Thirty-five years ago this weekend, Clint Eastwood’s cold-war thriller FIREFOX flew into theaters. Lured by a super-cool poster and the marquee magnetism of a brand-new Clint Eastwood flick, I remember attempting to buy theater tickets not once, not twice, but three separate times before I could get in. It was that popular on opening weekend. There’s nothing like that feeling of being excited to see a movie, waiting in a long line, knowing that the theater will be a packed house, getting a tad nervous that you might not make the cut — and then having a SOLD OUT sign dropped right in front of you at the box-office window after getting all your hopes up.
I eventually got to sit in that darkened theater at Movieland in Yonkers, New York and was utterly transported by Clint’s nail-biting thriller. Clint directed himself as the Russian-speaking, all-American Air Force Major and Vietnam POW Mitchell Gant, who slips behind enemy lines in a suicide mission to steal a state-of-the-art, advanced Russian fighter plane nicknamed Firefox. Invisible to radar and designed to carry a nuclear arsenal, the MiG is capable of flying at speeds up to Mach 6 and contains a highly advanced thought-controlled weapons system.
Based on the 1977 novel by Craig Thomas, FIREFOX was especially convincing because much of it takes place in Russia and could not be filmed there due to Cold War circumstances. Remember, back then the Russkies were our enemies (they subsequently became uneasy allies, and now, political agitators). Clint used locations in and around Vienna, Austria to double for the communist country, and I couldn’t get over how they “got away” with shooting there. I was duped by Hollywood magic, which made the lead-up to the theft of the plane at the end that much more exciting.
Oscar-winning STAR WARS visual effects master John Dykstra took on the chores of making the Firefox MiG-31 look convincing in the air against cloudy and clear blue skies, snow-capped mountains and canyons, and during those G-force-defying dogfights. He pioneered a complex process called reverse blue-screen photography that incorporated the use of ultraviolet light. His team also built nine Firefox models — four large-scale (a pair of which could fly), four small-scale, and one actual size that could taxi at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. My thoughts at the time were that some of the footage looked very real, while other footage didn’t quite pull off that realistic effect. Either way, I was enthralled. Clint made it work, although many critics were much less kind to the Spy-Sci-Fi thriller.
On the film’s 30th anniversary, I was working at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and did one of my infamous vault assaults to see what I could find in the show’s video archives. In searching for good set-visit, junket, or premiere footage of Clint from back in 1982, I came up empty. However, I did stumble upon something that may be even more unique: Clint trying his hand at the FIREFOX video arcade game by Atari.
Much like TRON had a companion game, FIREFOX also had a game that put you in the cockpit of the film’s title aircraft to engage another prototype Firefox in aerial combat, just like in the film’s climax.
“We’re pleased that our film turned out to be such a good game,” said Clint with his trademark tone, adding slyly, “Have you rigged this game? I’m playing longer than I’ve ever played before.” Asked if he was too old to be playing video games, Clint replied, “You’re never too old to have a good time.”
Watch the video:
You made it to the end of this story! Good job. For more IT CAME FROM… coolness, try more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musings, Famous Monsters fun, cool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.