The Ambassador (1984) Blu-ray Review: When Exploitation Gets Political

Kino Lorber unleashes some Cannon Films cheese starring a boozed-up Robert Mitchum and a gravely-ill Rock Hudson.
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One of two adaptations of Elmore Leonard's 52 Pick-Up produced and released by Cannon Films in the mid '80s, any resemblance between J. Lee Thompson's The Ambassador and John Frankenheimer's subsequent 1986 version (which starred Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret) ends with the basic storyline. Set in sand-blasted, terror-torn Middle East, where all sides wage war against each other on a daily basis, the film finds the great Robert Mitchum ‒ during his "I'm Just Doing This for the Free Booze" point in his long career ‒ as a U.S. Ambassador who just wants everyone to get together, talk their issues out, and give that whole peace thing a chance.

Alas, as anyone who has ever seen an '80s action film from the Golan-Globus partnership full well knows, that isn't likely to happen here. But what we do get within the duration of this entertaining low-budget political thriller is a lot of gunplay, explosions, intrigue, and those quaint little gaps and continuity errors Cannon movies are so fondly admired for today.

After Mitchum's philandering wife, played by Ellen Burstyn (whom we get to see topless, just to satisfy another one of Cannon's exploitation requirements) is injured in a bombing, our would-be peacemaker begins to receive mysterious phone calls threatening to expose her and her local lover (Italian exploitation genre regular Fabio Testi, who was presumably hired solely to help sell tickets in Europe). And it is this section of the story which is the most compelling, as it sends a noticeably ill ‒ but nevertheless determined ‒ Rock Hudson (in what would prove to be his final big-screen role) out on a quest to track down the blackmailers (including Enter the Ninja comic relief Zachi Noy).

Naturally, an exploitation movie from Israeli producers about warring for peace in the Middle East amid the Reagan Era wouldn't be complete without a KGB assassin added to the mix somewhere. Sure, it's a fairly useless subplot, but then, it's not like The Ambassador won an Oscar or anything. It's an exploitative B-movie thinly disguised as a social commentary, plain and simple. But of course, that's just one of those things we have all come to love about Cannon movies. Plus, The Ambassador includes a supporting role by the always subtly enjoyable Donald Pleasence (as the Israeli Defense Minister!) and a cheesy score by Savage Weekend composer Dov Seltzer.

One of the final contributions to film by Cape Fear and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes director J. Lee Thompson, The Ambassador arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber under license from MGM. The new 1080p MPEG-4/AVC transfer looks quite nice throughout, and is presented in its intended 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The DTS-HD 2.0 Mono soundtrack delivers all dialogue and booms adequately. Although there is a subtitle option available during playback, there isn't anything on it. An included audio commentary is provided by editor Mark Goldblatt, who is joined by historians (and fans) Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson (with a guest bark by an anonymous doggy).

Wrapping up this relic from the '80s film factory are two trailers. The first, made for the domestic US audience, touts the title as something more akin to Cannon/J. Lee Thompson's Charles Bronson movies of the time, and is narrated by legendary Jaws voiceover artist Percy Rodrigues. The second preview was made for the International circuit, meaning it doesn't try to sell it as a "American guy becomes a one-man army" flick (and which even acknowledges Fabio Testi's presence in the film, let alone his very existence).

Place open the mini-bar, do your best to keep up with Robert Mitchum, and enjoy.

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