Prisoner In The Middle (1973)

AKA: Warhead, Sabra Command, Mission Overkill
Director: John O’Connor
Starring: David Janssen, Karin Dor, Christopher Stone, David Semadar, Art Metrano
Music (and Sound Effects) by Synchrofilm Inc.

Apparently The Prisoner In The Middle (and all the other names this film goes by), although made in 1973, was not released until 1977. That may indicate that it is a bit of a turkey, but it isn’t that bad. Sure it’s a pretty low to the ground effort, but I have watched worse (and I am sure will continue to do so in the future). The film opens with an active nuclear bomb sitting on desert sand, it’s parachute billowing in the wind. The bomb itself, looks like an accessory from the Bat Mobile. It is a very odd shape, black with fins, and has a giant, bulbous red light, which flashes instead of a nose cone. It’s not very aerodynamic at all.

To bring the viewers up to speed, and in typical spy film fashion, a typed message runs across the bottom of the screen. This one runs a little longer than most:

URGENT REPEAT URGENT! — CODED FROM PENTAGON TO AMERICAN EMBASSY ISRAEL — TOP SECRET ASSIGNMENT — CODE NAMED “SUNBIRD” — B52 — ROUTINE FLIGHT NNR 743 — MECHANICAL PROBLEMS…OFF COURSE — ACCIDENTALLY JETTISONED NEW TOP SECRET NUCLEAR WARHEAD OVER JORDANIAN DESERT NEAR ISRAELI BORDER — IMPERATIVE LOCATE ANTHONY STEVENS — NUCLEAR ARMS EXPERT — ON LEAVE JERUSALEM AND ASSIGN TO MISSION —

There is more to the message, but I think you get the gist of it.

So naturally we are in Jerusalem, and here’s where we meet Anthony Stevens (David Janssen). As was the fashion at the time, he is wearing a beige safari suit. As he wanders around, checking out the tourist sites, he is approached by a C.I.A. operative. It’s time for Stevens to find out what we already know.

His mission: He has to parachute into Jordan alone, Find the bomb and destroy the detonator before anyone else can get their hands on it. No sooner than he has received his instructions, we see him parachuting down into the desert. Armed with a Geiger counter, he starts searching for the weapon.

On a desert road, in a bus, Lieutenant Liora Schulman (Karin Dor), an Israeli soldier, is traveling with a group of school children. She is assigned to protect them. The kids are singing and joking around. Hidden in the dunes, on the side of the road is a mortar, and it fires as the bus passes. The bus explodes and everyone is killed except Liora. The perpetrators are the Palestinian Liberation Army, who have slipped across the border to carry out the attack. As the PLA approach the bus, to check the results of their heinous handiwork, Liora picks up a machine gun and mows them down. All except one, their leader, Malouf (David Semadar), who looks like Frank Zappa. He escapes, driving off in a jeep.

Have you ever noticed, that in films where barbaric acts are perpetrated on children, how we rarely see the carnage? (this film shows a little bit.) What we are always shown is a doll or a teddy bear amongst the wreckage. Well, that happens here too. Liora picks up a teddy and stares almost blankly at it. She is in shock. Then the flood of tears start.

Malouf has fled back to Jordan and is in hiding. The Israeli army assemble a team of soldiers to go in after him. The team of sixteen, is headed by Captain Ben-David (Christopher Stone), and Liora is second in command. The team, armed to the teeth, cross the border and a mine field in search of Malouf.

Meanwhile, Stevens has found the bomb. But as he starts to deactivate it, he is captured by Malouf and his men. As the PLA load the missile onto a truck, Ben-David and his soldiers arrive at the scene. A gun battle takes place. Both sides are keen to possess and take control of the nuclear weapon. Stevens caught between the two warring armies, clearly is ‘The Prisoner In The Middle’.

The story itself is quite okay (in a Six Million Dollar Man kind of way), if a bit simple. Afterall, we are talking about a genre that prides itself on convoluted plots, with double and triple crosses. In this movie, everybody is exactly as they seem. Not being the plot, the weaknesses of this film are the casting, and the acting. Janssen is clearly too old (and possibly has one too many chins) to be playing this kind of role. And the acting in places is truly awful. But having said that, The Prisoner In The Middle is serviceable, but I wouldn’t put it high on your list of ‘films to see’.

This review is based on the Flashback Entertainment DVD

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