Nostalgia: Firefox

I got the idea from Melvel, our newest blogger, about including films that have moved us or we just liked, and made a special “Nostalgia” category for it. I’m encouraging all of the contributing bloggers to occasionally make their own, and here’s mine:

There are a lot of bad reviews for the 1982 Firefox, one of Clint Eastwood’s “failures” as a Director, but for me, obviously since I’m writing about it here, I’ve a far different view.

See, spy-thrillers are my thing. Either in books or movies, the Cold War imho, inspite of it’s many tragedies, managed to produce one positive, and that is the spy-thriller. And so while it was still in fashion, I couldn’t get enough of it. From Frederick Forsyth to Ken Follett to Graham Greene, Robert Ludlum, John Le Carre and Tom Clancy, I lapped it all up. Guilty pleasure, I’m sure. But regardless, if it has espionage, spies, quiet deaths in the night and many crossings of borders, usually European or the occasional Chinese one, I want to read about it, and mostly I did.

So here comes Firefox, and with it Clint Eastwood, the prototype American hero, forever squinting as if looking into the sunset while his horse gallops into it, hand quick to reach into poncho for his six-shooter, to shoot lead into anyone unlucky enough to get in the way. The perfect opposite, it seems, of the European hero-spy, either played by underacting types as the French Inspector who hunted the Jackal in “Day Of The Jackal” (couldn’t find his name), or the nerdy but sharp academic John Ryan of Tom Clancy fame.

Strangely enough, that works for the film. Playing Major Gant, a retired American fighter pilot dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, he is tasked to steal away a secret super-modern Russian jetfighter called “Firefox”. He is obviously ill-fitting for the job. Almost like trying to get Top Gun in espionage mode, he is too tall, too brusque, too American hero for the job. At one point, he naively questions the rebels motives, his allies who smuggle him into the Russian base, asking why they are so willing to give up their lives for such a cause. He is answered of course, saying it merely indicates how much they hate the government (or something like that. Unfortunately, it’s not in IMDB’s comments from the movie).

At any rate it makes for great understated stuff, albeit I’m sure quite boring to most Eastwood fans. Here there are no flashy cars and jewelry as handsome hero and femme fatale heroine make their daring escape out of cold Russia. Rather there are the Russian rebels hatred and fear and hope, matched opposite the derring-do of the quintessential American cowboy. At one point, he is asked desperately by one of the rebels, who is sure to give up his life to get Eastwood on that plane:

Upenskoy: Gant, can you fly that plane? Really fly it?
Maj. Gant: Yeah, I can fly it. I’m the best there is.

But the really interesting conversations happen amongst the Russians. Starting about 75% into the film is when the action really starts, as the plane is in the air and away from the Russians, they are left to ponder on the unbelievable – that their precious Firefox has actually been stolen, and set to work getting it back or destroying it.

At this point we are introduced to the smarmy First Secretary (Stefan Schnabel), an old school Russian politician forever harping on the West’s inferiority and their own superiority, and the more practical and calculating General Vladimorov (Klaus Löwitsch), who with his sharp mind and realistic appreciation of Eastwood’s piloting abilities, can and should be able to catch or at least shoot him down, if it weren’t for the sanctimonious patronising of the First Chairman.

At some point it becomes clear to the General that they had been lent to a decoy, whereas the stolen Firefox was well on its way to freedom, due to the bungling of the Chairman. As he explains this, he is cut off, and finally loses his temper at his superior:

First Secretary: Calm yourself, Vladimirov…
General Vladimirov: Calm…calm myself? How can I be calm in your stupidity, STUPIDITY! Losing that aircraft to the Americans… Do you know who this man Gant is? He can land on an ice floe and take off again!

Over the years (and there have been many years since I’ve first watched it), I’d always remember that dialogue, wondering when and how I’d apply it one day. Maybe when I recently coached the basketball league in our village:

One of my players: Calm yourself, Coach…
Me: Calm…calm myself? How can I be calm in your stupidity, STUPIDITY! Losing that possession to the other team… Do you know we have no time left? And that we need nothing short of a miracle to win?!?

Or maybe one day, to one of my clients:

My boss: Calm yourself, Gary…
Me: Calm…calm myself? How can I be calm in your stupidity, STUPIDITY! Don’t you know that receiving unknown email attachments is bad?! As if I have nothing better to do but reformat and reinstall your computer everytime you get another virus from one of your equally ignorant friends!!!

That well delivered conversation may well be the reason why Firefox had stuck to the back of my mind all these years, and the fact that Cinemax has constantly had it in it’s lineup for as far as I can remember means not only that there are people who request for it, but that likely, I’ll be turning on the TV on a lazy afternoon one day, and find it there again, assuring that this will become the spy-thriller classic it really is.

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