You know what’s a really underrated movie?

All of the non-flying bits in the 1982 movie ‘Firefox’.
Don’t get me wrong, the flying bits in this movie are absolutely the bits I fast forwarded to when I was a kid.

But there’s this whole oddly-paced-early-80s-espionage-film happening that tends to get overlooked. It’s not even on the Wikipedia list of Cold War espionage films.
For the uninitiated: The Soviets design a Mach 5 stealth fighter that uses a thought-controlled weapons system. America wants to steal it. So they send Clint Eastwood because he is a Russian speaking ex-USAF fighter pilot with PTSD from the Vietnam War.
The second half of the movie is him stealing the jet and flying to the West, and is the bit that everyone remembers.

The first half is Clint Eastwood sneaking into Moscow, connecting with various spy networks, and wearing a stupid sunglasses and moustache.
It’s such an odd pairing. The first half is all on foot & in vans. The second half is flying at supersonic speeds across the Arctic.

Imagine in the first hour of Top Gun was all Maverick completing his removals to San Diego. No volleyball. No bikes. Just removals.
(Vienna doubles for Moscow in Firefox, and Bratislava in The Living Daylights, which is part of why I love it so much).
The non-flying bits of Firefox also give us some eclectic but wonderful casting. Look! It’s Raiders of the Lost Ark’s own Ronald ‘Toht’ Lacey as a Soviet engineer/dissident!
(We’ve entered some ‘I watch aeroplane movies for the acting/production design territory’, in case you hadn’t caught on)
Every wonder what Kenneth ‘Admiral Piett’ Colley would have been like as a KGB Colonel? You don’t have to wonder anymore! He plays one in Firefox!
You know who else is putting in some good work here? ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘Yes, Prime Minister’s’ very own Nigel Hawthorne.
Honestly, something about every actor in this draws me in. Look at Stefan Schnabel playing “the First Secretary”. He looks like if Jurassic Park combined the DNA of Brezhnev, Chernenko, & Yeltsin, and got them to hatch from an unfertilised emu egg.
In this cast though, there is absolutely room for an MVP. Freddie Jones, playing head of British intelligence Kenneth Aubrey. Jones, a veteran of Hammer horror films, sees Eastwood’s classically understated acting style, decides “fuck that”, and gives every line 3️⃣0️⃣0️⃣%.
Maurice Jarre does the score. The guy who gave us Lawrence of Arabia makes a foray into electronic here, and whilst people who remember the movie will remember the main theme, there’s a lot of other minor tracks that I really like. BTW: this soundtrack has NEVER BEEN RELEASED.
Have I oversold the most boring part of this movie here? Absolutely. But that’s kind of the point. There’s a whole hour of this movie that lives in the shadow of Obi-Wan Hawthorne telling PTSD Eastwood to “Think in Russian” like he’s flying Firefox down the Death Star trench.
Clint Eastwood getting sent to fight the Cold War doesn’t get it’s just dues. Before Rocky faced Ivan Drago in Moscow in ‘85, Clint was slinking around the backstreets in stupid disguises. And he legit asks a Soviet dissident “Don’t you Jews ever get tired of fighting City Hall?”
(Nigel Hawthorne as the dissident essentially tells Clint that the Soviets will execute him as soon as he ceases to be of value to them)
Part of the appeal of the non-flying bits in this movie is the deliberate attempt not to be appealing. Look at Warren Clarke as Upenskoy. He looks like everyone's Dad in 1982. If Hollywood made this movie today, he'd be played by someone classically handsome. A Sean Bean-type.
The best compromise Hollywood has made in this regard is when it cast Tom Hardy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the role of 'guy standing behind you in a BBQ Chicken Takeaway. And he's still accidentally good looking.
The first half of Firefox *knows* you're not going to remember that part of the movie. It's all too aware you're waiting for Eastwood to steal the jet. If they had the budget and means to make this a two-hour dogfight, they probably would have.
Well guess what, 1982’s Firefox. I’m here for your first half. I’m here for your acting. If youre going to give us yet another 10-minute scene of Clint Eastwood awkwardly shifting whilst someone tells him ‘your papers are not in order’, then I’ve got all day.
Which reminds me, Firefox probably invented the 'spy movie with a fight scene in a public toilet'. Long before Mission: Impossible, long before Casino Royale, even long before True Lies, Clint Eastwood absolutely goes to town on this KGB guy.
Disclosure: I've not read the 1977 Craig Thomas novel 'Firefox'. I have read the 1983 Craig Thomas sequel 'Firefox Down'. I have not read the other Craig Thomas novels, including the Kenneth Aubrey series.
One more! Wolf Kahler - Colonel Dietrich in Raiders of the Lost Ark - plays KGB Secretary Andropov. If that name sounds familiar, then it’s because he’s 100% meant to be Yuri Andropov, according to author Craig Thomas’ original novel of Firefox.
(Personally? I can’t see it)
One more. Empire Strikes Back’s own Major Derlin plays one of the submarine crew.
(Yeah, I get it. Every actor has been in something else. Firefox is the product of so many other early 80s icons that it’s worth celebrating. All it’s missing is Julian Glover as a Soviet Air Defence General.)
It’s never too early for your child to learn about Cold War espionage cinema. Well I mean, it’s probably too early. But he seems happy.
Portrait of a man chewing scenery. As much as this movie is a tall drink of water, it still does a weirdly good job of dropping blocks of exposition. Everything they say kind of makes sense for the scene they’re in.
This movie is also pretty shady in a way that I don’t think modern movies would be if they made this today. Uncle Sam wants Clint to go steal the plane from Russia. When Clint doesn’t want to, they tell him they’ll take his house and property.
Hey look, this movie has an F-111
There’s a whole 5min sequence to this movie where Clint goes to (what’s meant to be) Nellis for a refresher that I completely understand why was cut out of the cinematic release, but appreciate being reinserted
Morally questionable plotting #2: Clint’s cover is as a heroin trafficker. The CIA/SIS straight up admits in this movie “we set up a drug mule as our pipeline into Moscow”. Guy could have been smuggling anything but they just shot straight for the top.
Some solid rear projection work going here to sell St Basils!
There’s a whole three and a half minute sequence that’s just Clint walking the dark streets of Moscow whilst the KGB tails him. That’s it. There’s no dialogue or clear lighting, just 210 seconds of mood.
Morally questionable plotting #3: Clint meets his contacts, including the drug mule whose persona he’s using - who absolutely doesn’t twig that he’s about to get whacked. What...what possible reason would he have thought he was there for.
Clint riding the Vienna U-Bahn!
So many of the KGB guys in this movie just look like British guys from the early 80s. I mean it’s probably because they are, but they do a pretty good job of selling the illusion.
“Gant, can you fly this plane? I mean really fly it?” It’s been about 35 minutes since anyone even mentioned that this movie is about stealing a plane
A good 35 minutes of this movie is just meandering around Moscow at night but it feels *so* much longer
Part of me wishes the whole third act was a road movie with Clint and 80s Dad
“Hey Clint, the guy whose identity you have now? He got arrested this morning. So his two kids are probably orphans now. Anyway, let me know if you need a toilet stop.”
90% of the moustaches in this movie pass muster, even by 80s standards. But: what the HELL is that thing in that guy’s top lip.
Ok I’ve just cottoned into why this is a good Cold War espionage movie, and it’s nothing to do with Clint.

It’s the bad guys. This movie treats them like a police procedural. They’re tracing the leads to find Clint and discovering the plot as they go. They deserve more.
This movie kills off characters every couple of minutes to advance Clint getting to the Firefox; and the one time he doesn’t kill the guy he’s supposed to (the real Firefox pilot), the decision haunts him later.
Ronald Lacey lust played an entire scene with crumbs of food on his mouth. These are the bold swings this movie takes.
Kenneth Colley’s realisation, and playing a great Keyser Soze moment here
TFW someone steals the Firefox & ur boss shows up
Ha! Priabin in Firefox plays an Air Force Lieutenant General in The Dark Knight Rises. I guess he saw the light.
Even the helicopters in this movie have been in other movies. This Mi-24 is actually the cockpit of Blue Thunder
Absolutely not.
I absolutely refuse to believe 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for the role of Vietnam War veteran and USAF pilot Mitchell Gant
He doesn’t shoot the airliner down, he merely does a near-miss to establish his escape route.

But I absolutely would be interested in a legal opinion of this film.
After digesting it last night: Firefox’s 1st half has a cruelty about it, in stark contrast to the 2nd half. The deaths are all on screen & ugly - characters are beaten, strangled, and shot. Upenskoy’s suicide may be the only one that occurs offscreen, & by a fraction of a second
Once Upenskoy is dead, the whole mood changes. The score is triumphant. It’s all about the dogfight and escape to freedom. The deaths - with the exception of Voskov - are vehicle explosions.
Were audiences/movie makers fine with the violence because 70s cinema set the expectation, or did they believe that’s how Cold War espionage played out? What’s interesting about the second act’s detached violence is a year later, the Soviets shot down KAL007 with 269 on board
The violence of the first act could arguably reflect their own fears about violence in their own community, with the second half being escapist fantasy. In reality, civilians were just as likely to be victims there too during the Cold War.
Can’t believe this I didn’t make this connection. The Vietnam flashback at the beginning has Clint raining bombs before he’s shot down & confronted with the reality of the violence that he’s the instrument of.
The violence of the first hour is all by hand or gun; the violence in the second half is back to his ‘glory days’ before he was shot down in Vietnam. The same brain that has memories and PTSD is now using memories of Russian to deliver violence remotely.
Ok I think I’ve got my thesis. Firefox is Clint’s rally behind early Reagan era security policy. It’s about overcoming the past & a war we weren’t allowed to win, & instead fighting one that takes place out of the media’s attention.
Clint isn’t called back to action by sense of duty, it’s because of government interference. His allies kill-and-allow-themselves-to-be-killed out of a sense of ‘protecting the freedom of others they’ve never met’.
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