Color, 1987, 95 mins. 26 ses.
Directed by Terry Leonard
Starring Fred Dryer, Brian Keith, Joseph Gian, Sasha Mitchell, Mohammad Bakri, Kasey Walker, Paul Winfield, Joanna Pacula, Peter Parros, Rocknoe Tarkington
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-Ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Image, Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
While the world was feasting on gung-ho movies in the mid-'80s featuring stars like Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, and Charles Bronson living out action fantasies against muggers and terrorists alike, a few others tried to join their company as well. Case in point: Fred Dryer, the star of the popular, long-running cop show Hunter, which ran from 1984 to 1991 and seemed to be in constant syndication for a while. Though he'd appeared in a couple of bit parts before on the big screen, Dryer made his first and biggest bid for leading man status with Death Before Dishonor, which earned a significant theatrical release from New World Pictures mere weeks after one of its best-loved action films, Wanted: Dead or Alive, in a busy year that would soon see its big horror breakthrough with Hellraiser and Creepshow 2.
Hard-ass marine Gunnery Sergeant Burns (Dryer) is an expert at whipping new arrivals into shape but isn't above partying with them either after hours. Stationed in a fictitious Middle Eastern country, he finds his skills put to the test when machine gun-wielding baddies infiltrate the American Embassy and spray the dining room with bullets in the first of several terrorist volleys in the region. To avoid stepping on local toes and seeing anti-American protests rising, the uptight ambassador (Winfield) relays orders through Col. Halloran (Keith) that he doesn't want to stir up trouble even with the growing criminal organization spearheaded by the oddly cast Jihad (Rockne Tarkington from The Zebra Force), Gavril (Bakri) and ice-cold Austrian assassin Maude Winter (Walker), who are currently being covered by photojournalist Elli (Pacula). Along with his two of his proteges -- Ruggieri (Mitchell) and James (Parros) -- and armed with his slogan, "I'm a marine, not a politician," our hero mounts a plan to strike back at the heart of the evildoers' plot, especially when it gets personal after Halloran and another marine, Ramirez (Gian), are nabbed during a car ambush and subjected to brutal torture.
Very much cut from the same jingoistic cloth as Rambo: First Blood Part II, Invasion U.S.A., and Red Dawn, this one doesn't hit quite the same heights of violent absurdity as those films but definitely delivers the cheap red meat thrills you'd expect. Dryer is perfectly fine in the lead and certainly knows how to wield a gun on camera, and the film wisely throws in an action scene every ten minutes or so to keep the audience engrossed. The film tries to go for a little ambiguity with Pacula's character arguing a case for the other side, though of course that all gets pretty much chucked out the window by the time Dryer and company burst into action. What's oddly lacking here is the music score by Brian May, which walks through the motions and mostly functions as sonic wallpaper. Of course, the depiction of Middle Easterners is about on par with the era as actors of virtually every other ethnicity are cast as the bad guys who like to do things like slamming drills into people's hands.
As with many New World properties from this period, Death Before Dishonor has been around on video through multiple formats including DVDs from Anchor Bay and Image Entertainment, both taken from decent widescreen masters. In 2020, Scorpion Releasing bowed it on Blu-ray via Kino Lorber featuring another solid scan comparable to its other New World offerings, featuring a significant improvement in contrast and detail compared to the older master while retaining that distinctive look the company's films possess from the period. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track preserves the original mono mix as heard in theaters, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. An interview with producer Lawrence Kubik and director Terry Leonard (15m52s), and a separate interview with actress Kasey Walker (15m39s), covering everything from the real similar incident in Beirut that led to this film, the tactics used to make the film look "not cheap," the stunt doubles, the use of dialect coaches, and the one scene that perhaps went too far for some audiences. You also get the theatrical trailer (in choppy lo-res quality) and bonus trailers for Def-Con 4, The Delta Force, P.O.W.: The Escape, Hell Camp, Body and Soul, and The Dogs of War.
Reviewed on August 28, 2020.