You knew it was coming sooner or later, and here it is: Escape From New York, the poster child for bad movies and now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s by science fiction writer John Carpenter, and it stars Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a hard-boiled former special forces guy turned bad and now headed for the slam. This came out in 1981 through AVCO Embassy Pictures. I will give just a few highlights.
It’s the bad new days, and America’s crime rate has soared 400%. The government response is naturally to construct a bigger stalag to hold them. They have chosen Manhattan Island, making viewers wonder why the idea took this long. The rule is, you go in, you never come out. The opposite shorelines are walled off and manned with guards carrying furious firepower. We see an escape attempt by boat thwarted through the use of air-to-ground missiles.
Snake is being prepped to enter the land of lost and forgotten men (and women).
But wait! Drama develops. The President’s plane is hijacked and flown into a Manhattan skyscraper. Remember, you saw this plot device first here. Before impact the president, with a mysterious valise chained to his wrist, is ejected inside an escape pod, and the prisoners capture him alive.
Well, the government has to get him back, because in 24 hours he will participate in a conference that will save the world from nuclear annihilation, and the critical item is an audio tape the President carries inside the valise.
Snake lands a glider atop on of the World Trade Center towers and makes his way to the street below, where it’s Mad Max on steroids, which answers the question of whether this scene was stolen from Mel Gibson, or was it the other way around. It turns out that Gibson’s dystopic setting came later, in 1985, and so was possibly inspired by Escape. The two films share other plot devices.
Of course, Snake does not immediately confront the President’s captors and hustle him back to the land of the midnight nuclear attack. There has to be some excitement first. And there is. Snake runs into a litany of prior acquaintances, who persistently ask upon spying his face, “I thought you were dead.”
Possibly Mad Max producers got a load of their ideas from this movie. Here Snake is compelled to defeat the reigning ruffian in a gladiator fight to the death before a screaming mob of social outcasts.
But he wins the fight, rescues the President, and, with the help of others, including a cab driver played by Ernest Borgnine. He escapes across the heavily-mined 69th Street Bridge (originally designed for railroad traffic) and delivers the President and the tape, which was so desperately needed to save the world. The man, now cleaned up and re-suited, stands before the TV cameras and delivers his presentation. And he plays the tape. But Snake has substituted the right tape for one he found inside the escape cab, and the man can only stand and grimace as “Bandstand Boogie” belts out to his audience.
No bad deed ever goes unrewarded and Escape from L.A. came out in 1996, the year prior to the setting of this movie and with Russell again playing the role of escape artist.