Color, 1986, 125m.
Directed by Menahem Golan
Starring Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Robert Forster, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy, Hanna Schygulla, Susan Strasberg, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters
Arrow (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), MGM (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The insane, now-legendary trajectory of Cannon Films is studded with gems ranging from trashy exploitation to baffling art films; however, perhaps no title represents the studio than The Delta Force. Filmmaker Menahem Golan, who ran the company at the time with cousin Yoram Globus, managed to turn this macho action vehicle into much more than just an '80s shoot-'em-up, injecting elements of Irwin Allen all-star disaster amusement, pro-Israel cheerleading, and political wish fulfillment in the aftermath of the Tehran hostage crisis in the early '80s and the 1985 TWA Hezbollah hijacking. The real-life Delta Force never had a chance to save the hostages, of course, but this time on the big screen they get to pull a Rambo and save the day when nefarious Arab terrorists decide to take over a planeload of innocent tourists.
Amazingly, this was only the fifth film Golan helmed for his own company (following mind-blowing titles like The Apple and Enter the Ninja); however, he was long established as a solid Israeli director thanks to films like Lepke and Operation Thunderbolt, the latter made in 1976 and based on a real-life hostage situation in Uganda (also filmed one year later for American TV as Raid on Entebee). That experience obviously inspired this nutty hybrid, which starts off with a parade of guest stars (including George Kennedy as a priest!) boarding a 707 jet headed out of Athens. Unfortunately two terrorists are on board including leader Abdul (Robert Forster, complete with dubious "Arab" makeup), who use grenades and intimidation to overtake the passengers. Enter the Delta Force including field leader Colonel Nick Alexander (Marvin) and stoic butt kicker Major Scott McCoy (Norris), who use everything their disposal - be it guns, their fists, or motorcycles equipped with rocket launchers - to take down the bad guys.
A quick glance at that cast list above should tell you right away this is no ordianry Chuck Norris action vehicle, and it was a savvy idea to pair him with the previous generation's closest equivalent in Marvin to provide a sort of amped-up tribute to popcorn action films up to that point. Despite its penchant for over-the-top pyrotechnics, the film is actually a bit more substantial than you might expect thanks to an effective, very committed performance from Forster and some vicious recreations of the real TWA highlights in the first half. The Jewish vs. Palestinian angle also gives the film an unusual edge at times, including a fleeting early visual reference to the Holocaust for good measure, which makes one wonder where this film might have headed if it hadn't been designed as a Morris vehicle. Also notable is the fantastic rah-rah electronic score by Alan Silvestri, who (incredibly enough) had just hit it big with Back to the Future. It's absurd and outrageously dated, but then again, so is this movie -- and that's a great thing.
With the bulk of the Cannon library winding up at MGM, The Delta Force has been a familiar presence on home video almost constantly since the '80s (as has its fairly decent sequel). A great-looking Blu-ray was issued in the U.S. in 2012, first as a Wal-Mart exclusive for a few months and then as a general release. Unfortunately it only had a theatrical trailer, which left plenty of room for improvement. The 2014 Blu-ray from Arrow released in the U.K. fits the bill nicely, complete with an equally stellar transfer (both versions are on BD-50s) and a punchy PCM stereo track. While Chuck isn't really one for participating in extras, there's some worthwhile material here starting off with "Genre Hijackers," a 14-minute appraisal of this film and Cannon in general from Not Quite Hollywood director Mark Hartley, who makes a case for the significant value of Golan and Globus to film history. (I wouldn't want to imagine a world without Lifeforce, Death Wish III or The Apple either.) Next comes "Chuck Norris Scribe," in which screenwriter James Bruner gets a dense 21 minutes to cover his tenure at Cannon including this film. However, the highlight is easily his discussion of the legendary confused history behind the first two Missing in Action films in which he clears up which ones were written and shot first and why his script became the hit original film. Finally, the 23-minute "May the Delta Force Be with You!" features the real unit's first instructor, Commandant Christian Prouteau of the French GIGN, chatting (in French with English subs) about his real-life experiences, all of them fascinating but none involving an hysterical Shelley Winters or firing missiles from a motorcycle at terrorists.