Chuck Norris wasn’t just a movie star by 1986. He wanted to shape foreign policy.
In an interview with the Sun Sentinel, he said, “What we’re facing here is the fact that our passive approach to terrorism is going to instigate much more terrorism throughout the world. I would have sent the Delta Force immediately.” He was responding to the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, which is directly referenced in this movie.
He was even more outspoken in an interview in the Toronto Star, stating: “I’ve been all over the world, and seeing the devastation that terrorism has done in Europe and the Middle East, I know eventually it’s going to come here. It’s just a matter of time. They’re doing all this devastation in Europe now, and the next stepping stone is America and Canada. Being a free country, with the freedom of movement that we have, it’s an open door policy for terrorism. It’s like Khadafy said a few weeks ago. “If Reagan doesn’t back off, I’m going to release my killer squads in America.” And there’s no doubt in my mind that he has them.”
This was an attempt to make Norris the next Clint Eastwood — according to Cannon’s Menahem Golan — and he was to be teamed with Cannon’s other top star, Charles Bronson. The budget ended up being too high and we got Lee Marvin*, which isn’t the worst substitution. I love that Cannon’s pitch for this told theater owners to “START TO BUILD BIGGER THEATERS!!”
Operation Eagle Claw — a real life Delta Force mission, as well as the one that ruined Snake Eyes’ face — is canceled after a fatal helicopter crash. As the Delta Force evacuates to their C-130 planes, Captain Scott McCoy (Norris) defies orders to rescue Peterson (William Wallace) from the wreckage of a burning copter. Safely on the transport out of Iran, McCoy speaks up, blaming politicians and the military top brass for forcing a mission that could never succeed onto his team and quits.
Five years later, Lebanese terrorists hijack American Travelways Airlines Flight 282, a flight filled with character actors like Bo Svenson, Shelley Winters, Joey Bishop, Martin Balsam, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy and Kim Delaney. The scenes within the plane are harrowing as the terrorists — led by an Italian American Robert Forester as Abdul Rafai — split up the men from the women and children, as well as the Jewish people from other creeds. I kind of love that when thinking of this situation**, Lee Marvin’s mind went scatological when he spoke to the Philadelphia Inquirer: “… imagine what the bathrooms are like after three or four days.”
Of course, this time we get to win, as the Delta Force is made up of commander Colonel Nick Alexander (Marvin), Bobby (Steve James, moving up to the Cannon A squad!) and some of the finest fighting men that the U.S. government can plausibly deny.
Chuck would tell Newsday, “”I felt better after that film was made. I did, I swear to God. I think it’s a way for other people to release their tensions. I think it’s good therapy.”
Directed by Golan from a script that he co-wrote with James Bruner (Invasion U.S.A., P.O.W. the Escape), this film balances the jingoistic close where the passengers sing “God Bless America” while the Delta Force operatives solemnly mark the passing of several of their own. It’s amazing that a movie in which Chuck Norris launches a missile off of his Suzuki SP600 can have such a moment of quiet reflection.
*Chuck would tell Black Belt, “It was a privilege to work with Lee Marvin. He was an incredible guy, a real macho guy. He was known for criticizing everybody—all his co-stars—and he never said nice things. Then they interviewed him right after we did Delta Force and asked him about me. He said: “I liked him. He was a cool guy.” So I thought, “Thank goodness.””
**It was not a fun movie to make for these character actors. Temperatures went over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit in the plane and Shelly Winters told Golan “I can’t do this, I’ll die.” He replied, “Do it and then die.”