The Kick-Ass 80s: Norris' Best

Everyone's got their favorite Chuck Norris movies. Well, everyone cool does. Well, everyone cool who was a teenage male in the early 80's does. And, as one of that noble – and cool – generation, I too have a few Chuck Norris movies that I believe stand above the rest, both as pure drive-in entertainment and as showcases for our hero's unique screen... charms.

Interestingly, all three of these films were made outside of the two "studios" most associated with Norris – American Cinema (
A FORCE OF ONE and THE OCTAGON), and Golan-Globus' Cannon Films (THE DELTA FORCE, M.I.A., INVASION U.S.A.). Hmmmm.

Anyway, I'm not here to make fun of Chuck Norris. I genuinely like his movies and I'm pretty sure I'd like the guy. In interviews, he's always come across as a decent, grounded person, with genuine martial arts cred. He's no worse an actor than most on TV and better than many in the action genre. He's got a sense of humor about himself and seems to have a pretty good grasp of his strengths and limitations. And I almost always have a good time watching his movies (okay – not HELLBOUND, THE CUTTER or TOP DOG
– even I have standards).

Sherman, set the Wayback machine for 1981....

AN EYE FOR AN EYE, 1981, Avco-Embassy, Directed by Steve Carver.

If I remember correctly, this is the last of the beardless Norris flicks (did he have a beard in the subsequent
FORCED VENGEANCE or SILENT RAGE? Or just the 'stache? Been so long since I've seen them, I can't recall).

Veteran exploitation director Steve Carver (
BIG BAD MAMA, JOCKS) worked well with Norris, playing to his leading man's strengths and shooting action scenes with a certain amount of clarity and style. He also knew how to fill out the supporting casts with talented, veteran character actors, allowing Chuck to concentrate on the ass kicking while others handled the heavy lifting, acting-wise.

In this particular film we have an all-star exploitation line-up, including Mako, Christopher Lee, Richard Roundtree,
STAR TREK DS9's Rosalind Cho and SPACE ACADEMY's Maggie Cooper, all working their butts off to help make Chuck look good in what's essentially a fairly routine cop movie with a big "Bondian" climax. But it's a lot of fun, and very well directed and paced by Carver, with a standout (if too brief) battle between Chuck and wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka. The best part of this film, though, is the late, great Mako, who is in top form as Chuck's acerbic sensei.

LONE WOLF McQUADE, 1983, Orion Pictures, directed by Steve Carver.

Chuck's cinematic valentine to Clint Eastwood (check out the name of the hospital in the film) manages to combine Clint's "Man With No Name" and "Dirty Harry" into one iconic character, and gives Chuck what is arguably his best role (derivative as it may be) in loose cannon Texas Ranger J.J. McQuade. Hell, in his later, long-running TV series
WALKER, TEXAS RANGER, he played what amounted to a toned-down, TV-safe, G-rated version of the character, so even Chuck knows it.

Once again, director Carver ropes in a great B-movie cast – L.Q. Jones, William Sanderson,
STAR TREK VOYAGER's Robert Beltran, sultry Barbara Carrera fresh off I, THE JURY, and, of course, the legendary David Carradine as Rawley Wilkes, the bad guy in the even worse sweater.

At the time, the poster above was enough to trigger an adrenaline surge in this teenage movie freak. The idea of Chuck Norris throwing down with Kwai Chang Caine made this movie a must-see.

As it turned out, it was. And it still is.

Granted, it's ludicrous, with a trivial plot and cliche dialogue. But it's just so much damned fun. You've got David Carradine hamming it up, Barbera Carrera looking great, beautiful desert photography, great gunfights, plenty of roundhouse kicks, an Ennio Morricone-inspired soundtrack, a dwarf crimeboss... and Chuck's pick-up truck, which deserves billing on the poster, it's so badass.

Seriously... how can you resist?

CODE OF SILENCE, 1985, Orion Pictures, directed by Andrew Davis.

Of all Chuck's movies, this is probably the best
film. Very ably directed by Andrew Davis, who also directed Steven Seagal's best two movies (ABOVE THE LAW and UNDER SIEGE) before hitting it big with THE FUGITIVE, CODE OF SILENCE is a better-than-average police drama that benefits from gritty Chicago locations, superior cinematography, a fine supporting cast (including the always-reliable Henry Silva and Dennis Farina), and a memorable (if gimmicky) final shootout.

Again, Chuck's given very little dialogue here, but still manages to create and maintain a formidible screen presence as the archetypical honest cop who finds himself pitted against the corrupt members of his own police force and abandoned by them when the mob puts a contract on his hirsute hide. It also features the best Chuck Norris one-liner ever: "When I want your opinion, I'll beat it out of you."

I'm fond of other Norris films too –
THE DELTA FORCE is damned good until the last half-hour and has the added bonus of Lee Marvin as the world's oldest commando, THE OCTAGON has Lee Van Cleef and lots of nasty ninjas, SIDEKICKS is a charming kid's film (kinda THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY crossed with THE KARATE KID), and INVASION U.S.A. is like a Spider pulp for the Reagan decade; probably the most over-the-top, paranoid action film of the 80's – but these are my favorites.

All three of these movies are on DVD from MGM.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE is presented in a terrible full-frame transfer that looks as bad as an old VHS tape, while LONE WOLF McQUADE and CODE OF SILENCE are presented in anamorphic widescreen with acceptable transfers. All three discs include the original theatrical trailers.

Ahhh... the 80's. When heroes had facial hair, starlets showed their breasts... and action scenes didn't require wires and computer animation. Those were the days.