The Ambassador

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Oct 12, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Following the underrated Charles Bronson thriller 10 to Midnight, The Ambassador was the second (of eight) films J. Lee Thompson would direct for Cannon Films in the 1980s. It reunited the British filmmaker with his Cape Fear star, Robert Mitchum, who was at a low point in the public eye after making unfortunate, anti-Semitic jokes in an interview and losing an expensive lawsuit for breaking a photographer’s face with a basketball at the premiere of Cannon’s That Championship Season. (If you’re up for a riveting Rolling Stone profile of an increasingly drunk Robert Mitchum conducted during that time, you can read it here.) His co-star, Rock Hudson, was brought in as a last-minute replacement for Kojak’s Telly Savalas, and looks noticeably thin; his battle with AIDS was not yet public, though the screen legend would succumb to it the following year. Between Hudson’s illness and Mitchum’s alcoholism both stalling the shoot at times, The Ambassador was not an easy production. Cannon themselves buried it with a miniscule release, but in the decades since it’s proven to be an exciting, b-movie thriller, led by fun, rough-and-tumble performances from the two aging, mid-Century film icons at its center.

Mitchum plays the film’s titular ambassador to Israel, who’s tasked himself with no small feat: bringing peace, once and for all, to the Middle East. He’s a highly-respected man, both in political and intellectual circles; one of Tel Aviv’s most in-demand lecturers, and considered a shoo-in for the Presidential cabinet back home. As the film begins, he’s nearly on the brink of uniting youth from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All of his work is nearly derailed, though, when he’s blackmailed with an illicit sex tape that features his classy wife (Ellen Burstyn) in bed with a prominent leader of the controversial Palestinian Liberation Organization. On top of that, he has an unknown assassin on his trail!

That setup should give you a good idea of the sleazy sort of thriller we’re working with. The Ambassador was (very) loosely adapted from Elmore Leonard’s 52 Pick-Up, which Cannon would adapt again in 1986, with John Frankenheimer at the helm. Hudson has the most fun in the film, playing an American security officer and Mitchum’s bestie, getting to throw punches, jam a pistol in a bad guy’s crotch, and effectively waterboard another goon. If he was aware of the gravity of his illness when he was shooting this – what would be his final theatrical performance – he certainly didn’t let it damper his role.

Given that The Ambassador has only been available as a burn-on-demand DVD-R since its rental-only VHS release more than 30 years ago, Kino Lorber could have released a bare bones HD version and it would have been enough to make fans and those otherwise curious happy. Thankfully they went further, though, and included a full-length commentary track by historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, who share it with frequent Cannon film editor Mark Goldblatt. These team-up tracks are easy to appreciate; everyone is enthusiastic and coming at the film from a different angle, which keeps things moving and lively. There’s not a lot of dead air, and it’s a good mix of historical context from the experts and personal stories about working on the film from Goldblatt. It’s a commentary well worth listening to, once you’ve made it through the main film. 


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