Friday, June 14, 2019

The Ambassador (1984)

One of those would be big releases which has completely disappeared from public consciousness, remembered , if at all, only as a footnote in the late period careers of its two male leads, one aspect of The Ambassador has always puzzled me.  Namely, the fact that in the credits at the end of the trailer it clearly claims to be based on the Elmore Leonard novel 52 Pick Up.  Despite thi, it clearly bears no resemblance whatsoever to that novel (which I've read).  Certainly, the novel contains no Ambassadors, (although the protagonist's wife has political ambitions) and the action definitely doesn't take place in Israel, (it is set in LA).  The novel concerns a businessman being blackmailed by a gang over his extra-marital affair.  He can't go to the police, because that would also expose the affair and compromise his wife's political campaigning.  So he decides to take matters into his own hands after the gang escalate things my murdering his mistress and framing him for the murder, hoping this will put more pressure on him to pay up.  Eventually he plays the gang off against each other, his wife is kidnapped and things get complicated.  The only element of this alleged film adaptation that bear any resemblance to this is the blackmail element, except that it is the titular ambassador's wife who is having the illicit affair with a guy who turns out to be a leading Palestinian terrorist. 

Thanks to the wonders of the worldwide web, I now have an answer to the question of why the film is accredited as an adaptation of 52 Pick Up, when it clearly isn't.  Apparently, according to Elmore Leonard himself, having sold the novel's film rights to Cannon Films, producer Menachem Golan wanted him to write the screenplay, but to relocate the action in Israel.  Having failed, after several drafts, to come up with a workable script, Leonard told Golan he'd have to find another writer, which he did.  The accredited screen writer, Ronald M Cohen, ended up throwing out virtually everything from the novel in order to accommodate Cannon's wish to make an action-orientated film with a Middle Eastern setting.  Not that it worried Leonard, as he'd already been paid.  Within a couple of years, Cannon, clearly not wanting to waste the original source material they had paid for, turned out a more straightforward adaptation under the book's original title.  Starring Rod Scheider and directed by John Frankenheimer, it follows the book quite closely and is far better made that The Ambassador, although it didn't fare any better at the box office.

Nowadays, The Ambassador is primarily remembered for being the last released film of Rock Hudson, (he died the following year).  By the time the film was made, Hudson was long past his prime as a leading man and seeing him cast as the two-fisted, all action US Embassy Head of Security, (who takes matters into his own hands in order to deal with the blackmailing of the ambassador's wife), at this late stage in his career is rather bizarre,  But it was typical Cannon Films casting - the seemed to specialise in picking up middle aged stars suffering career doldrums and starring them in unlikely action vehicles.  (Most notoriously, they kick started Charles Bronson's career by starring him in a series of Death Wish sequels and similar vigilante/maverick cop movies).  This policy undoubtedly also explains Robert Mitchum's presence as the ambassador himself.  As the seventies had progressed, Mitchum found it ever more difficult to secure decent leading roles, too much of a 'movie star' to be cast in character roles, he found himself toiling through thrillers like The Amsterdam Affair, often with a younger co-lead to do all the action stuff, (a notable exception being Michael Winner's surprisingly good 1978 remake of The Big Sleep).  Cannon tried to ring the changes with The Ambassador, by pairing him with another middle aged star to do the action stuff.  It didn't work.  The Ambassador is a typical Cannon production from the eighties, trying to dress up what is essentially a cheap direct-to-video style action film as something bigger by decorating it with faded star actors and a 'name' director who was similarly finding it increasingly difficult to get work: the ever pedestrian J. Lee Thomson.  It flatter to deceive, but ultimately adds up to less than the sum of its parts.



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