“A man with faith — that’s a rare quality.”

Last night I re-watched John Carpenter‘s Assault on Precinct 13 (’76). I do so every couple of years. I first caught it at the Museum of Modern Art in ’78 or ’79. I’ve seen it at least eight or nine times since, and I don’t even want to think about the 2005 Ethan Hawke-Larry Fishburne remake.

There are two reasons why I keep coming back to this hardboiled, Howard Hawksian, Rio Bravo-ish seige film, which is basically about nihilistic gang members looking to murder a small band of defenders inside an all-but-abandoned police precinct in the fictional rathole town of “Anderson”, a stand-in for any one of those parched and blighted burghs in South Central Los Angeles that most of have never visited and will almost certainly avoid visiting for the rest of our lives.

Reason #1 is that Carpenter’s film is a much leaner, tighter and more finely crafted film than Rio Bravo (’59) or the other two Hawks films that use the same sheriff-defending-the-jailhouse plot, El Dorado (’66) and Rio Lobo (’70).

Assault is really a masterpiece — taut, tense, boiled down, brilliantly shot and edited, and occasionally quite funny.

Reason #2 is Darwin Joston‘s dead-perfect performance as the terse, hard-bitten and rather romantic Napoleon Wilson, an allegedly dangerous killer on his way to prison who ironically turns out to be a first-rate hombre when the chips are down.

It’s not a rumor: Wilson is one of the greatest tough-guy characters ever created for the screen — calm, steady, sardonic, an embittered philosopher, a tender fellow with a lady (Laurie Zimmer‘s “Leigh”), a soul man with a sense of acrid black humor, and a guy you can totally trust with a shotgun…100% dependable when the heat is on and the odds are damn near insurmountable.

“Got a smoke?”

Posted on 3.27.19:

I’m dead serious here — Napoleon Wilson (Carpenter wrote the character with Joston in mind) is one of the greatest and most iconic action-film heroes ever written or performed, right up there with Al Pacino‘s Vincent Hanna in Heat, Robert Redford‘s Sundance kid, Robert Mitchum‘s Jeff Markham in Out of the Past, Humphrey Bogart‘s classic trio (Sam Spade, Richard Blaine, Fred C. Dobbs), Walter Matthau‘s Charley Varrick and anyone else you’d care to name.

And poor Joston, who passed in 1998 at the age of 61, never landed another role even half as good. Tragic.

A sampling of Napoleon Wilson’s classic lines:

“I believe in one man.”

“Chains is all I’ve got to look forward to.”

“Can’t argue with a confident man.”

“In my situation, days are like women — each one’s so damn precious, but they all end up leaving you.”

“It’s an old story with me. I was born out of time.”

And this exchange…

Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker): “You’re pretty fancy, Wilson.”

Wilson : “I have moments.”

And this…

Leigh to Wilson: “I’ve never had much faith in anyone coming to my rescue.”

Wilson: “Maybe you’ve been associating with the wrong kind of people.

Leigh: “I’ve worked with police officers for five years.

Wilson: “That’ll grow hair on a rock.” (beat) Still have the gun?”

Leigh: “Two shots left. Should I save them for the two of us?

Wilson: ‘Save’em for the first two assholes who come through that vent.”

Leigh: “I’m curious about one thing.”

Wilson: “Just one?”

Leigh: “No, there are others. But right now this interests me the most.

Wilson: “What’s that?

Leigh: “Why didn’t you climb through that vent and take off down the sewer in the other direction?

Wilson: “There are two things a man should never run from, even if they cost him his life. One is a man who’s helpless and can’t run with you.”

Leigh: “What’s the other?”

[Napoleon answers with his eyes]

And finally,,,

Lt. Bishop: “It would be a privilege if you’d walk outside with me.”

Wilson: [deadpan] “I know it would.”