Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ginty Gone Wild: WHITE FIRE (1984)

I can’t believe we are four months into the blogosphere and we haven’t mentioned Robert Ginty! Looking more like a slightly baby-faced, blow-dried swinger than a ruthless killer of human scum, Ginty spent six years working in television on shows such as THE BLACK SHEEP SQUADRON and THE PAPER CHASE before landing the titular role in James Glickenhaus’ ultra-violent mash-up of DEATH WISH (1974) and ROLLING THUNDER (1977), THE EXTERMINATOR (1980). Even though THE EXTERMINATOR was not only hugely successful, but completely iconic, Ginty went back to TV for a few years. Ginty returned to the big screen in 1983 in GOLD RAIDERS and WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD, but really didn’t hit his stride until the following year when notorious soft-core hack Jean-Marie Pallardy had the novel idea of cashing in on Ginty’s success in THE EXTERMINATOR! Seriously? It took the director of EMMANUELLE GOES TO CANNES (1980) to figure that out?

Financed by Turkish backers and shot in Turkey with a cast of extras that look as if they were peeled off of Burt Reynold’s stable of stunt doubles, WHITE FIRE is arguably the apex of his post-EXTERMINATOR work and embodies everything you could possibly want from an ‘80s drive-in flick including a throw-away role, in a seemingly non-sequitur subplot, for top billed Fred Williamson who doesn’t even appear in the film until 56 minutes into the action!

Opening with a surreal pre-credit sequence loaded with slow-mo and set to a wannabe Pink Floyd score courtesy of the Jon Lord of Deep Purple and Whitesnake fame, a group of soldiers are pursuing a family through a forest on their way to meet an American on the beach. The movie lays all of its cards on the table straight off when on the way Dad (played by the director, believe it or not) gets torched by a soldier wielding a flamethrower in one of the most jaw-droppingly irresponsible stunts I’ve ever seen on film. As the father is stepping out of a jeep, the soldier fires a very real flamethrower at his legs at which point the vehicle he is standing next to explodes in a ball of flame that engulfs the father (Pallardy), who is next seen running out of the fire frantically patting the flames off of his face, smoke billowing from his singed hair. That’s right, none of this wussy “firesuit” crap here, no sir! We are going to have our extra, nay director, completely engulfed in a fire without even a dab of burn gel! Man, I don't know whether it's balls the size of Nebraska or just blatant stupidity, but you have to be impressed. After mom is gunned down by a soldier the American contact comes along, snaps a soldier’s neck and tells the brother and sister to suck it up. Cue opening credits and title song.

Yes, not only does this movie sport irresponsible stuntwork, but it has what is possibly the best title track ever for a trashy drive-in flick, from the pop-rock band Limelight. Rivaled only by Easy Action’s title tune for BLOOD TRACKS (1985), Limelight busts out some serious lyrical philosophizing like “no road is long enough, so we ride it for free” and “how do you sleep at night, when you were willing to put up a fight?” As Limelight croons about thunderballs rolling down halls, we follow Ingrid as she goes to work in a high-tech Turkish diamond mine which is guarded by stormtrooper rejects from Bruno Mettei’s THE HUMANOID (1979). Not only does this diamond mine have sweet diamond-detecting body scanners, but they also have a torture room in the foyer complete with observation window! Once inside, she meets up with the foreman (Gordon Mitchell, who is sleazy even when he’s playing it straight).

As it turns out, the siblings Bo (Robert Ginty) and Ingrid (Belinda Mayne) are all grown up now and have set up an elaborate inside job to steal diamonds from the mine with the help of the foreman. To achieve this objective Bo has filched a strategy from the Jellystone Park Ranger's playbook and hidden a firearm inside a pic-a-nic basket. How could this go wrong? While heading to the drop site, the pair are ambushed by a ruthless Italian crimeboss Sophia (Mirella Banti) and her mustachioed goons. Bo blurts out “let me handle this!” to Ingrid and is promptly smacked to the ground. Sofia wants in on the action and decides to hold Ingrid captive on her yacht while Bo gets more diamonds. As you can figure, this ain’t flyin’ with this pair and they make their escape by having to fight off a whole mess of dockworkers who are armed with staves, meathooks and blowdried coiffures. In the ensuing melee Bo finds a chainsaw (on a dock?!) and proceeds to literally tear up the competition in graphic detail. Sis makes herself useful by hefting up a whaling harpoon and impaling a some schmo with it. It's enough to bring a tear to the eye of any proud brother. After this wholesale slaughter, Bo and Ingrid jump on a boat with a topless blond sunning herself on the foredeck, bribe the owner to get the fuck out of dodge... and this is not even 20 minutes into the film! The credits could start rolling right here and you’d have the greatest drive-in flick ever, but wait there’s more!

As it turns out the evil vamp Sophia has a person on the inside too and it's the same guy! Ahhh, the old “inside inside job” ploy! The foreman is in league with Sophia hoping to play both ends against the middle, in a race between the two sides to steal the recently discovered, legendary White Fire diamond. A 1000 carat diamond which is so highly radioactive that it will burn the living crap out of anyone who touches it. Aside from the fact that you would think this would actually deter people from stealing it, since it is too big to make into, say a ring, and would burn off your finger if you tried to wear it anyway, everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to get the damn thing. This is where the movie goes from wobbling off-kilter to snapping the drive-shaft and plunging headlong off the embankment.

Back at home Sis goes skinny-dipping in the pool while her foster parents and Bo are making dinner. Exiting the pool she goes for a lengthy out-door nude shower just in case we didn’t get enough time to marvel at her tanned and toned full-frontal nekkidness. Feeling a little frisky, Bo comes down to the pool and whips off Ingrid’s towel and says “suddenly you don’t look like anyone’s kid sister anymore,” while Ingrid giggles and tries to cover up. While one part of my brain is screaming “dude! That’s your sister man!” another part of my brain is thinking “damn, you could bounce a quarter off of that ass!” After getting her towel back, Ingrid decides she needs to go for another swim and dives back in the pool. Ummm… didn’t you just have a quick swim? More naked Ingrid? Fiiiiiiine, I guess I’ll just have to put up with it, geeze. Mid-swim the badguys show up and things head south quickly (and Ingrid loses her towel... again). I can’t, in reasonable conscience, spoil the rest of the completely insane plot, but I’ll throw out a few highlights:

- Bo’s affection for his sister goes from creepy to downright disturbing.
- Plastic surgeons can be female, but are lesbians operating in colorful togas.
- Blond girls in Turkish bars have an irresistible attraction to drunken losers who start fights and can’t finish them.
- The Hammer detests physical violence.
- Cops get their murder leads out of books on mythological gemstones.
- If you are in a hurry to steal the world's largest diamond, make sure you have the correct color-coded uniforms so your men will be easy targets for the good guys.
- The Japanese own everything.
- If you are going to work on a band-saw, don’t know anything the bad guys might want to find out.
- You are only as badass as your mustache.
- Radioactive diamonds are highly combustible.

If there is some exploitation element that goes un-touched on, I can’t think of what it is. There’s even a completely gratuitous cut-away involving sweaty, greased-up, half-naked men grappling to Indian flute music… if you are into that sort of thing. The dialog is snappy and just odd enough in a “written in a foreign language and translated into English” kind of way, not to mention plenty of bloody action and the bizarre plot that presents us scene after scene of amazingly amusing, trashy or just plain entertaining stuff.

The US budget DVD release is uncut and a fairly decent transfer for the price, but this is really a film that should get a nice widescreen transfer with maybe a few extras, like the French disc (which unfortunately only has a French dub track). Sadly Ginty passed away last year and it’s a shame that the opportunity to have him at least interviewed about this film was missed. I can’t even imagine the stories there must be about making this film. When Fred Williamson declares “[let’s] hit the cathouse first” I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a marriage of convenience.

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