GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (1978)
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After watching Expendables 2 and seeing Chuck Norris appear in his extended cameo as “Booker”, I decided to go back and revisit one of his early films, the one from which his Expendables 2 character’s name pays homage to…or is he playing the same character decades later?
Good Guys Wear Black may not be Chuck Norris’ first action flick, or his best, but it is the first one I saw (at the now gone Park Lane theater in Palisades Park, N.J.) and it not only started his career as an action movie star, but made me a fan as well. Sure his flicks are low budget and cheesy, for the most part, but as you probably know, if you visit here frequently, that is right up my alley.
The story starts out in 1973 and has a senator (James Franciscus) using the fate of a special CIA black ops team called The Black Tigers as a bargaining chip to appease the Vietnamese during war negotiations to get back US soldiers held as prisoners of war. The deal is simple, the senator arranges for the assassination of the Black Tigers by setting them up on a phony mission and the Vietnamese will agree to release the POWs. But Major John T Booker (Chuck Norris) and some of his men survive the ambush and make their way home. Five years later the surviving members start to turn up dead and Booker must not only must fight to survive, but find out, with the help of a sexy reporter (Anne Archer), who is killing his former team and why.
As directed by Ted Post (Magnum Force), from a story by Joseph Fraley and a script by Bruce Cohn and Mark Medoff, Good Guys Wear Black is a moderately paced movie that is far more thriller than it is action flick. Sure there are scenes that make good use of star Norris’ martial arts skills, but those scenes are few and far between as the film is far more interested in being political thriller which, in turn, forces the karate champ to be more of an actor than an action star at too early a point in his career. The action we do get is routinely staged and being a low budget film, is modest in scale. I can appreciate not wanting to stick Norris in a routine martial arts flick, but putting him in a Three Days Of The Condor type political thriller wasn’t the way to go either. Norris didn’t have the chops and is rather wooden. It doesn’t help that Post doesn’t seem to be able to drum up any real suspense or really draw us into Booker’s story either. Despite being filmed widescreen, the film is shot rather like a TV movie by DOP Robert Steadman and has a fairly unremarkable jazz infused score by Craig Safan whose gone on to do some decent scores.
The cast are all fairly unremarkable with veteran Franciscus being very by-the-numbers in his few scenes and only Anne Archer, giving her side-kick role a little sex appeal, seems to be trying. Norris is likable but wooden as stated and since there is nothing special about the choreography of the action scenes, he really doesn’t get to show us much there either. The film was a big hit anyway, so it gave Norris the opportunity to be in flicks that far better displayed his martial arts skills, such as in The Octagon two years later.
Overall, the flick has some personal nostalgia for me as it was the first Norris flick I saw…and in a theater. Otherwise it’s fairly unremarkable except for being the film that got Norris started as a headlining action star, after initial notice from his legendary on-screen fight to the death with Bruce Lee at the end of Return Of The Dragon (Way Of The Dragon). Norris is now considered an action film icon and I have enjoyed many of his movies, cheesy or not.
So I give this flick a little more credit than it really deserves for being my first Norris flick and the movie that got him started on his way to being an 80s action movie icon. Worth a look if you are curious, but really nothing to recommend other than for the reasons previously stated. Flick also features Chuck’s younger brother Aaron in a small role as one of the Black Tigers. Aaron would go on to direct a number of his older brother’s films a decade later and is an accomplished martial artist as well.
2 and 1/2 bullets.