Monday, September 3, 2012

Order of the Black Eagle (1987)

Written by: Phil Behrens
Directed by: Leonard Worth Keeter III
Starring: Ian Hunter, C.K. Bibby, William T. Hicks

After seeing The Expendables 2 last weekend, Bob and I were in the mood for some more action, so back home to fire up Netflix we went. This and Beggar So origin story True Legend are what we found. Last time I was talking about how despite the fact that there was a laser-shooting Robo-Hitler in the movie, Nazis At The Center Of The Earth fell flat. Even with such self-consciously crazy elements, the flick just seemed like a group of people who didn't give a damn cranking out a product for profit with no heart or character to be had. In that regard, this is a perfect counterpoint, because the plots are similar (Nazi factions hidden from the world in a remote location, working to revive the Fuhrer and once again make a play for global domination), and the craziness meter is ticking over into the red (although considering the restrictive properties of a low budget on a movie relying solely on practical effects, the stuff they get on the screen isn't quite as loony as Robo-Hitler), but the difference is the fact that in this movie, it's pretty obvious everyone's having a really good time and that it was a labor of love.

When Dr. Kurtz, the world's foremost expert on proton lasers, is kidnapped from the World Science Award ceremony where he was to be honored for his work, it's Secret Agent Duncan Jax to the rescue. Heading down to South America with his not-exactly-welcome new assistant Tiffany Youngblood, Jax quickly discovers he's in a bit over his head. The Order of the Black Eagle (which, frozen Hitler and proton lasers aside, is a real thing: founded in 1701 by Friedrich III of Brandenberg, who was crowned King Friedrich the First the very next day, the Black Eagle was the highest order of chivalry in Prussia, and the order's sigil is still used by German military police today), a group of neo-Nazi extremists, are behind the kidnapping. They use Kurtz's knowledge to build a laser gun with the aim of destroying the communications satellites of all the major world powers, plunging the world into chaos and making it ripe for Nazi invasion. And this also somehow involves thawing out the cryogenically frozen body of Adolf Hitler, which they keep in the basement.

After being found out by security chief Wilhelm Stryker and Black Eagle leader Baron Ernst von Tepisch (who looks like George R. R. Martin pretending to be a Nazi pirate), Youngblood is taken prisoner while Jax gets dumped into the cooling chamber for the base's nuclear reactor. Thankfully, the K-Mart MI6 branch that Jax works for also employs a K-Mart Q in the form of inventor Sato, who provided Jax with a bunch of nifty gadgets at the beginning of the movie. One of those gadgets is a box of razor-sharp high-test steel wire disguised as dental floss, which he uses now to cut through the grate of one of the drainage ducts and escapes into the river outside before drowning (too bad they didn't think to write in some mutant piranha/caiman hybrid monsters created by dumping radioactive waste directly into the local water table).

After a rather good motorcycle chase, Jax winds up back in the river and floats by Maxie Ryder, a fellow fighter for truth, justice, and the American way. They obviously have some chemistry that isn't can't be explained by the events of this flick, but since this is a sequel to another movie called Unmasking the Idol (which appears to be out of print), I assume she was the sidekick/love interest in that and this would all make a lot more sense if I'd seen it. Maxie informs him that a bunch of his other old buddies are working as mercenaries, so Jax and Maxie go to recruit some other presumably familiar faces from the previous flick and get ready to kick some Nazi ass.

The ending makes this an even better double feature with Expendables 2. In fact, that franchise may have taken some of its cues from this one. Hell, there's even a huge bruiser of a black dude who has to out-macho the rest of his crew by carrying a gigantic machine gun that looks like it should be mounted on a tank instead. Of course, this rag-tag group of heroes has something the Expendables don't - some heavy-caliber backup in the form of Typhoon the tank driving baboon. Seriously.

This movie is tonally kind of weird. In some places, it's referred to as a parody, which I suppose it could be. I mean, if you were going to pitch a movie to a studio and in that movie the hero had a sidekick who was a baboon capable of driving tanks and motorized gliders and who flipped people off, would you try to sell it seriously or as a spoof? And parts of it certainly come off as parody, especially the bit where Jax and Youngblood, who have been snarking at each other for the past ten minutes, have to change costumes together in the Black Eagle headquarters and he makes some chauvinist remark and she suddenly lets him know that the snarking has been a cover for her true feelings and they start making out. I can't imagine this play on similar circumstances in a hundred other macho spy movies, which happens apropos of nothing other than the fact that this is the part in these movies where it's supposed to happen, isn't meant to be funny. But when it comes down to the action, they really don't mess around. The gun battles are really quite violent, with spraying squibs and gushing blood galore. In fact, it's gorier than a good many straight action movies I've seen.

We'll end tonight on a bit of trivia. John Alan Stephens, one of the executive producers, founded the Excel-Mineral Company in 1949. Having acquired a huge stockpile of opal sedimentary clay, they discovered that not only would this substance absorb its own weight in liquid, it also absorbed odors. Several years later, Stephens founded Jonny Cat cat litter. So if nothing else, you can watch this for the novelty factor of saying you've seen the only movie that was paid for by cat shit.

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