Anchor Bay // 1986 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // August 8th, 2001
It's Not Just a Job. It's a Vendetta.
Take a New World Pictures production (Roger Corman's production company), put Frank Capra Jr. in the producer slot, and you have a guaranteed low-budget action flick that will probably entertain but not challenge even a single synapse in your brain. Death Before Dishonor is a bit lacking on the glitz and thrills, but manages to hold its own within its niche ridden with low expectations to begin with. Anchor Bay does a credible job of bringing this "for rent or cable only" film to DVD.
1980s TV star Fred Dryer ("Hunter") plays Gunnery Sergeant Burns, a no-nonsense Marine with a penchant for doing things his own way. When he is given a job as embassy security supervisor in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Jemal, he knows things will get bad, and they do. When his men start turning up dead and his beloved colonel (Brian Keith) is kidnapped, he knows that the wishy-washy State Department will never do what it takes to make things right. It's time for a rescue mission, against orders of course.
I knew before I started the film not to expect too much. With Fred "I thought he was dead" Dryer carrying the lead and the pseudo patriotic theme splashed throughout the marketing blurbs, I knew what I was getting. To be fair, this film was made in 1986, at which time Mr. Dryer still had a career. I can begin by saying my expectations were met. They were low to be sure, but the film did meet them. Fans of mindless action, clichéd plots, and stuff going boom will probably be entertained and immediately forget about the film forever. Once in awhile I enjoy such a film, and it caught me in the proper mood for it. It did what fans of such films want; it had bad guys to hate, lots of gunfights and car chases, and explosions. Oddly, there was a lack of gratuitous nudity; I thought all such films had to have a strip club scene by law.
For a low budget film, the stunts and action scenes were well done. The characters weren't terrible, though they weren't given a great deal to work with. Nothing really stands out as terrific, but it didn't plunge to the depths it might have. Lukewarm praise to be sure, but it's that kind of film.
Anchor Bay seems to produce a lot of films in this category; films that most studios don't make much of a priority on DVD. They usually do a bang-up job, and their efforts befit the film in this case. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is better than decent, with a pretty clean print to work with and a clear image. Colors and the detail level are a bit on the soft side, but it's very watchable. The sound is a workmanlike Dolby Surround, with a decent if not overwhelming kick from the subwoofer during the many gunshots and explosions. Surround use is minimal, but does come around during the action scenes. Dialogue is clearly understood, which is a good thing since Anchor Bay still doesn't provide English subtitles for the hearing impaired. A trailer is the only extra content, again befitting the status of the film.
The review thus far was kind to the picture, because I take these "straight" to cable type films, put them in their own category, and judge them within it rather than against those with big budgets. If I were to try to compare it to the mainstream films that hit the theater each summer, I would not be so kind. Basically, you have a clichéd hero fighting stereotyped terrorists with a plot you can see through. If you expect one iota more than that, you will be disappointed.
If you like this sort of film, and don't have cable, you might pick this one up at the Blockbuster or other rental outlet. Otherwise I'd have to say give this one a pass, as it is nothing more than mindless entertainment, and eminently forgettable.
The film is found innocent, as so far as I know making cheesy action flicks for the small screen is not against the law. Hollywood would be in real trouble if such a law were ever passed. Anchor Bay is acquitted as well, though I will once more levy a fine for the lack of subtitles for the hearing impaired.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R