Director: Tom Gries
Screenplay: Howard B. Kreitsek, Marc Norman, Elliot Baker
Starring: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Robert Duvall, Sheree North, Randy Quaid, Emilio Fernández & John Huston
BBFC Classification: 15
Released the following year after Death Wish broke big and made Bronson a megastar, Breakout is perhaps a lesser known (and loved) vehicle of his but is nonetheless a fun and often gritty prison break drama that’s worthy of reappraisal. Jay Wagoner (Duvall) is sent down by his mob boss grandfather (Huston) when he refuses to play by his patriarch’s shifty rules. Sent to a dark and dank Mexican prison, Wagoner has little chance of escape or release. He does attempt his own escape but is thwarted by the corrupt guards. His ever loving wife Ann (Ireland), seeing how desperate her husband’s situation has become, turns to bush pilot Colton (Bronson) to help rescue her husband. After several failed attempts to get Jay out, Colton hatches a plan to rescue him once and for all: by literally flying a helicopter into the prison!
Breakout is old school tough and shows Bronson as his charismatic best. Lighter on action than many of his other pictures, though still featuring several impressive done-for-real stunts, Breakout benefits from all on location work and a great cast. Despite being set on the Texas-Mexico border the film shot primarily in California, Spain and surprisingly, France. Not that you can tell. The imposing prison featured was actually located in France and proves a formidable setting that takes its toll on Duvall’s character. The cast are all on energetic form: Jill Ireland is particularly good as the increasingly stressed Ann, there’s a fun early performance from Randy Quaid (remember when he used to act and was actually good!) and some fine scenery chewing from John Huston (complete with cigar chomping and copious scotch drinking!). Yet, it’s Bronson who steals the show. While still tough and gruff he’s a lot more playful here than in many of his flicks, seemingly having a good time and proving adept at selling several running gags and joining in the banter. Hell, he even laughs.
The film flip-flops between gritty and knockabout but director Tom Gries (who also made the equally good Bronson flick, Breakheart Pass), finds the right balance for the most part. The sun soaked, sweaty setting gives proceedings a light Western vibe and while Breakout will no doubt be seen as inferior (by the more serious critic out there) to prison set classics such as Papillion and Escape from Alcatraz, it has a style all of its own and come the final breakout, is exciting stuff. Some aspects and “humour” may not have dated very well but Breakout still holds up as an overlooked 70s slice of tough, tense, sweaty entertainment.
Breakout is out now in the UK on Blu Ray from Indicator and comes with a surfeit of impressive extras including Audio commentary with film historian Paul Talbot, Theatrical trailer, TV spots, Radio spot, Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography, an impressive limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Paul Talbot, an overview of contemporary critical responses, historic articles, and film credits and, best of all, Filming Breakout (1974): an on-location report made for French television, featuring interviews with Charles Bronson and Emilio Fernández.