Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Killer Elite


Sam Peckinpah directed this movie about a private company that offers assassinations to order for clients like the CIA. And I liked many things about it. The movie refused, for a while, at least, to stick to the tried and true story arc of films like this. James Caan and Robert Duvall are good buddies working for this company. And then within the first ten minutes Jimmy is shot in his elbow and knee. And one does not spring back from injuries like that in a day or two, no matter what Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise might tell you. So the next half hour or so concerns his grueling rehabilitation. At first he can’t even walk. But over a long period of time he learns to get around, and even to master some aspects of martial arts. But he will never walk easily again.

Then, against all expectations we have had ingrained into us, his man-to-man showdown with the guy who shot him is not the final scene. The bad guy dies in an unspectacular fashion way before that.

The chief attraction of this movie to me, when I saw it new, was the ending. Or at least until the final five minutes. Caan and his sidekicks Burt Young and Bo Hopkins are to meet someone at the gigantic mothball fleet in Suisun Bay. Instead, they are ambushed (as they expected) by about 50 ninja warriors in black pajamas. But Bo has an Uzi …

Peckinpah’s point, and one I totally agree with, is that it’s stupid to bring even “fists of steel” to a gunfight. I don’t question the lethality of martial arts … in a martial arts fight. But only a kung fool would charge at a man with a machine gun. Of course, all 50 do, just like in a Bruce Lee movie! And about 46 are cut down instantly. Then I’m sad to say that Peckinpah sort of spoils it by having the last two martial arts adepts fight it out with Japanese samurai swords. At least Caan and Young stand to the side and watch, and Caan really wants to shoot one of them. His trigger-finger is positively itching to do it.

The Suisun Bay National Defense Reserve Fleet was truly a spectacular setting for a movie. Rows and rows and rows of Liberty ships, destroyers, and even a battlewagon or two used to reside there, quietly rusting away. I used to see them all the time, driving over the I-680 bridge on the way to Sacramento. It was kinda sad, seeing all those derelict Libertys, which were so important in winning WWII. But what are you gonna do with them? They just weren’t economical as freighters, and there was some rather shoddy workmanship here and there, as the shipyards cranked them out in their hundreds. Rosie the Riveter and her sisters made 2710 of them! Some were made right here in Portland and Vancouver.

Suisun Bay is empty now. The USS Iowa, the last battleship, moved to San Pedro in 2012. And the very last Liberty ship in the bay was broken up for scrap just a few months ago, June 2017. There are only three of them left, all serving as museums elsewhere.