aka The Barony
Director/Screenplay – Robert Clouse, Producers – Paul Heller & Fred Weintraub, Photography – Gerald Hirschfeld, Music – Gil Melle, Photographic Effects – Van der Veer Photo Effects, Special Effects – Gene Griggs, Makeup – Marvin Westmore, Art Direction – Walter Simonds. Production Company – Serette Ltd/Spellman
Yul Brynner (Carson), Max Von Sydow (The Baron), Joanna Miles (Melinda), William Smith (Carrot), Darrell Zwerling (Silas), Richard Kelton (Cal), Stephen McHattie (Robert), Lane Bradbury (Barrie)
In New York City of 2012, following a worldwide plague, society has disintegrated into tiny fragmented communities living within areas of the city behind walls kept barricaded against marauders. A bald-headed fighter Carson offers himself to the highest bidder and is hired as defender of the peaceful commune run by The Baron. As the commune is about to fall to the street gangs, The Baron entrusts Carson with carrying his pregnant daughter and a single packet of seeds that is resistant to the plague to safety beyond the city.
Long before Mad Max 2 (1981) turned the post-holocaust into not just an action milieu but an entire sub-genre, it was all done first here with this film. The Ultimate Warrior was made by Robert Clouse who had just directed the phenomenally successful Bruce Lee hit Enter the Dragon (1973). Clouse sets in place much of the template that would be taken up by numerous low-budget kickboxing post-holocaust cyborg film in the late 1980s and 1990s. The character of the bald, bullet-headed, single-named and initially monosyllabic Carson is an appealing hero, strung nicely between being a mythical loner anti-hero and given a warm and wryly human performance by Yul Brynner. Brynner died five years after The Ultimate Warrior was made but one could easily have seen him go on to become a B-movie action star – he would have made a far more animated hero than Jean-Claude Van Damme or a dozen Charles Bronsons.
Oddly though, Robert Clouse wimps out on the action side of things. The fights seem rather flat and cursory – there is nothing that comes with the zip and energy of Enter the Dragon. Things never get into high-gear up until the end with a couple of memorable scenes – one where Yul Brynner has to interrupt a fight to deliver Joanna Miles’s baby with his bare hands; and the climactic face-off with William Smith (lead heavy from a number of biker movies) hanging over the edge of a pit where Brynner has to sever his own wrist with an axe – surely the ultimate self-castration symbol for an action hero – to free himself from a steel bolas.
Despirte disappointing on the action front, The Ultimate Warrior is not entirely a loss. Robert Clouse writes the post-holocaust milieu with considerably more credibility than all the Mad Max 2 imitators ever did. The film strikes one from the opening image that pulls back from pigeons peacefully nesting in what appear to be the rafters of a barn, only to have the idyll interrupted by hands snatching and shoving them in bags and, as the camera pulls further back, showing that what appears to be a barn is actually an abandoned office and that the trappers are running about on the tops of filing cabinets – it is a wonderful moment of inversion of the familiar that is what good science-fiction is all about. The social milieu within the enclaves is well sketched – Robert Clouse laces the script with a dark pessimism wherein all human hope is heartbreakingly reduced to a single packet of seeds and a desperate fight for survival over powdered milk or stolen tomatoes.
Robert Clouse was mostly known for his Blaxploitation and kung fu films during the 1970s. His other genre films are the killer dog film The Pack (1977) and Deadly Eyes (1982), an adaptation of James Herbert’s novel The Rats (1975).