In the Chuck Norris canon, the Missing in Action films, Lone Wolf McQuade, and, on a good day, Invasion U.S.A. are the only titles people seem to remember. Having battled Bruce Lee in the Roman Colosseum and having made being a Texas Ranger the coolest job in law enforcement, many of Norris’ other action triumphs have been seemingly forgotten by film fans, and one such forgotten gem is The Delta Force, currently out on Blu-ray courtesy of MGM.
Boasting possibly the largest cast in action cinema history (along for the ride with Norris are Martin Balsam, Robert Forster, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy, Susan Strasberg, Shelley Winters, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn, and, last but not least, in his final film role, the legendary Lee Marvin), The Delta Force does not squander its talents. Nor, most surprisingly and endearingly of all, does it devolve into tired (and, more often than not, racist) cliches in the depiction of the Middle Eastern (what else?) terrorist hijackers. Piecing together numerous threads from the then-contemporary political scene, producer/writer/director Menahem Golan, in collaboration with frequent Norris screenwriter, James Bruner, constructed a politically sensitive and nuanced story that succeeds in maintaining a balance between sympathizing with the efforts of the terrorists and rooting for the red, white, and blue good guys to vanquish them.
Forster plays the lead terrorist who, along with his pro-Khomeini brethren, hijacks a plane (a “ripped from the headlines” bid by Golan and Bruner, clearly basing their story on the real-life 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847), making it necessary for General Woodbridge (Robert Vaughn) at the Pentagon to call Colonel Nick Alexander (Lee Marvin) and order him to get his Delta Force boys in gear for some action. Colonel Alexander half expects the disillusioned Major Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris), who had called it quits after a blundered mission shown in the prologue, to no-show. Unable to turn his back on his country and his duty, however, Major McCoy shows up just in time to join his team in their effort to bring the passengers back to safety.
The action in this film is stellar and watching Norris beat Forster to a pulp before blowing him up with his rocket-equipped motorcycle is an indescribable delight, but what really sets The Delta Force apart as an action film is its attention to character. The fear of the passengers and the crew and the persecution felt by the Jewish passengers, including Ben and Edie Kaplan (Martin Balsam and Shelley Winters), who had survived the Holocaust, juxtaposed with the humanity of Forster’s second-in-command, Mustafa (David Menachem), make it an ethically dubious (and thus beguiling and enthralling) gem of an actioner.
Indiscriminately lumped in with its antecedents (the Airport series and Skyjacked) and its descendents (Passenger 57, Executive Decision, Air Force One), The Delta Force has gone forgotten for far too long. Hopefully, with its new Blu-ray treatment, fans will be able, either for the first time in a long time or for the first time ever, to see for themselves the exciting action and the provocative storytelling that makes The Delta Force one of the most memorable entries in the Chuck Norris canon.