The Delta Force (1986)

*. “Liberal Hollywood” isn’t a total canard, as it’s probably true that the film business tilts somewhat to the left. That said, there has always been a link between Hollywood and the Republican party as well, from Ronald Reagan to Arnold Schwarzenegger. As the latter name suggests, action heroes may be a natural fit with right-wing politics. Think also of names like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis.
*. But among all the action stars of the 1980s it would be hard to get any further to the right than Chuck Norris, whose political views have tracked with the most extreme directions taken by the Republican party even into the age of Trump. But even in the ’80s many of his movies had a more obvious political message than those of his peers. In Missing in Action, for example, he got to go back and do Vietnam right, one-upping Stallone, and in The Delta Force we see Operation Eagle Claw getting a do-over, complete with a scene where our hero goes back to rescue a fallen comrade. America wasn’t leaving anyone behind this time!
*. As the Delta warriors bug out from the desert there’s a significant passage of dialogue where Norris’s character (McCoy) complains about how “they” screwed up the operation by going against his advice. He adds: “I spent five years in Vietnam watching them doing the planning, and us to die.” In other words, it’s all the government’s fault. Again. And if there’s any theme that unites today’s right more than its hatred of government I don’t know what it is. Bruce Willis: “I’m a Republican only as far as I want a smaller government, I want less government intrusion. . . . I hate the government, OK? I’m apolitical. Write that down. I’m not a Republican.”
*. I bring all this up as a way of introducing The Delta Force as an overtly political movie. In fact, I would call it propaganda. I don’t mean that pejoratively; I’ll allow that there may be good propaganda, and that a propaganda movie need not be a bad movie. I only use the label as a way of understanding what it’s about. It’s a cheesy action flick to be sure, but one that plays a lot of jingo tunes.
*. That message is one of American-Israeli solidarity. “Israel is America’s best friend in the Middle East” is an actual line of dialogue in the film. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, as co-writer and director Menahem Golan is an Israeli and the movie itself was shot in entirely in Israel. That’s where The Delta Force is, literally, coming from.
*. The story was a timely one in 1986, as the film was based on the hijacking of a TWA flight only the year before. Despite the timestamps used to give it all a sense of documentary realism, however, the script goes in for melodrama. The singling out of Jewish passengers on the plane was something that happened, but it’s introduced here in an incredible way. Could the hijackers have been that shocked that an American flight from the Eastern Mediterranean to New York had — gasp! — some Jews on board? Then there is the bit with the Holocaust survivor whose wife tells us that it is “all happening again.” And a little girl who pleads “Please don’t take my daddy! Daddy take me with you!” And a noble Catholic priest who volunteers to go with the Jews because Jesus was a Jew, etc. This is all laying it on pretty thick.
*. By coincidence I was listening to the DVD commentary track for All Through the Night while I was writing up these notes. Here’s what director Vincent Sherman had to say about propaganda: “You can do propaganda if it’s done well, if it’s done right. If it’s done in the context of the story and not just stuck in, but seems part of the story, and part of the character, then there’s no resentment to it. But if it’s obvious propaganda then you have trouble. Audiences turn away from it.” The Delta Force is obvious.
*. I’m not sure, but it may be that Golan thought he was making an important movie here instead of just another piece of crap. It has this important political message. It’s over two hours long. It has an all-star cast, with Martin Balsam, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters, and George Kennedy all putting in appearances. And Robert Foster, who I didn’t even recognize, playing the terrorist. He gives one of those really good performances in a bad movie that make you respect an actor’s professionalism and craft.
*. As for Lee Marvin, this was his last movie and I thought at times he didn’t appear in great shape. He also has wildly shaggy old-man eyebrows. Do you think they might have asked somebody to trim them? Luckily he doesn’t have to do too much but say things like “Take ’em down” and “One minute to go-time.” But at least he was game. “There aren’t too many firm film offers these days that guarantee money up front,” he later said.
*. As for Norris, in the words of Golan: “We look at Chuck as having the potential of a Clint Eastwood . . . His acting talent is getting better. He’s in the right style, and he’s very popular.”
*. Well, he was very popular at the time. But the bit about his acting talent getting better was only wishful thinking. Norris is no actor, and he’s at his best when he’s asked to do very little. I really didn’t find him convincing in this role at all, and what’s more disappointing is the fact that he doesn’t get to perform much in the way of martial arts. Which is, after all, the only thing he does well.
*. Alan Silvestri’s score is quite good, and would later get used as the fanfare for car-racing events on television. It is, however, overused. After an hour of it I think I’d already had enough, but then they seem to have just put the main theme on repeat for the whole back end of the movie.
*. Whatever his good intentions, I don’t think Golan could resist making just another stupid shoot-’em-up. There’s a car chase through some narrow streets that throws in about as many clichés as you can imagine. Norris hangs out of the passenger side of the van that’s being chased by the terrorists and shoots at them. Then he shoots out of the back window of the van after it gets blown away. The racing vehicles shear the open door of a car off. A vehicle smashes into a pile of watermelons. The cars go driving down a stairway. Vehicles crash and then inexplicably explode into massive fireballs. Did anything get left out?
*. So there’s the car chase. And lots of icky Arabs. And good guys walking through hails of bullets unscathed (except for one token fallen warrior), taking down bad guys while shooting from the hip. The icing on the cake, however, is Norris’s motorbike, which fires missiles forward and backward. This really pushes the movie over the line into silliness, undercutting any seriousness we might have been wanting to take its political message with.
*. Of course the good guys win, celebrating by cracking open some Bud and singing “America the Beautiful.” As I said, it’s a movie that wears its heart (if that’s the word) on its sleeve. Unfortunately its politics are an awkward fit with its trashiness, and instead of being a serious political thriller it quickly turns into another really dull Cannon action movie. Chuck Norris was in a number of flicks that were better than this, which should tell you everything you need to know about how bad it is.

5 thoughts on “The Delta Force (1986)

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