THE BUSHIDO BLADE (1981, Tsugunobu Kotani)
In the late 70s’/early 80s Japanese director Tsugunobu Kotani made three English language B-movies which all feel like calling cards towards making big budget films in the US but sadly Hollywood never answered. The Last Dinosaur (1977) is a Doug McClure style creature feature with a big game hunter facing off against a T-rex. The Bermuda Depths (1978) a fantasy film about scientists threatened by a giant turtle and a mysterious woman who seems to have come from the ocean. The last of them is The Bushido Blade, a samurai movie set during Commodore Matthew Perry’s negotiations with a Japanese shogun (played by Toshiro Mifune) to allow trade with the US. Frank Converse plays a cavalry officer forced to team up with samurai warrior Sonny Chiba to retrieve a ceremonial sword stolen by factions opposed to opening the country to outsiders. Along the way they team up with a female warrior Laura Gemser, whose mixed parentage makes her an outsider in her own country. I’m not sure how historically accurate any of this is but it’s a lot of fun and ends with three facing off against many in an inventive final battle.
THE IRON MASK (2019, Oleg Stepchenko)
Marketed somewhat misleadingly in the UK as an Arnie fights Jackie Chan movie, this is really a sequel to the Russian film Viy,. I can see why they tried to sell it this way but the film stars Jason Flemyng as a cartographer. That’s not an approach that’s going to please people when they realise they’ve been dealt a sleight of hand. I really liked Viy, a fantasy film based on Russian folklore released in the UK as The Forbidden Kingdom (nothing to do with the Jackie Chan film of the same name) which saw Flemyng’s mapmaker cross the Carpathian Mountains and into the forests of the Ukraine where he finds a remote village tormented by the supernatural. This sequel moves the action to China and feels like a clumsier version of Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee movies but it’s still much better than the reviews suggest. And the few scenes shared by Chan and Schwarzenegger are very funny. There’s also a brief appearance by another 80s’ action legend, the late great Rutger Hauer.
JAGUAR LIVES! (1979, Ernest Pintoff)
Martial arts film intended to launch a movie career for karate champion Joe Lewis. Mimicking the structure of a Bond movie and casting no less than four alumni (Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance, Joseph Wiseman, and Barbara Bach) in support the film whizzes around the globe pitting Lewis against a drug smuggling ring and their various henchmen. Jaguar Lives! didn’t succeed in its aim, but it’s not for want of trying with Lewis getting into fights on average once every five minutes. While he might not have much range, even for an action hero there’s no doubt about his credentials as a fighter.
THE FIFTH MUSKETEER (1979, Ken Annakin)
It may lack the panache of the Richard Lester movies but this is an entertaining enough take on the Alexandre Dumas The Man in the Iron Mask with a decent cast. A svelte young Beau Bridges plays dual roles of the King and his identical twin brother, while his old man Lloyd Bridges proves to be surprisingly adept with a sword as Aramis. Jose Ferrer and Alan Hale Jr are Athos and Porthos respectively. It’s quite moving seeing ageing swashbuckler Cornel Wilde leading them all as D’Artagnan, and this sense of a connection to a once popular Hollywood genre is added to by the presence of Olivia De Havilland as the Queen Mother. Like most versions of this story it reworks the material so the poorer twin is the nobler of the lookalikes and the King is an arsehole which plays better with modern audiences.