Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) has been framed for murder by his grandfather (John Huston). and is looking at three decades of hard labor in a Mexican jail, unless his wife Ann (Jill Ireland) is able to convince Nick Colton (Charles Bronson), his partner Hawk (Randy Quaid) and Myrna (Sheree North) to take the impossible job of getting his broken out of jail in a daring helicopter mission.

Original director Michael Ritchie didn’t like the idea of the female lead being played by Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland, so you can imagine that’s why Tom Gries (who had already made Breakheart Pass with Bronson) took over. Mexico also had an issue at how their country would be shown in the film, so it was shot at Fort de Bellegarde, France with local gypsies standing in for Mexican people.

Strangely enough, Breakout was based on a true story. Joel David Kaplan was a New York businessman and nephew of molasses tycoon Jacob Merrill Kaplan as well as a potential CIA asset used to funnel money and build relations with governemnts in Latin America. He was connected with the murder of Dominican Republic leader Rafael Trujillo and that man’s godson, Luis Melchior Vidal Jr., who had at one point worked with Kaplan to work as arms dealers for the CIA. And man — you thought politics was complicated now! Anyways, Kaplan went to Mexican jail for 28 years — just like Jay in Breakout — and his wife Judy worked with San Francisco attorney Vasilios Basil “Bill” Choulos to fly a Bell helicopter flying Mexican colors directly into the jail. Joel and his cellmate Carlos Antonio Contreras Castro escaped and were never recaptured.

As for Breakout, it was one of the first movies that used saturation booking instead of a traveling print, opening on 1,300 screens on its first day. It also had 17,000 radio ads. This strategy would be used to even greater effect later that year when Jaws came out.

It’s a fun movie and odd to see Bronson so lighthearted throughout, particularly as this movie follows Death Wish.

The Kino Lorber blu ray release of Breakout has commentary by the king of all Bronson knowledge Paul Talbot, as well as trailers, TV and radio ads. You can buy it directly from Kino Lorber.

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