Escape From New York (1981 with Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef)

USA / 1981

Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter, Nick Castle

Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton

Released in 1981, Escape from New York painted a dystopian picture of the near future, where Manhattan Island has been the world’s largest prison for ten years. Crime in New York City had risen so much that the authorities decided it was simpler to contain the problem than try to solve it.

The island is surrounded by armed guards who operate on a shoot-to-kill policy and hi-tech security devices that kill any potential escapees. Inside the walls, anarchy reigns, the fit survive and the weak hope to go un-noticed.

Into this anarchy crashes a plane carrying not only the US President (Donald Pleasance) but also, in his possession, the only copy of an accord that will prevent global warfare. There’s only 24 hours to get him out and there’s only one man for the job – ex-con and ex-special service soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), reluctantly recruited by police boss Lee Van Cleef. To ensure his obedience, he’s injected with a device that will kill him if he’s not out, with the President, in time.

Carpenter was lucky to recruit an excellent supporting cast – Ernest Borgnine is a New York cabbie who befriends Russell and is always there in the nick of time, Isaac Hayes the gang boss with his own oil well, Harry Dean Stanton his advisor and show-stealer Frank Doubleday a crazed, psychotic killer. The end product is a fast moving film, admittedly based on one of the movies’ oldest premises, but one that is superbly updated into the possible future. Carpenter keeps the tension at top level and throws the odd curve ball into the plot to keep the viewer, even though they’re pretty sure of the ending, on the edge of their seats until the finale.

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