You can run, you can hide, but you can’t Escape From New York
Escape from New York is John Carpenter’s cult action B-movie starring one snarling A-hole of an American anti-hero (“I don’t give a fuck about your war or your president”; “It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken, something you don’t give a shit about”). It’s really a running-clock locked-room puzzle crossed with a one-man siege and rescue.
In the prison compound of NYC, post World War Three, eyepatched war hero and badass prisoner Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is injected with two mini-bomb capsules set to explode his arteries if he doesn’t rescue the President—held hostage by a crime-boss—within 22 hours (tracked for us by a “Master Life Clock”). At least, amid all this slick-looking silliness and gruff nonsense, there’s a cheery, cab-driving, Molotov cocktail-chucking Ernest Borgnine … and Harry Dean Stanton.
Metro Cinema’s screening the 1981 film in tribute to Stanton (1926-2017), an actor whose lined, sunken, craggy face in the last few decades seemed to suggest dozens more untold stories. He was a tramp in Cool Hand Luke (1967), a hitchhiker in Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), an estranged brother in David Lynch’s A Straight Story (1999). But, he had meatier roles in some other Lynch works, too, and played Brett in Alien (1979), Travis Henderson in Wim Wenders’ Paris Texas (1984), and the chillingly nefarious prophet-leader Roman Grant in HBO’s Big Love (2006-09). In Escape From New York, he’s Harold “Brain” Hellman, a man we first meet—and Plissken re-meets—in a branch of the New York Public Library.
An oil pumpjack bobs among the stacks as a trenchcoated, black neckerchief-wearing man, a little bit sallow, gaunt, eyes sunken in, rises from a plush chair. Plissken sneeringly threatens Harold—who abandoned him some years ago on a job—and demands he take him to that crime-boss, The Duke.
Looking cool yet concerned, pressured by his “squeeze,” Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau), “Brain” has little choice. “Alright, alright!” he declares in that distinctively sharp, jagged cry Stanton could give. But, just before they leave the strange comfort of his lair, he coldly warns the man training the gun on him, wagging his finger, “Just one thing, right now. Don’t call me Harold.” Well, now, there’s no chance of that.