Color, 1975, 96 mins. 43 secs.
Directed by Tom Gries
Starring Charles Bronson, Robert Duvall, Jill Ireland, Randy Quaid, Sheree North, John Huston
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Explosive Media (Germany (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Mill Creek (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

After Breakoutproving himself as a Breakoutglobally popular leading man with a string of hits in Europe, Charles Bronson came roaring back into American in 1972 with a string of action classics including Death Wish, The Mechanic, and Mr. Majestyk. However, he wasn't about to settle into a comfortable rut and was still willing to take on projects with an unexpected wrinkle or two, and that included a two-film partnership he embarked upon with director Tom Gries (a former colleague from their TV years together) who drew out two of Bronson's most interesting performances from the middle of the decade. The second of these was the great Breakheart Pass in 1975, but it was preceded by the taut, efficient, fact-based prison escape yarn, Breakout, one of the first films to earn a major simultaneous wide release across the U.S.

Locked up in a Mexican prison on a trumped-up murder charge, Jay Wagner (Duvall) looks like he's likely to rot behind bars despite the best efforts of his wife, Ann (Ireland). Finally she desperately turns to Texas bush pilot Nick Colton (Bronson) and his protégé, Hawk (Quaid), to pull off a daring and highly unlikely rescue plan using their piloting skills, but their scheme takes some unexpected comic turns and soon involves the participation of a savvy local, Myrna (North), to stage a diversion. However, they soon have even more problems to contend with when the corrupt grandfather (Huston) involved in Jay's incarceration has no intentions of ever letting him become a free man. Breakout

BreakoutAnyone stuck on the stereotype of Bronson as a stone-faced actor of limited range will be a bit surprised to see him so cheerful here, proving once again that the actor had more tricks up his sleeve than critics usually acknowledged at the time. He's clearly enjoying himself and is aided by an excellent cast including another strong character turn from Quaid and a scene-stealing North, not to mention Bronson's hundredth or so collaboration that decade with real-life wife Ireland. Adding to the fun is a lively score by Jerry Goldsmith in one of his Mexican-style moods, appropriately enough, while the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard (The Wild Bunch) does a fine job of passing off France for Mexico, which understandably wasn't too enthused about hosting a film shoot involving one of its more notorious recent jail breaks. It's a slight diversion by Bronson standards but still quite enjoyable; perhaps the most shocking thing is that it bears a PG rating despite a flash of nudity and some sparing but gruesome violence including some splashy blood squibs.

Breakout has enjoyed a long life on home video over the years with Columbia and then Sony keeping it in circulation on every major format since the VHS and laserdisc days. In Germany the film made its Blu-ray debut in 2017 in a pretty nice-looking edition from Sony's HD master, with a U.S. release following from Mill Creek in 2018 as a budget release Breakoutpacked in with The Valachi Papers, The Stone Killer, and Hard Times. However, it didn't earn a special edition of any kind until the 2019 U.K. Breakoutlimited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray from Indicator, which also looks the best of the bunch with a terrific encoding job that brings out more natural film grain and features deeper, richer blacks compared to its predecessors. Any fan of the film should be very happy, and the LPCM English mono track (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also excellent. The world's preeminent Charles Bronson expert, Paul Talbot, appears for another of his excellent, well-researched commentary tracks in which he shares all sorts of trivia about the star, the circumstances of the real 1971 events (which differed somewhat and were quite a bit more complex), the logistics of the location shooting, and tons more. The short but fascinating "Filming Breakout in the Fort de Bellegarde" (1974, 5m49s) is an on-location French TV report including interviews with Bronson and Emilio Fernández while shooting in the location also used for a number of other local productions. Also worth checking out is the Super 8 version (17m28s), which includes narration as well as a tiny fragment of exclusive footage not in the theatrical cut. It's also unusually adept for a Super 8 modification of a scope film, so carefully reframed here you'd never guess its original wide origins. Other extras include the theatrical trailer, a batch of very loud and aggressive TV spots, radio spots, and a gallery of production photos and promotional material, while the packaging also features an insert booklet with new liner notes by Talbot and sample reviews from the film's initial release.


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EXPLOSIVE (German Blu-ray)

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Reviewed on February 11, 2019.