supposed to star Kris Kristofferson under the direction of Michael Ritchie but those plans soon fell apart. Bronson took over the lead role with veteran director Tom Gries at the helm. The film finds Bronson well-cast as Nick Colton, a shady businessman/con man/grifter who operates a variety of small time business ventures on the Mexican border with his partner Hawk Hawkins (pre-kooky Randy Quaid.) Nick is living hand-to-mouth when he is approached by Ann Wagner (Jill Ireland) with a proposition to help her husband, Jay (Robert Duvall), escape from a Mexican prison where he has been sentenced after being framed for a murder. Time is of the essence because Jay is in declining health and may well be too weak to help effect his own escape. Colton and Hawk's first attempt to spring him ends disastrously and they barely escape back to America. Colton concocts an audacious plan for a second escape attempt that involves split-second timing. He will arrange for a helicopter to land in the courtyard of the prison and in the inevitable confusion, Jay is to make his way on board and presumably fly away to freedom. In order to pull off the caper, Nick enlists the help of a professional helicopter pilot as well as Myrna (Sheree North), a married ex-call girl who will be used to distract some of the guards when the copter lands inside the prison. When the pilot gets cold feet, Nick is forced to fly the chopper himself despite the fact that he only has minimum experience doing so. Another complication ensues when Jay is confined to the prison hospital and doubts he will be able to be in the courtyard at the precise moment Colton lands.
"Breakout" was inspired by an incredible 1971 real life escape in which an American was indeed rescued by helicopter from a Mexican prison. The screenplay has some other sub-plots that are poorly developed and quite confusing, but some of which are obviously related to the actual escape including some rumored involvement by the CIA. In the film, Jay Wagner's frame-up takes place at the behest of his evil tycoon grandfather, Harris Wagner (John Huston) for reasons that never become clear. Apparently, Harris is concerned that Jay may inherit some control over the company Harris runs with an iron fist, though these plot points remain murky as does the involvement of some CIA characters. Another potential plot device, which finds Nick and Ann obviously attracted to each other, also goes nowhere. The film has a rushed look to it and there are some unsatisfying aspects caused by the movie's rather abrupt ending. The movie studio, Columbia, apparently felt the film was a rather weak production and thus gambled on a massive ad campaign that probably cost more than the film's modest budget. Ads for "Breakout" were everywhere: in newspapers, on TV and on radio. Additionally, the film opened wide in 1,000 American theaters, which was a big number in 1975. The movie was dismissed by critics with Variety calling it a "cheap exploitation pic", and indeed the main poster artwork and graphics looked surprisingly amateurish considering this was a golden age for film poster designs. Nevertheless, Bronson's appeal seemed to override these negative factors. "Breakout" proved to be a major hit and helped cement his status as a top boxoffice attraction though his clout would gradually diminish henceforth.
Like a lot of older movies, "Breakout" probably plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release. Bronson is in top form and gives an unusually energetic performance that allows him to stress his rarely-used talent for light comedy. The only other standout member of the cast is Sheree North, as the epitome of the sexy cougar. She's a fast-talking, tough cookie who parades about in sexy lingerie in an attempt to seduce Bronson. (Surprisingly, Bronson's character does not engage in any sexual action throughout the movie.) Robert Duvall is largely underutilized in a low-key role and performance that could have been credibly played by almost any other competent actor. Huston's presence in the movie is disappointing, also. His role is confined to a few scattered cameo appearances that probably don't last more than two minutes. Some other familiar faces include Paul Mantee, Alejandro Rey, Roy Jenson and the Mexican cinema's favorite bad guy, Emilio Fernandez. As for Bronson teaming for the umpteenth time with real life wife Jill Ireland, the gimmick was wearing thin. Some screen couples could team without wearing out their welcome. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made many films together but they were always playing entirely different characters in entirely different scenarios. Bronson and Ireland, despite being competent actors, were no Liz and Dick. It became clear that their films together were largely made possible by Bronson's clout with the studios. Although Ireland always gave credible performances, she never lit up the screen. After a while the sheer predictability of their on-screen teamings probably undermined Bronson's popularity because it constrained him from interacting with other actresses. It was a trap Clint Eastwood also fell into for a period of time when he cast Sondra Locke in the female lead in six of his movies over a period of only seven years. Despite these gripes, it must be said that director Tom Gries keeps the pace moving briskly and there isn't a dull moment. He also knows how to milk some genuine suspense out of the helicopter escape scene, which is exceptionally well photographed by the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard. Jerry Goldsmith also contributes a typically fine score. The movie was shot in a wide number of locations including California, Mexico, Spain and France, where the impressive edifice that serves as the prison is located.
Scene stealer: Sheree North in posed cheesecake publicity photo for the film.
The Explosive Media Blu-ray looks terrific and contains the original trailer and an impressive stills gallery. The film is presented in either the English or German language versions. The region-free Blu-ray can be ordered through Amazon Germany or through Amazon UK.