Street Date: October 3, 2017/Kino Lorber Studio Classics


The Ambassador is a political thriller loosely(!) based on Elmore Leonard’s novel 52 Pick-Up, the rights of which producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan had bought a few years prior (and would later produce a more faithful adaptation with Roy Scheider a few years later). The movie stars Robert Mitchum as Peter Hacker, the US Ambassador to Israel and Rock Hudson as his security chief Frank Stevenson. The Ambassador has a well-meaning message about the need for people to listen to each other, and the power of reason over hate, but the movie doesn’t amount to much more than a potboiler with a political veneer.

When the movie opens, Hacker and Stevenson are meeting representatives of the PLO in a secret meeting out in the Israeli desert. Hacker wants to convince the PLO to come to the table to talk with the Israeli government. The PLO, naturally, are skeptical.

The meeting is disrupted, however, by a sudden ambush by both the Saika, an even more militant faction within the PLO, and the Israeli defense forces. The PLO representatives are killed or driven off, and Hacker and Stephenson are taken in by the Israelis to be dressed down by Security Minister Eretz (Donald Pleasence). Israel is not any more interested in Hacker’s efforts than the PLO, at least not as long as the PLO denies Israel’s right to exist.

While all this is going on, Hacker’s wife, Alex (The Exorcist’s Ellen Burstyn) is having a secret meeting of her own. She is having an affair with a Palestinian antiques dealer named Hashimi (Fabio Testi). Alex has been feeling neglected since Hacker has been focusing all of his time and attention on the quixotic problem of peace in the Middle East. What Alex doesn’t know is that someone is focusing their attention on her, and they capture film of her having sex with Hashimi.

Hacker is shown the (very well shot and edited) surveillance film in an attempt to blackmail him for a “million bucks!” If he doesn’t pay, the footage will be released to media outlets worldwide, and the ensuing embarrassment will torpedo his plans for peace. Hacker and Stephenson must figure out who is plotting against them if they are to succeed, even though the blackmailers could be working for anyone, even Hacker’s own government.

The Ambassador was produced at a time when Cannon Films was reaching for greater respectability. Unlike the cartoony nature of such projects like Invasion USA, The Ambassador is an attempt at more mature filmmaking featuring larger stars and tackling greater themes. Of course the film still lingers on its sex scenes and offers plenty of bloody violence, but if you want people thinking about peace in the Middle East, you gotta get butts in the seats.

I don’t think anyone would consider British director J. Lee Thompson to be a great cinematic stylist, but he can certainly do a lot with limited resources. The film was shot on location in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Negev Desert and that lends a certain authenticity to the story. Thompson also frequently manages to get good performances out of his actors, although working with the likes of Hudson, Pleasence, and Burstyn helps considerably.

If you want people thinking about peace in the Middle East, you gotta get butts in the seats.

Mitchum’s performance on the other hand is… well let’s be diplomatic and say low-key. When he finds out his wife may have been injured in a bombing, his reaction is more like that of a parent who finds out their teenager was caught purchasing alcohol on prom night. At the time of filming, Mitchum was a raging alcoholic (the blu-ray commentary track mentions that the drinks his character has throughout the film were real) and as a result, he was a problematic actor to work with. Thompson probably got the best he could hope for given the circumstances. The major problem with Mitchum’s character is that even though he has goals and desires, he’s a mostly passive character. Events happen to him throughout the movie, but he doesn’t act to move the story forward. The one major thing he does manage to accomplish ends in tragedy.

Mitchum and Burstyn work well together, however. There’s a comfortable familiarity and warmth in their marriage. After Hacker informs Alex that he has seen the film of her affair, they admit that their life together has had plenty of ups and downs. “We’ve been separated 18 times over the last 18 years.” Alex admits. “Are you gonna divorce me?” she asks her husband. Hacker replies “Not tonight.” as the two of them cuddle up in bed together.  

Kino-Lorber has released The Ambassador on blu-ray with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and in 1920x1080p. It comes with an audio commentary by the film’s editor Mark Goldblatt and film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. The commentary is full of praise for director Thompson and his work on the film, Goldblatt’s association with The Cannon Group, and fun behind-the-scenes tidbits. I found the audio mix on the commentary to be a little off, as Goldblatt comes through loud and clear, but I had some difficulty following the other commenters. There was also some thumping (mic noises, perhaps) which was a little distracting. The audio for the movie itself was just fine.

The disc also comes with a pair of trailers, one for domestic and one international. The domestic trailer amuses because it completely gets the actual tone of the movie wrong. Mitchum’s character is painted as a man of action who is out for justice. “The Ambassador,” the trailer proclaims, “He’s through negotiating!” That looked like an exciting movie!

The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s image quality and are included only to represent the film itself.