Yeah! You read that right, Remo the Destroyer. He is a far cry from Conan, as you can imagine. Not as big, or as muscular. Not in the business of slaying serpent kings. Remo is a bit more blue collar and relatable. And just as ridiculous.
But who is this Remo, and where does he come from? What is his purpose? What does he do? Well for all those questions and more you have to go on an obscure journey. And for that they called in the expert for the obscure, me, Lance the Obscure Movie Guy.
Truth be told, my expertise doesn’t even compare to the Mustache or the Beard’s, but I’m always happy to lend a helping hand. Alas, let us start out, on Remo’s journey.
Remo, as it would be, is not a destroyer, but he is Remo Williams. Remo started life as a pulp paperback character in a series simply titled The Destroyer, written by Warren
Murphy and Richard Sapir. The first novel was published in 1971 and since then there have been over 150 novels published in The Destroyer series.
In 1985, the main characters from the novels were brought to life in the film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. The film was executive produced by Dick Clark, distributed by Orion Pictures, and was nominated for an Academy Award for best makeup. Orion had hired veterans from the James Bond series.
You start with the director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger, and Live and Let Die) and screenwriter Christopher Wood (Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me), add Craig Safan (Cheers) to do the musical score, the theme song “What If” was done by Tommy Shaw from Styx. It had all the ingredients to be an epic, and successful film.
Yet it somehow missed the mark to become a financial success. The fingers pointed to the on-screen cast. The film starred Fred Ward, who most of us know as Earl Bassett from Tremors and Tremors 2, Joel Grey who specialized in voice over work and narration, and Wilfred Brimley from the Thing and Cocoon.
Ed Harris was in the running to portray the titular character, but ultimately lost out to Ward because Orion Pictures wanted a “Red, White, and Blue Collar” spy and felt Ward fit the bill better than Harris. But Ward, not now, nor then, was or is a household name. The biggest movie Ward had been in up to that point was Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood.
Joel Grey was hired as Master Chiun, an old Korean Martial Arts Master tasked with training Remo. This was a highly controversial hire as Grey had no Martial Arts experience nor is he oriental. It’s the second-best example of Hollywood whitewashing since Mickey Rooney played Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Again, Grey was not, nor still is a household name as his biggest claim to fame was being the Master of Ceremonies in the musical and later the film adaptation of Cabaret.
Wilford Brimley was cast as CURE Director Harold W. Smith. Now it should be noted
that even though Brimley was the only star power the movie had, the other actors including Ward and Grey were not any less talented. Cast aside, fingers could also be pointed at a ridiculous screenplay, subpar special effects, and cheesy props.
As it goes Remo Williams starts life as a hardened Brooklyn cop by the name of Sam
Makin. Makin was a Vietnam War Marine Veteran who was unwillingly recruited into a secret US Organization called CURE that was started by President Kennedy many years before. Makins death is faked, and he undergoes surgery to get a new face.
Along with a new face he is given a new name, Remo Williams, after the name and location of the manufacturer for the bedpan that he was using in the hospital. He is then trained by Master Chiun in the fictional martial arts style of Sinanju, which seems to give Remo superhuman abilities, such as super strength and the ability to run on water.
Remo is then sent by CURE to investigate a corrupt weapons procurement program within the US Army. The film was supposed to be one of many. Ward was originally signed on to do 3 films, and despite his best efforts on and off screen, the movie did so poorly it never got an official sequel.
The film is entertaining enough to watch at least once. From a fan standpoint, it’s one of those movies that’s so bad it’s good. From a critic’s standpoint, it’s pretty awful. The movie struggles to find its footing as it goes between funny and lampooning other spy stories, to trying to be a serious spy film like the Bond series. But it doesn’t do either and comes off campy, at best.
Hopes for a sequel were dashed after the movie ranked #4 and only made $3.4 million in its opening weekend and garnered only $14.4 million in its entire run. Screenwriter Christopher Wood stated that he thought Ward was a good actor but not leading man material and would have gone with Harris instead. It was also noted that he had written a climatic action finale for the film that was cut due to budgetary issues.
There was an unofficial sequel made in 2017 titled Remo Williams: The Adventure Continues. It’s a completely new cast and has no tie ins with the original film. And to date there are over 153 graphic novels in The Destroyer series with the
most recent one being published in 2019.
So, there you have it…. America’s unsung Red, White, and Blue Collared Spy…. The name is Williams…. Remo Williams.