Where Manhattan Is A Jail: Step Into A City Of Fantasy (The Courier/Jul 17/1981/US) By Bob Thomas


HOLLYWOOD - Twenty years ago, 10-year-old Kurt Russell made his movie debut by kicking Elvis Presley's shins in It Happened at the World's Fair.

Last year Russell starred in the three-hour television biography, Elvis, and acquired a whole new career. Also a wife, Season Hubley, who appeared in the film as Pricilla Presley.

The transformed Kurt Russell can be viewed this summer in the Avco Embassy release, Escape from New York, John Carpenter's latest and darkest venture into the realm of fantasy. Russell plays the master criminal, Snake Plissken, something different from the actor's portrayals during his 10 years at the Disney studio.

The
$7 million Escape from New York takes place in 1997, when Manhattan island is a walled prison from the 3 million criminals who have lost the Civil War against the U.S. Police Force. Air Force One crashes on the island, and the President (Donald Pleasence) is captured, along with papers vital to the peace of the world. Snake Plissken to the rescue.

"It's not a message picture," explains Kurt Russell. "It's pure escapism, an exercise in 'what if?'"

What if movie audiences don't go along with the exercise? Russell isn't worried. He has faith in John Carpenter, who directed the low-budget, high-grossing Halloween and The Fog, as well as Russell's turning point Elvis.

The actor won the role when his career was in doldrums. After leaving Disney in 1974, he had appeared in some television movies and two series, The New Land and Quest, both prestigious, both short-lived.

"I was typed as the clean-cut nice guy," he recalled, "even though I had played that kind of role only three times at Disney. Those three pictures happened to earn
$75 million. Nobody remembered the seven pictures in which I played the bad guy on the block or a kid with problems. I decided to stop doing movies-of-the-week and hold out for feature films. It was demeaning, going around to auditions for pictures, most of them grade-B disco crap. But I was determined to turn my career around."

Russell was one of four finalists for the Presley role - "I had three weeks to learn the character and to learn how to play the guitar; Fortunately, Elvis played simple chords."

Elvis led to another well-received TV movie, Amber Waves, and the theatrical feature Used Cars.
Then he rejoined Carpenter for Escape from New York. The Snake Plissken role was extremely physical, and Russell trained for it.

"John wanted me to do as many of the stunts as possible, and I felt that the character had to be big physically," said Russell. "So I enrolled at Vince's Gym and lifted weights for four months. There is nothing more boring than lifting weights, but I stayed with it because I had a goal. I kept it up during the filming because I panicked by the fear that at the end of the picture I wouldn't match how I looked at the beginning. The last day of shooting was the last day of lifting weights. The weights paid off. I've always had to take 20-minute catnaps to revive my energy while making films. This time I never got tired."

Escape from New York filmed one day at the Stature of Liberty; the rest of the film was shot in St. Louis and Los Angeles, those cities doubling for the ruined New York.

"It was a tough picture to make because of all the locations and the physical stuff," said Russell. "But it was also the most enjoyable picture I've done, because it was a family affair. My wife plays a role, and John's wife, Adrienne Barbeau, is the female lead. My brother-in-law, Larry Franco, was co-producer with Debra Hill, who has worked on all of John's films, as have most of the crew."