When I was kid growing up in New Jersey, close to New York City, one of life's pleasures was going to the movies – and still is, no doubt. My local movie house showed everything new and occasionally would revive those great movie serials from the 1930s and 1940s. My favorite was the Flash Gordon movies and, instead of weekly installments as originally shown, they'd splice all the chapters together and we'd see the entire film in one sitting. So every time we'd see a new chapter, we'd have to watch the re-cap and the cliff-hanger ending from the previous episode: not too exciting after a while. By the early 50s, all of these serials were being shown on our fledgling television channels – only four back then – so I didn't have to leave home to see them. And I must admit some of them were exciting. Like The Daredevils of the Red Circle (alternate title, The Three Daredevils), Don Winslow of the Navy and Buck Rodgers, to name a few. The excitement was in the anticipation of seeing something unique, never done before by our hero; plot twists that kept us glued to our seats (or under them). Eventually, television began to create its own serials, many in the realm of science fiction. That's where Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and their creative teams got their inspirations.
Are there modern serials and serial heroes? Sure, just look at Star Wars or The Transporter films or Miami Vice on television in the 1980s. Today we've got comic book heroes and heroines being transformed for the Big Screen; like, The Avengers series or Iron Man or Harry Potter, etc. Back in 1985 a new "everyman" type of hero was created for the screen, based on a successful book series titled The Destroyer, featuring a former Newark policeman whose death is faked. He is transformed into a super-secret agent, with a new identity, part of a government agency called CURE that is tasked to seek out and destroy dangerous individuals all over the world who threaten America. His real name was Samuel Edward Makin. He becomes Remo Williams, played by Fred Ward.
We see the lead character, Sam Makin, in the opening film scenes, now a Brooklyn cop, chasing some bad guys on the waterfront and his patrol car gets forcefully pushed into the water, with him trapped inside. It looks like the villains have killed a policeman. When Makin wakes up in a hospital bed he sees a man standing over him, Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston), offering him a chance to join a secret organization, with an entirely new identity, to find and destroy the worst of worst. Sam Makin disappears completely, replaced by Remo Williams. MacCleary invents the name from the company and location of a hospital bedpan - the bedpan is made by a company called Williams based in Remo, Arkansas. He explains that Makin will become an assassin. "You're going to be the Eleventh Commandment: 'Thou shalt not get away with it.'" but needs specialized training first. He'll report to an address in Manhattan and begin his instruction there. First, he meets the head of CURE, Harold Smith, played by our favorite irascible senior guy, Wilfred Brimley, in an old bank building. Smith explains what CURE does and why. Some villains should be put on trial and be sent to jail; too expensive and time-consuming. Cure simply disappears them. Neat, clean and, of course, no clues are left behind. But then, Remo is taken to the apartment in New York where MacCleary drops him off. He's not been told what to expect. Only that it's his first assignment and he must eliminate the old man who lives there.
At this point in the film I believe it becomes better. We will meet, along with our hero, a character who will dominate the film and, in my case, my memory. He surprises Remo and us as well. He's a great stage actor who starred in a landmark Broadway musical-turned-film, Cabaret. Joel Grey has been transformed into a Korean monk/instructor, Chiun, for Remo to study and learn from. He teaches Remo the Korean martial art named "Sinanju" He treats Remo with obvious disdain as martial arts and ninja-like movements are drummed into his daily routine. A healthy diet and a rigorous exercise program will transform the once-regular cop into a stealthy and dangerous predator. Eventually the pair is working outside as Chiun tasks Remo to balance on the edge of a building's roof and run several miles a day. We see Remo balancing precariously on the famous Coney Island Wonder Wheel as Chiun enjoys the view. Eventually Remo will encounter bad guys as he begins to pursue who's making sub-quality missles for the Army.
Remo will be pursued in New York by a large strange man. He stops the guy in his car and makes it abundantly clear that trying to frighten Remo is not going to work. Eventually, Remo will be captured but breaks out and uses the villain's diamond-studded tooth to cut glass and escape. We meet Kate Mulgrew as Major Rayner Fleming, a tough, smart and attractive Army officer who hooks up with our hero as he closes in on the corrupt Army and corporate types, like Charles Cioffi (you may recognize him from Klute), a perennial bad guy, as George Grove, whose company is manufacturing the defective parts. Between them, guided by Chiun, Remo and Major Fleming, will break up the corruption and destroy the organization.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is the exciting confrontation on the Statue of Liberty (covered in scaffolding for repairs) between Remo and three men assigned to get rid of him. He deftly balances on the scaffolds and rides the construction elevator on the outside, easily defeating them. He prances gently on some newly-laid cement as Chiun dispatches one of the heavies with a clean martial arts move, then disappears. The final confrontation is in the woods as Remo, Major Fleming and Chiun lead all the villains on a merry chase, eventually leaving George Grove in a car that explodes. Chuin of course escapes by walking on water on to Remo's motorboat. The Major is amazed at what they've done, asking Remo who they are. "We're the good guys."
The entire movie holds many surprises and defies what many thought would be just another slam-bang action thriller with the usual plot devices and final scenes where the bad guys are dispatched and the hero gets the girl. But Remo is no ordinary hero, even though that's how he started out in the film's opening scenes. He and the audience are both transformed. I particularly enjoy the relationship that bonds Remo and Chiun even though it certainly doesn't start out as warm and wonderful. Chiun's cold demeanor is slowly defrosted as the two men grow closer between the dangerous assignments they've been given. The master teacher, Chiun, slowly becomes the father-figure that Remo needs and, possibly, never had in his previous life. They bond with each other in the most basic human ways, as each protects and cares about the other. This sets the film apart from many other '80s movies in the spy-thriller genre. We can all relate to the need for companionship and, yes, love, that lurks in all of us, regardless of our backgrounds, where we live or what language we speak.
Remo Williams, The Adventure Begins, became a one-off, even though it was based on a successful novel series and attempts at sequels didn't make it. Maybe that's the way it should be. I've written previously ("If It Ain't Broke............Well, You Know", February 24th, 2011) about many original movies' success but the many unsuccessful sequels and re-makes that followed them. I'm glad there's only one Remo. He's an original and we shouldn't mess with success.
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My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).|
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