White Fire (1984) – Film Review

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Director: Jean-Marie Pallardy
Cast: Robert Ginty, Belinda Mayne, Fred Williamson
Certificate: 18

by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow

“This is no laughing matter,” remarks one of the characters in this cult eighties action adventure. I’d beg to differ. A Turkish, French, American co-production, it’s laden with bad dialogue, awful dubbing and often hilarious fight scenes.

We open with a stunning pre-credits moment in which a protagonist (played by the director!) is set on fire by a flame thrower. I’ve no idea how dangerous that was, but no movie is worthy of such a stunt, let alone one this gloriously bad. Strangely I’d rather watch a bad film like this which has plenty of unintended laughs than one which ticks over and is instantly forgettable.
The director’s onscreen credit is a signed flourish so unrecognisable, it could be anyone. Maybe that was the point in case he didn’t want to be associated with it.

Robert Ginty (The Exterminator) and Blighty-born Belinda Mayne (Krull) play Bo and Ingrid, the now grown-up brother and sister from the opening scene. They are jewel thieves who target the legendary ‘White Fire’ diamond – a priceless rock so hot it actually burns those who try to lay their hands on it.

white fire film review coverWe know it’s called White Fire because one poor soul repeats the name about a dozen times before meeting a nasty end. (I lose count of the amount of times that title is repeated throughout the picture, and suggest a drinking game where a tipple should be downed every time it’s uttered).

“Perfect diversion”

Some may remember director Jean-Marie Pallardy from his cinematic masterpiece Kiss Me with Lust. (No, me either). Either way. He has an interesting take on the action thriller.

Chainsaw mayhem, awkward brotherly love, and a very eighties theme song by the band Limelight should be a perfect diversion for those who like a large helping of cheese with their Turkish delight. Yes, it sounds like a weird mix, and this is about as weird as it gets.

I hope Deep Purple’s Jon Lord was handsomely rewarded for his work on this picture. (It probably helped pay for his home in Goring-on-Thames, which I fell in love with last year while reviewing the Miller of Mansfield restaurant/hotel. I’d quite happily sell a few songs for a country pile in that neck of the woods).

To be fair, Lord’s title track is no worse than the awful tunes in Al Pacino’s Scarface released a year earlier.

At least some of the action scenes are fun, such as the boat hook versus chainsaw fight, and one bloke who gets on the wrong end of a harpoon care of the blonde protagonist whose throwing power is worthy of Olympic gold. (The blood in this movie has the consistency of tikka sauce, so some may get the urge for a curry while getting lost in the madness).

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“Creepy as it sounds”

There are some impressive moustaches on display too. But oh that dialogue. Clearly the director was less interested in the script and more keen on bizarre scenes of semi-naked guys wrestling like they’d been caught in an olive oil explosion. One poor girl finds her chance to sunbathe on a speedboat interrupted by our heroes as they make a getaway. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” remarks Bo, which even in 1984 sounded awful. With a line that bad, it’s a wonder she didn’t throw herself overboard.

An awkward scene between the skinny dipping heroine and her sibling (who looks like a blow-dried Jim McDonald) is the nadir of the movie. ”Dude, that’s your sister!” as one online critic rightly remarked.

However, the soft rock/flashback montage that follows makes up for it. Thankfully our grieving hero is befriended in a bar by a young woman who looks just like his sister, which is handy. Her uncanny likeness helps the plot develop like a loaf with too much yeast.

It’s not long before Bo has fallen for the sister’s doppelganger, Olga, which is as creepy as it sounds. At least we don’t have to put up with that awful dubbing as Ms Mayne’s dulcet British tones emerge amid a transatlantic twang.

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“Excellent commentary”

Weirdly the longer this movie goes on, the more fun it becomes as your brain acclimatises to the madness. Like The Color of Night, Lifeforce, and Howard the Duck, this has joined my top 10 of ‘So Bad They’re Brilliant’ movies. It’s the sort of film John Landis used to spend a fortune recreating for spoofs such as Amazon Women on the Moon, yet failed to capture that certain something which makes this so memorable.

I could have done without the band saw/privates scene, as hilarious as the dubbing is, but thankfully it doesn’t last long. Fred Williamson’s arrival adds a necessary degree of cool, and some of the Turkish locations are equally interesting.

A truly extraordinary experience, though whether Bo and Olga ever managed to settle down remains a mystery, what with her looking like his dead sister. I suggest a good therapist Bo.

Special features include an excellent commentary by author and critic Kat Ellinger, who aptly sums up the madness of that opening flamethrower scene with the phrase “That is the bloody director!”

Her commentary alone elevates this a few notches, and she also suggests a drinking game regarding the inappropriate looks between brother and sister.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off for a lie down. My brain is well and truly fried.

• High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
• Original Mono audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Feature length audio commentary by critic Kat Ellinger
• Surviving The Fire: a brand new interview with writer-director Jean-Marie Pallardy
• Enter The Hammer: a brand new interview with actor Fred Williamson
• Diamond Cutter: a brand new interview with editor Bruno Zincone
White Fire is released on Blu-ray by Arrow, £24.99

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