(US - 1982)
Written and directed by James Glickenhaus. Cast: Ken Wahl, Alberta Watson, Klaus Kinski, William Prince, Jeremiah Sullivan, Joaquim de Almeida, Peter Hooten, Steve James, Alexander Spencer, Jeffrey Jones, Zeljko Ivanek, Ron Harper, Ned Eisenberg, David Lipman, Tom Wright, George Strait. (R, 88 mins)
Ken Wahl was poised to be a Next Big Thing on more than one occasion, but fate and some really bad luck repeatedly intervened to prevent it from happening. Born in either 1954, 1956, or 1957 depending on the source, Wahl debuted to much acclaim in Philip Kaufman's THE WANDERERS (1979) and was soon co-starring with Paul Newman in the gritty time capsule FORT APACHE, THE BRONX (1981). The 1981 adventure RACE FOR THE YANKEE ZEPHYR was an Australian/New Zealand co-production that only made it into a handful of US theaters in 1984 under the title TREASURE OF THE YANKEE ZEPHYR. 1982 saw Wahl clashing with Bette Midler on the set of the troubled box-office bomb JINXED, a doomed project that almost ruined the careers of everyone involved and ended up being the great Don Siegel's final film as a director. The same year, he starred in the international espionage thriller THE SOLDIER, writer/director James Glickenhaus' follow-up to his 1980 surprise hit THE EXTERMINATOR. THE SOLDIER didn't do much business in theaters, but like TREASURE OF THE YANKEE ZEPHYR, it found a home in its seemingly daily airings on HBO throughout the '80s. It's a convoluted Reagan-era spy/terrorism thriller with KGB agents embedded in the US by Soviet spymaster Ivan (Jeremiah Sullivan) hijacking a plutonium shipment and taking it to an oil field in Saudi Arabia, where they threaten to detonate it and destroy 50% of the world's oil supply unless Israel withdraws from the West Bank. Believing Islamic extremists are behind the plutonium hijacking, the US President (William Prince) is prepared to attack Israel if it means saving the oil, but the CIA chief (Ron Harper) proposes another solution: "The Soldier." A nameless covert ops agent who officially doesn't exist, The Soldier (Wahl) and his team (including Peter Hooten, Joaquim de Almeida, and future Cannon regular Steve James) go to work. The Soldier teams with Mossad agent Susan Goodman (Alberta Watson), and eventually figures out that the Soviets are behind the heist, which becomes obvious after an attempt is made on The Soldier's life by duplicitous KGB agent Dracha, played by legendary cinematic and real-life madman Klaus Kinski, putting in a day's work at an Austrian ski resort.
PURPLE HEARTS with Cheryl Ladd before his career faced its first setback when he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident on his way to meet with Diane Keaton about co-starring in MRS. SOFFEL (Mel Gibson eventually got the part). Wahl was out of commission for a year and upon his recovery, found his movie career was stalled and he shifted to TV, where he eventually landed his career role in 1987, starring as undercover FBI agent Vinnie Terranova, infiltrating the mob on the CBS series WISEGUY.
|THE SOLDIER opening in Toledo, OH on October 1, 1982|
(US - 1991)
Directed by Sidney J. Furie. Written by Rick Natkin, David Fuller and David J. Burke. Cast: Ken Wahl, Matt Frewer, Harley Jane Kozak, Robert Davi, Lee Ving, Branscombe Richmond, Lyman Ward, Michael Bowen, William Prince, George Wyner, Tony Ganios, Ken Swofford, Raymond Singer, Bob Golic. (R, 96 mins)
Ken Wahl found more success with WISEGUY than he ever had on the big screen. He was nominated for an Emmy and won a Golden Globe in 1990, the same year he abruptly left the series at the end of its third season over "creative differences" with the network. They decided to carry on without him, bringing in Steven Bauer (SCARFACE) to play a new character investigating Vinnie Terranova's disappearance, possibly at the hands of South American drug cartels. Nobody was really happy with the retooling, and CBS cancelled WISEGUY nine episodes into its fourth season. Freed from his commitment to the show, Wahl was given another shot at movie stardom with the DIE HARD ripoff THE TAKING OF BEVERLY HILLS, directed by his PURPLE HEARTS helmer Sidney J. Furie (THE IPCRESS FILE, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, IRON EAGLE, SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE), a career journeyman going back to the late 1950s who's still directing today, well into his 80s. A casualty of the bankruptcy of Orion Pictures, THE TAKING OF BEVERLY HILLS only made it to about 500 theaters and grossed just $940,000 when it was eventually released by Columbia in the fall of 1991. It's a spectacularly dumb movie, but it's endlessly enjoyable, and a perfect snapshot of 1990-91, from Wahl's amazing mullet to a burglary montage set to EMF's "Unbelievable" and cop cars crashing and Wahl taking out bad guys with ninja stars to the tune of Faith No More's "Epic."
THE FAVOR, which featured Elizabeth McGovern and a young Brad Pitt. THE FAVOR was also an Orion release that ended up being shelved until 1994, by which point Wahl's career was essentially over.
|Wahl at the height of his WISEGUY fame|
|Wahl in the promising early days of his career, with Paul Newman|
on the set of 1981's FORT APACHE THE BRONX.