Release Date(s)1984 (May 26, 2020)
Studio(s)Trans World Entertainment/Les Films JMP (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C+
One of the more outlandish action movies to come out of the 1980s, White Fire (AKA Vivre pour survivre) takes detours that many films like it would otherwise not take in telling, what could have been, a straightforward heist story. However, in the hands of Jean-Marie Pallardy, a French director whose chief output was softcore pornography, it lands as a film with incestuous inclinations, bizarre and hilarious dialogue exchanges, a cheesy but perpetual 80s rock and roll soundtrack, and a plot that constantly shifts tones, aesthetics, and ideas.
After the death of their parents when they’re children, siblings Bo (Robert Ginty) and Ingrid (Belinda Mayne) are taken in and grow up to work at a diamond mining company run by the felonious Olaf (Gordon Mitchell). Hoping to make off with enough diamonds to carry them away to a better life, they soon stumble upon on the “White Fire” diamond, one of the largest gems in the world and deadly hot to the touch. Setting out to steal it, they must also avoid a criminal syndicate headed by the ruthless Sophia (Mirella Banti), as well as the wayward muscle-for-hire Noah (Fred Williamson).
Essentially a co-production between French, Turkish, Italian, and American backers, White Fire is an unintentional mess. None of the film’s elements fit together or make sense logically. Fortunately, it’s the film’s biggest strength. Whether one wishes to refer to it as a guilty pleasure or a movie that’s so bad that it’s good, its absurdity is what makes it all the more entertaining. In the case of Robert Ginty, he had just had a hit with The Exterminator, which meant that the marketing took advantage with having him front and center on the poster, holding a chainsaw with the tagline “Extermination is the reward for the world’s richest prize” emblazoned above. It’s by no means subtle.
The film is principally known for its allusions to incest between Robert Ginty and Belinda Mayne’s characters. Taking a late night swim in her birthday suit, Ingrid (Mayne) stands naked in front of Bo (Ginty) after he rips off her towel and teases her about it. The line “You know, it’s too bad that you’re my sister” makes it all the more gross—nevermind what happens later in the film, which is impossible to discuss without spoiling. Add to that a plot that never fully develops until the final half hour, occasional bouts of fist-fighting and gunfire (punctuated by some surprisingly edgy gore), and dialogue that can be ruthlessly funny (chiefly from the character of Sophia) and you have a winner on your hands. Though it’s Pallardy’s most well-known film, White Fire is beloved by a minor fan base for all of these qualities and more.
Arrow Video brings White Fire to Blu-ray for the first time with a high definition transfer in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. No mention is made of the source, but the elements utilized are in decent shape. Occasional damage is leftover, including scratches, speckling, and a tad bit of fading, but it’s generally pleasant. Grain levels resolve well and detail is adequate. Crush can be observed in darker scenes, though blacks are often deep. The color palette is mostly rich and varied, and skin tones appear natural. Brightness and contrast levels are ideal as well.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 LPCM and French mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. On the English track, the overdubbing is more obvious, but the sound quality concerning ambient activity and sound effects is much fuller. Tiny bits of crackle crop up from time to time, but the track is otherwise clean. The French track is quieter and more even-keeled. Neither offers a major sonic experience, but they represent the film well enough.
The following extras are also included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Kat Ellinger
- Enter the Hammer (11:35)
- Surviving the Fire (22:27)
- Diamond Cutter (20:51)
- 2020 Re-Issue Trailer (2:12)
In the audio commentary with Kat Ellinger (who is an admitted fan of the film), she talks about how the film hasn’t been widely-publicized in English language-speaking territories and that it has a stronger cult following in France. Her commentary is also not entirely screen-specific as she mostly pontificates about the era the film was made in while also analyzing the film and talking about its cast and crew. Enter the Hammer is an excellent interview with Fred Williamson. He talks about himself and his career, particularly about being black in Hollywood and making movies on his own terms, but also how he got involved with the film and working with Pallardy. Surviving the Fire features an interview with Jean-Marie Pallardy (in French with subtitles), who speaks about his erotic film career, the pros and cons of shooting films in different languages, his insistence that there is no intended incest in the final film, shooting on location as opposed to building sets, and attempting to cast Robert Forster in the film instead of Robert Ginty. Diamond Cutter interviews Bruno Zincone about his career as an editor, his belief that editing isn’t what it used to be, his experiences working with Pallardy, and how the film was shot and edited. Also included is a 22-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, the essay White Fire and the Exquisite Pleasure of the 1980s Video Boom – And How the Writer of a Cult Exploitation Flick Sent a Lord to Jail… by Julian Grainger, and transfer information.
To be fair, White Fire is kind of film that’s more enjoyable in a group setting, but Arrow Video’s presentation of it is the most ideal way to see it outside of a movie theater. Unavailable on disc for decades, it’s finally here in all of its fascinatingly sleazy and hilarious glory.
– Tim Salmons