The Soldier

I only paid attention to THE SOLDIER (1982) because I noticed it had a score by Tangerine Dream. (Turns out to be a good one, too, though hard to find as an album.) I should’ve checked it out anyway just because it’s written and directed by James Glickenhaus between THE EXTERMINATOR and THE PROTECTOR. It’s a little more normal and less sleazy than those – it’s a covert ops movie in the mold of THE KILLER ELITE or SWORD OF GIDEON or one of those – but I think I liked it even better.

Ken Wahl (THE DIRTY DOZEN: THE NEXT MISSION, THE GLADIATOR) plays the titular The Soldier. That’s his code name! Seems like there could be some misunderstandings there. He leads an elite counterterrorism unit that operates completely off the books and answers only to the head of the CIA (Ron Harper, BODY COUNT, PEARL HARBOR). And they’re introduced in a pretty funny way. In the first shot, a limo carrying an ambassador is driving through Philadelphia and an old lady – well, a woman wearing an old lady costume – crosses in front of her with a babycart. The driver doesn’t even slow down, just nails the woman and keeps going. A woman with a shopping bag, a construction worker and a businessman all see it happen and come running over, to find the lady dead. Inside the babycart is a doll and an uzi.

But these aren’t just random people! They’re more assassins! They pull guns out of a bag, a lunchbox, a briefcase. Before they can use them they go down in a hail of bullets and we see The Soldier and his crew – the great Steve James (right before VIGILANTE), Joaquim de Almeida (DESPERADO, FAST FIVE), Peter Hooten (Doctor Strange in the 1978 TV movie DR. STRANGE) and Alexander Spencer (no other credits) – just standing in a line on some steps wearing their cool black outfits and berets. Where the fuck did they come from? I don’t know. But a helicopter comes, they load up the bodies, clean off the blood, and fly away without saying a word.

They’re not the only smooth operators in the world, though. In the next sequence we watch a group of KGB agents led by Ivan (Jeremiah Sullivan, SOMEBODY KILLED HER HUSBAND) come ashore at night and ambush a plutonium transport truck with a bazooka the next day. The truck explodes, flips over and explodes again, then they just walk past the flaming corpses to climb up the tower on the trailer and pull out a plutonium rod. When a sheriff tries to interrupt, Ivan shoots him with a trick shotgun hidden literally up his sleeve. It’s a great shot because it’s slo-mo and it’s the stringiest, goopiest squib I’ve seen in a while (even if you can see for a second that there’s a solid box inside there).

They pull an Alfa Romero out of the back of their truck, put the rod in the trunk and drive off right before another explosion. They drive over the border to Canada, seamlessly switching from their Russian conversation to perfectly dorky American accents. Next thing you know they’re on an oil field in Saudi Arabia, hiding a nuclear bomb inside one barrel in a pile.

Most of the movie is just watching long sequences like this unfold, and that’s what I love about it. There is some exposition, for example the next scene has a camera slowly rotating as a circle of Israeli officials discuss their dilemma: they’ve received a demand to withdraw from the West Bank within 96 hours or a nuclear bomb will destroy 50% of the world’s petroleum supply.

From there we go directly into the next cool sequence: a goofy looking prisoner of Mossad gets dragged into an interrogation room where another prisoner identifies him. Mossad director of special operations Susan Goodman (Alberta Watson, THE KEEP) then executes the first guy, but in the other room it’s revealed that it was her best double agent with a squib on his head. No wonder he had such a giant forehead and ridiculous looking wig!

When the U.S. finds out what’s going on they don’t want to risk losing that oil, so the president (William Prince, THE GAUNTLET, SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION) calls the head of the CIA and asks him to come up with a plan to drive Israel off the West Bank! I can’t picture that ever happening. But “on the other hand I want to know who the fuck is behind this,” and the director has “just the man for the job, sir” and we know who that means.

The Soldier’s plan is “to talk to the Russians” to figure out if they’re behind it or know who is, so he goes to Austria to meet with Dracha (Klaus Kinski between FITZCARRALDO and ANDROID) on the top of a mountain. But Dracha immediately tricks him into getting on a ski lift by himself and he’s able to jump out right before a bazooka blows it up. This leads to a ski chase worthy of a James Bond movie! My favorite parts are when they tear past normal skiiers who don’t know what the fuck is going on, and of course the climax when The Soldier goes off a jump and spins around and somehow shoots a guy with a machine gun in mid-air.

As tends to happen in these things, the CIA director gets killed, so The Soldier is out there on his own with no one to vouch for him or to communicate with. So he rams a car into the Israeli embassy, convinces Susan he’s legit and they team up.

This really is mostly just a compilation of super cool sequences set to super cool music. Like, we watch a guy painstakingly taking apart a lightbulb to fill with explosives and putting said bulb in the CIA director’s desk lamp. And then we have to wait for the director to turn it on. We also watch a ninja sneak up on The Soldier while he’s asleep in a chair and then they have a bloody fight until The Soldier gets ahold of a gun and the ninja reveals that he’s Steve James just playing a joke. One thing that’s goofy is that he does Bruce Lee noises like he will later as Kung Fu Joe in I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA.

There’s just so much scope and detail to this thing. They go to meet one of the other operatives in a huge, crowded redneck bar with a live band and mud-wrestling. Some dude calls Steve the n-word so Steve beats the shit out of him and starts a massive brawl. As our guys walk out of the place somebody gets thrown through the window behind them, the mud wrestlers climb out, the camera keeps panning across an amazing collection of vintage cars and motorcycles and an airbrushed van in the parking lot and eventually we see the sign that says “MUD WRESTLING TONIGHT.”

So either they created a whole world here or they found a hell of a location and clientele to be extras.

Speaking of interesting locations, there’s a scene shot on 42nd Street, with lots of great titles on the marquees (including Glickenhaus’s own THE EXTERMINATOR). In this case I’m pretty sure they really just shot guerrilla style with the real people on the street.

The scene’s over quick though because it turns out to be a film for a shooting simulator The Soldier uses for practice.

I enjoy movies like this, maybe in part because it’s a fun and comforting fantasy to believe that there can be a small team of badasses who are so fucking incredible at what they do that they can solve any problem, save the world from any disaster. We get the impure catharsis of fucking some guy’s up with the moral justification that it’s gonna stop a whole war or a nuclear blast.

It’s also kinda creepy though because of course it’s accepting the idea that we trust these guys to go beyond any law or leadership and do the right thing. They manage to sneak into a facility in disguise and take control of the nuclear arsenal, to use as a threat! There are so many ways this could go wrong. Any one of these guys could turn into the villain in an UNDER SIEGE. But for now they’re on our side. They have The Soldier’s back and The Soldier has ours.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022 at 7:16 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “The Soldier”

  1. I don’t remember this in great detail, but I saw this when I was at the peak of my enthusiasm for James Glickenhaus films and Tangerine Dream scores, and it delivered on all counts. It seemed quite lavish/expensive for such an obscure movie too.

  2. This sounds A LOT better than I’d always heard. I might have to finally pull the trigger on it.

  3. Guess I will have to give this another try. Saw it in the mid 80s and didn’t like it much. Always liked Ken Wahl, especially in RUNNING SCARED (the 1980 one), FORT APACHE THE BRONX and RACE FOR YANKEE ZEPHYR, so maybe I felt this was a step down for him. And as usual Glickenhaus’ political views are awful.

  4. Joaquim de Almeida in an action movie and he’s not playing the heavy? This I gotta see!

  5. I remember my dad taking me to see that one and feeling quite bad because it was more violent than he expected (i was 9!). It was back in the days where you would go see a film just based on the poster.
    Never saw it again since but the explosive lightbulb stayed with me. As well as a sequence where they drive a car above the Berlin Wall (if i remember correctly)…

  6. Relying on an Alfa Romeo to start, much less to stay running long enough to race away from an impending explosion, is probably the gutsiest move in this flick.

  7. If I can go off topic for a second.

    Hey Vern, I don’t know if you know this, but The Dollop podcast is doing episodes on Seagal, and your book gets namechecked as a source. It’s hosted by two comedians who aren’t exactly action movie friendly. But they do shit on Seagal in an entertaining way and it’s shaping up to be quite the epic journey.


  8. Thank you Daniel, I have been told about this. Do you remember where they mentioned Seagalogy? Was it at the end? I tried listening but this style and tone of comedy is not my thing and I had to give up after a while. Anyway, it’s nice of them to (reportedly) cite it.

  9. I think you’ll find Vern says they drove off in an Alfa Romero, which I would imagine is undying.

  10. Yup, it’s at the end, close around:
    1 hour 40 min 52 sec for Part 1
    1 hour 50 min 40 sec for Part 2

  11. Sorry, more like
    1 hour 42 min 50 sec for Part 1

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