MGM // 1980 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // June 2nd, 2011
They all lived in fear...until he taught them...DEFIANCE!
Tommy Gamble (Jan-Michael Vincent, Buster and Billy) is a merchant seaman without a ship. While waiting for an assignment, he takes up residence on New York City's Lower East Side.
Tommy hates the city, hates his low-rent apartment (which would be renting for something like $4,000 a month these days), and has no interest in socializing. As he gets to know his colorful and endearing neighbors -- particularly the pretty Marsha (Theresa Saldana, Raging Bull) -- he finds himself acclimating to landlock.
Unfortunately, this not-yet-fashionable slum is plagued by an obnoxious and occasionally violent street gang, the Souls. Led by a sneering mini-thug named Angel (Rudy Ramos, The Enforcer), the Souls spend their days harassing the good people of the LES and their nights clubbing, robbing, beating, and other assorted mayhem. Naturally, though inexplicably, the police are powerless to stop them (damn Democrat mayor!).
Like Disco Pirates, the Souls Take No Prisoners
While most of the locals have resigned themselves to living in fear, Tommy is not one to be messed with. After putting a few gang members in their place, Tommy finds he's made some powerful enemies -- and until he can get the next freighter out of town, he might have to stand alone.
Defiance is a reasonably entertaining if forgettable little film. Rather than offering up an action/exploitation-fest, director John Flynn -- who's turned out action/exploitation fests like Rolling Thunder, Lock Up, and Out for Justice -- keeps everything down a couple of notches here. The result is a film that's a bit too slow-moving and restrained for its own good, a kind of Death Wish-lite with a side of High Noon.
The film meanders along, introducing characters for Tommy to interact with. Since these character types are so familiar that you can figure out their backstories the minute they open their mouths, you might find yourself checking your watch while waiting for the Souls to show up and trash a convenience store or smack around an old man. While everyone else cowers in fear, outsider Tommy has no problem busting a few Soul heads along the way; in turn, the Souls knock Tommy around every now and again, but never so badly that he's incapacitated. It's not until way at the end, after a series of painfully predictable plot developments, that Tommy gets around to teaching anyone "defiance," and the inevitable rumble ensues, with the expected results.
While they're definitely menacing loons, the Souls don't really look like they'd be all that hard to take down. The gang could be called the Old Souls; while mischief-making street gangs are usually havens for teens, there's not a soul in the Souls who looks to be under 35. The leader wears a leather coat and a brimmed hat; everyone else wears denim decorated with shiny studs, so mastering the Bedazzler is apparently a rite of initiation for these hoodlums.
Slap-Dash Panache: the Souls Strut Their Stuff
Besides being disco-era stylish, they're agreeably multicultural and drive around in a cool car. They're also puzzlingly sporting: at one point, they have Tommy cornered in his own shower, naked, after he's publicly bashed a few of them, but rather than gutting him -- or worse -- they just give him a warning. If only all street gangs were that fair minded...
Maybe He Just Wants to Save Water?
Thanks to his pretty-boy good looks, Jan-Michael Vincent was a fairly significant low-tier star in the '70s. While he made few films of any note -- The Mechanic with Charles Bronson, Big Wednesday, and the TV movie Tribes were exceptions -- he churned out over a dozen performances in the decade, often playing characters younger than he actually was.
With Defiance, the mid-30s Vincent started settling into more mature roles (though he did time-warp back a couple of decades for The Winds of War in 1983). Tommy Gamble is not exactly a demanding part, but Vincent's tight-lipped, distanced persona serves him well here; plus, he's surrounded by enough enjoyably hammy supporting actors (including Danny Aiello as a loud-mouth local, Lenny Montana as slow-witted local, and Art Carney as Abe, a wise and fearless old shopkeeper) to keep things interesting.
The best thing about Defiance is the location shooting. Defiance was shot on Manhattan's Lower East Side long before the area became a fashionable zip code. It is a very cool time capsule and gives the film an authentic feel that the script and performances lack.
Vincent and Aiello in the Pre-Co-op East Village
Defiance comes to us from MGM's DVD-R "on demand" line. Picture and audio are acceptable, and the only extra is a trailer that features pretty much every interesting part of the film.
While it's earnest and occasionally engrossing, Defiance is not a particularly dynamic film. Worth a look for fans of Jan-Michael Vincent or just to pass an hour and a half.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated PG