On DVD: The Ambassador (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

The Ambassador is a lot of ridiculous fun with a bizarre combination of elements, including a very 1980s thriller milieu involving middle eastern political strife and terrorism, a 1930s pulp adventure plot, and two major stars of yesteryear - Robert Mitchum and Rock Hudson (his last film) - being directed by the capable and prolific J. Lee Thompson. Throw in good supporting performances by Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn and former Blofeld Donald Pleasance, and you have an entertaining (and somewhat campy) action picture that's hiding a few interesting surprises.

The film opens with United States ambassador to Isreal Peter Hacker (Mitchum) and his security aide Frank Stevenson (Hudson) traveling out into the Judean desert to secretly meet with representatives of the PLO. The meeting is broken up when the group is attacked simultaneously by the Israeli secret service and members of a radical PLO splinter group; each of these groups first attacks the rendezvous and then each other. It's a chaotic batshit sequence that confuses the participants amid decent aerial camerawork and rapid-fire gunplay.

Meanwhile, Hacker's wife Alex (Burstyn) is involved in an affair with an antiquities merchant who turns out to have ties to the PLO. The same splinter group that attacked Hacker's desert meet with the PLO is tracking Alex's movements and films her illicit trysts, using the footage to blackmail Hacker into desisting from his attempts at diplomacy among the various interested parties. (I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the, uh, two surprises that Burstyn - aged 52 at the time of the film's production - provides in these early scenes.)

As far as the story goes, it's a pulpy mess of cliches and easy action-film tropes. But the cast keeps things interesting, especially the odd dynamic between Mitchum and Burstyn's characters. These middle-aged globe-trotting bureaucrats don't have much of a marriage, and when Burstyn's affair is revealed, Mitchum's response is more empathetic than angry. The situation ends up bringing them closer together. I don't know how realistic this scenario is, but the actors bring it off well, sharing a world-weary closeness that grows interestingly as the film goes on.

Other aspects of the film are muddled at best - particularly the conclusion, which features gathering of students from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, who have convened at Hacker's behest to talk peacefully about a way forward. They wind up being massacred by the machine guns of the PLO splinter group in a violent sequence that eerily prefigures (at least in some respects) the 1987 Mecca massacre. It's a bloody scene that, like much of the film in general, doesn't accomplish much dramatically while maintaining the highest standard of sensationalism. Still, The Ambassador is weird, choppy fun that is maintained by a cast of legendary Hollywood stars. 

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