Crate Two contains a mammoth collection of apartheid-era South African action films, some of which (Boer Commando II and Die Lord Roberts, Die!) are quite rare. A few (the sprawling Xhosa Wars Saga, Maritz: the Last Boer) are comparatively well-known. All of them are casually and blatantly racist in a manner that can cause the average American viewer (and this cataloger) to blanch repeatedly. The Pretoria Option is no exception, and by the twenty minute mark, I gave up trying to list all of the objectionable views on display. Suffice it to say that there are enough to constitute a non-stop assault on the senses.

During apartheid, even well before the 1985 sanctions,  a lot of things were simply unobtainable in South Africa. American (and to a lesser extent European) action films, for instance, frequently depicted blacks as equals, which for obvious reasons wasn’t going to fly. A number of local z-grade producers leaped to fill the void, including Pieter Copperhorn. The son of British immigrants to South Africa, Copperhorn, like many converts to many ideologies over the years, became a fanatical Boer nationalist (he would commit suicide in 1992), but one with a certain talent for gaining financial backing for his films. Government connections also meant that he was often able to obtain the services of South African Army and Navy units for crowd or action scenes, which went a long way, given the meager budgets he operated with (Bigotry, Violence and Implied Sex: The Triple Features of Apartheid Exploitation Cinema claims Copperhorn never had a budget higher than R500,000).  He also tended to write, direct, and star in his own films. In 1977, this wasn’t a serious imposition, as the thirty-six-year-old Copperhorn was still ruggedly handsome, but age and success took a toll on him. By 1988’s Haul Down the Union Jack, he was overweight, balding, and perspired heavily in all of his scenes.

The film opens with a title card informing us that we are looking at a secret American military base, “THE HOME OF US STRATEGIC NUCLEAR COMMAND”. It appears to be a collection of World War II-era Quonset Huts. An admittedly impressive explosion then obliterates the huts.

A new title card informs us we are looking at the “US WHITE HOUSE WAR ROOM”. It looks pretty much like any other conference room you’ve ever seen, but there’s a big map of the world like you might see in an elementary school on the wall, and what appears to be a transparency of the org chart for an armored division hanging next to it.  The President of the United States (Gerald Pienaar, in a surprisingly funny turn) , a thinly veiled caricature of Gerald Ford, is receiving a report that all of the NATO countries (and France) have had their nuclear arsenals destroyed, and that Russia is now announcing a plan for German reunification. It is implied that this will be a Communist Germany.

Obviously, the USA can’t let this stand, and the President demands to know where a stopgap nuclear deterrent can be found. Where indeed?

We cut to Pretoria, as another title card helpfully informs us. Actually, we cut to the war memorial Fort Klapperkop, a disused Boer War-era fortress, where Jan Baaker (Copperhorn), an agent of BOSS (the South African’s Orwellian-sounding Bureau Of State Security, subsequently disbanded in 1980 and replaced with the National Intelligence Service) is receiving a briefing from his superior, “G” (Piers Uys) on the protection of South Africa’s atomic defenses. Now that the Russians (presumably) have destroyed NATO and France’s atom bombs, South Africa is the world’s last bulwark against Communism and anarchy. As if to emphasize the danger, a sniper narrowly misses Baaker and G, who in turn kill him with a fusillade of stunningly well-aimed pistol shots.

Meanwhile, at the “USSR ATOMIC WARHEAD STORAGE”, a team of Americans (including one black man played by a white in blackface) have carried out a countersabotage of the USSR’s missiles. However, the black American is revealed as a GRU mole, and they are ambushed by the Russians, who kill them all. Before he dies, however, the commander of the Americans manages to trigger their demolition charges. Now both sides are on an equal footing.

“BACK IN PRETORIA” (Copperhorn must have gotten a bulk discount on these captions), Baaker is riding shotgun to a convoy with one of South Africa’s nuclear weapons (played by what appears to be an old British Bloodhound SAM) when a group of Communist-affiliated (read: black) guerrillas attack in overwhelming numbers. The convoy, incidentally, is played by two land rovers plus the missile truck. The overwhelming numbers are probably ten or fifteen distinct attackers shot from different angles. They are beaten off, but in the confusion, an American spy (Carson Roberts) steals the missile truck.

What follows is a low speed chase; Copperhorn doesn’t even bother to speed up the film. That’s just as well, because it would have looked ridiculous, with the missile swinging about on its trailer and a hilariously unconcerned herd of cattle looking on at one point.

Baaker eventually manages to catch up to the missile, where he finds the American getting ready to hotwire the missile and launch it at Moscow.  A tense stand-off follows, but then the South African shoots his nemesis dead in what is apparently supposed to be a demonstration of Dirty Harry-esque elan.  (Copperhorn was a huge fan of the Dirty Harry films, and reportedly tried to obtain rights to remake them in South Africa. The refusal led to his later film, Filthy Pieter [1982].)

Following this is the denouement, in which South Africa, now the world’s sole nuclear power, announces that it will be acting as a world police force, “to stop conflicts before they start”. Apparently the two-power system threw the world out of balance, and now everyone will be safer in a one-power world.

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