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



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.

production details
USA | 99 minutes | 1981

Director: John Carpenter
Script: John Carpenter, Nick Castle,

Harry Dean Stanton as Harold ‘Brain’ Helman
John Cothran, Jr. as Gypsy #1
Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner Bob Hauk
Tom Atkins as Rehme
Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie
Frank Doubleday as Romero
Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken
Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie
Donald Pleasence as President of the United States
Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York
John Strobel as Cronenberg
Season Hubley as Girl in Chock Full O’Nuts
Charles Cyphers as Secretary of State
George Buck Flower as Drunk