THE GOOD, THE TOUGH & THE DEADLY: Action Movies & Stars 1960s–Present
by David J. Moore
Review by Lee Sobel (9/7/20)
5 out of 5 stars
I'm definitely a fan of some action movies (not all -- see my ranting below), so The Good, the Tough & the Deadly: Action Movies & Stars 1960s–Present by David J. Moore appealed to me immediately. Like the author's previous book about post apocalyptic movies, World Gone Wild, this book is supremely well done. At nearly 600 pages, this beautiful large format hard cover with hundreds of full color pictures, has listings of more action movies than you can imagine, plus it has very well done interviews with stars and directors from these films. What I enjoyed most about Moore's first book was discovering movies I didn't know about and The Good, the Tough & the Deadly gives you tons of films to discover that you may have missed.
I'm old enough to have seen all of the great action movies on the big
screen back in the day: Die Hard (1988), Lethal Weapon (1987), Predator (1987), Aliens (1986), Robocop (1987), Escape From New York (1981), The Terminator (1984), T2 (1991). In 1976 my dad took the 14 year old me to see Clint Eastwood in The Enforcer on the Deuce in NYC and you can read about that ordeal HERE). In his introduction, author David J. Moore touches on something that I often think about -- the death in our culture of masculinity. As we all know, movies in general offer escapism but when movies really succeed they tap into some kind of fantasy that is feeding the audience something that they just aren't getting in the real world. In the 1930s during the Depression, people flocked to the movies to watch characters living in opulent Art Deco Manhattan towers, wearing expensive clothes, and living the high life that was as alien to the average moviegoer as rocket ships going to the moon. In the post-Vietnam, post-hippie, post-antihero Easy Rider era, the movies tapped into the need by men to have masculine heroes righting the wrongs of society and letting their guns or fists speak for them. That worked well since a lot of these actors were better at squinting their eyes than spouting a lot of expositional dialogue (Clint Eastwood, anyone?).
Like all genres that are done to death, the action movie genre fell into some tired cliches -- tired's not the right word but if you can think of a word that summarizes beating a horse into its next life, let me know. After the success of Die Hard you had movies pitched as "Die Hard on a boat" (Under Siege), "Die Hard on a bus" (Speed), "Die Hard on a Plane (numerous), etc. What's more, tropes from 80s action movies are still being trotted out and used again and they still make money. What is the movie Taken (2008) but just a dressed up, less muscular version of Commando (1985)? Author Moore deserves a medal just to sit through all the grade B, C and Z imitations of the better action movies. Many is the time I have tried to watch a movie made in the last twenty years and thrown up my hands and said, "I've seen this movie already!"
I'm not done talking about the clichés of these movies because, well, frankly it's more fun to me than watching Van Damme kick somebody's face in. When not mining the story of a wife/daughter who is kidnapped/killed and her father/husband strapping on weapons to dole out some serious payback, then it's the cop or cops who are fed up with the judicial system, constantly get yelled at by their police captain, lose or turn in their badge at the end of Act II, go outside the law on a personal vendetta to redeem themselves and take down the killer/bad guy/villain by the end of the movie. One of my guilty pleasures that has all these cliches but splashes on a thick coat of sleaze and insanity is Charles Bronson's 10 to Midnight (1983), in which a sexually confused killer has to strip down naked when he offs someone with his big knife. In the final moments of the movie, the psycho is nakedly ranting that he will cop an insanity plea and come back to wreak more havoc. Bronson intones in true Arnie style: "No. You. Won't," before blowing the guy away. Roll credits. Citizen Kane this movie isn't, but audiences who were sick of crime on their city streets ate these movies up with a spoon. These movies made money so they kept making them.
I hate to be a stickler since there are too many movies listed in this book to count but I was surprised to see a few omissions like The Exterminator, Total Recall, Taken, Savage Streets and The Zebra Force; and I'm confused as to why all 5 Death Wish movies are in here but only Lethal Weapon 4 is, when I would definitely consider the first Lethal Weapon to be one of the best action movies of the 80s (even though it is loaded with tropes we have seen before in Dirty Harry movies). Even if you don't care about every single movie that ever had somebody going back to 'Nam and saving his buddies who are still rotting in a POW camp after more than a decade, you can still enjoy remembering all the great Chuck Bronson, Arnie, Stallone and Bruce Willis movies you saw all those years ago. Or if you're young and never had the pleasure of seeing them back in the day, this book will get you started on the right track to seeing things "blow up real good." I dare you to watch every movie in this book. "Go ahead, make my day."