Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Ultimate Warrior (1975)

Another half-remembered movie I haven't seen in an age.  I remember a time when The Ultimate Warrior seemed to turn up quite regularly on TV. But, just as black and white movies have gradually been marginalised by mainstream TV, so anything made before 1985 (unless a 'classic') seems to have been consigned to oblivion by the TV powers that be.  Which is a pity.  The Ultimate Warrior, not a  biography of the late WWE wrestler, but rather one of a spate of post apocalyptic movies which turned up in the seventies, is, to my recollection, a reasonably entertaining ninety minutes or so.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is that it doesn't feature Charlton Heston, who seemed to be a permanent fixture in this type of film during the late sixties and early seventies, (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and Omega Man, for instance).  Instead we have Yul Brynner as the 'waning mainstream star slumming it in a genre movie'.  To be honest, he looks far more at home in this sort of role than Heston ever did, brining his usual enigmatic aloofness to the title role.  As the film is effectively a martial arts/post apocalypse crossover, the role gives Brynner plenty of opportunities to take his shirt off and flex his muscles, something you really couldn't envisage Charlton Heston doing at the same point in his career. 

The set up is familiar: society is fractured after a global catastrophe which has seen the death of most plant life.  A devastated New York is inhabited by various small communities and vicious gangs, which spend most of their time fighting over the scarce remaining resources.  One community is led by scientist Max von Sydow, who is on the verge of having bred a new type of seed hardy enough to grow in the harsh post-apocalyptic conditions,  In order to protect his community from the depredations of gang leader William Smith for long enough to complete his work, von Sydow engages the services of mercenary warrior Yul Brynner.  You can probably work out for yourself how this all plays out.

Whilst the film, as I recall, has the somewhat rough hewn feel of all director Robert Clouse's films, it clearly had a reasonable budget, with an impressively realised devastated and depopulated New York.  Also characteristic of Clouse's other films is the well orchestrated violence, with the vicious clashes between Brynner and Smith particularly well choreographed.   Indeed, the levels of violence and the relatively realistic depictions of its consequences were unusual for films of this era.  There's nothing particularly deep or original about The Ultimate Warrior, but I fondly remember it is an entertaining action film, more entertaining than the vaguely similar Omega Man, for instance, and not as 'important issue' heavy as the overrated Soylent Green. It would be nice to see this turn up on free-to-air TV again - I live in hope that it might yet surface on Movies4Men.



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