Good Guys Wear Black

Director: Ted Post
Screenplay: Bruce Cohn and Mark Medoff (story by Joseph Fraley)
Stars: Chuck Norris (John T. Booker), Anne Archer (Margaret), James Franciscus (Conrad Morgan), Lloyd Haynes (Murray Saunders), Dana Andrews (Edgar Harolds), Jim Backus (Doorman), Lawrence P. Casey (Mike Potter), Anthony Mannino (Gordie Jones), Soon-Tek Oh (Mjr. Mhin Van Thieu), Joe Bennett (Lou Goldberg), Jerry Douglas (Joe Walker)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1978
Country: U.S.
Good Guys Wear Black Blu-ray
Good Guys Wear Black

Good Guys Wear Black was not Chuck Norris’s first starring role—that would be the low-budget trucker drama Breaker! Breaker! (1977)—but it was the one that established him as an above-the-title action star and paved the way for a long career in action movies and television throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Norris had already conquered the world of martial arts, having held the Professional Middleweight Karate champion title from 1968 to 1973 and won Karate’s triple crown for the most tournament wins of the year in 1969, the same year he was named Black Belt magazine’s “Fighter of the Year.” His initial forays as an actor were in Hong Kong martial arts films where he played the heavy, first opposite Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon (1972) and then as a drug kingpin in Yellow Faced Tiger (aka Slaughter in San Francisco, 1974).

Good Guys Wear Black marked a decided shift in Norris’s on-screen persona, and not just because this was the first time he sported his signature facial hair. As the title suggests, this was Norris moving into the realm of the action hero, although the ambivalent nature of the title, with its blurring of “good guys” and the traditional garb of the villain in Westerns, alludes to the film’s darker edge. Moreso than Norris’s subsequent action vehicles, Good Guys Wear Black bears of the weight of the ’70s malaise in which it was made; it is, in fact, more interesting to watch it as one of the last of the ’70s paranoia thrillers exemplified by films like The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), and Three Days of the Condor (1975), rather than a traditional Chuck Norris vehicle.

Norris stars as John T. Booker, a former CIA special forces leader who narrowly survived a set-up by a corrupt Senator, Conrad Morgan (James Franciscus), five years earlier in Vietnam. Four other members of his elite “Black Tiger” squad also survived the debacle, but Booker, who is now teaching political science at a university in Los Angeles when he isn’t speeding around in his Porsche, learns that his fellow survivors are being assassinated one by one. He learns this through an independent journalist named Margaret (Anne Archer), who has been researching the botched “rescue” operation that resulted in most of Booker’s team being killed. Thus, Booker is launched back into action as he tries to track down the killers while also keeping himself alive.

In a way, this is all standard Norris action fare, but there is a distinct difference in how deep the cynicism runs regarding corruption in the government and military. The shadow of Watergate and the fall of Saigon hang heavy over the proceedings, and Booker seems less like a one-man enforcer of upstanding male agency than he does a loner constantly pushed to the margins of a system that is so deeply flawed and vulnerable to manipulation by power-hungry politicians like Morgan that little can be done. The depiction of Booker as an intellectual (he’s a college prof!) and man of some sensitivity marks him as distinct from Norris’s later taciturn action heroes, but that can partly be chalked up to the confused state of Hollywood in the Carter years before the ascension of the hard-body action hero that Norris would help define in the Reagan era and the fact that Norris’s star persona was still in flux. At this point he was still Chuck Norris the karate champion trying to carve out a place on the silver screen, whatever that might be (and it was clear he did not want to continue playing villains).

The film was written by low-budget producer Bruce Cohn (Dogs) and playwright Mark Medoff (who would win a Tony the following year for Children of a Lesser God) from a story by Joseph Fraley, whose only other writing credit is Silent Rage (1982), also starring Norris. Director Ted Post was a long-time television veteran, having helmed dozens and dozens of episodes of anthology dramas and westerns (including 55 episodes of Gunsmoke and 24 episodes of Rawhide) in the 1950s and ’60s. In the early ’70s he began directing feature films, including Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Magnum Force (1973), the second entry in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry series, while still regularly directing television episodes. His proficiency is evident throughout Good Guys Wear Black, which is competent and never showy, with the sole exception of the iconic slow-motion image of Norris jump-kicking a bad guy through a car windshield. And, while that is the image most people remember from the film, if Good Guys Wear Black has a lasting importance, it is in finally bridged the divide between Norris’s successful karate career and his action movie future.

Good Guys Wear Black Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Audio commentary by action film historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
  • Video interview with director Ted Post
  • “The Making of Good Guys Wear Black” making-of featurette
  • Trailer
  • TV Spot
  • Radio spots
  • DistributorKino Lorber
    Release DateAugust 2, 2022

    Kino’s new Blu-rays of Good Guys Wear Black, A Force of One, and The Octagon each sports a brand new 2K transfer that looks very good. I don’t have any details about the sources for the transfers or what kind of restoration work was done, but the results are generally impressive scans with good detail, color, and a bare minimum of age or wear. Being mid-tier films shot in the late 1970s, they all have that slightly soft celluloid look, which is absolutely appropriate for their era and an excellent representation of the films’ largely consistent style and texture. The same goes for the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks on each of the films, which faithfully reproduce the original two-channel mix with clarity and some decent depth.

    As far as supplements go, the only new one on the Good Guys Wear Black disc is a informative, enthusiastic audio commentary by Hong Kong action film expert Mike Leeder and journalist and music video director Arne Venema. Together they provide an impressive wealth of information about both the film and the action genre and all the principals involved in its production. From the archives we get a 20-minute interview with director Ted Post and a 9-minute making-of featurette that relies primarily on clips from that same interview with Post. Also on the disc is a remastered trailer and a TV spot and several radio spots.

    Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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