A curious Israelisation of Elmore Leonards 52 Pick-Up made only two years before the same producers made a more faithful and compelling adaptation with John Frankenheimer, The Ambassador is the kind of okay but resolutely undemanding political thriller that was starting to look more at home on the small screen than the big by 1984. Even the star cast - Robert Mitchum, Rock Hudson, Ellen Burstyn, Donald Pleasance, Fabio Testi - had started grazing on TV by then and was about a decade too late to draw much of a paying crowd at the movie theaters. After a disappointing US release, the Cannon group didn't even bother to release it in most of the foreign cinemas they owned despite planning it as a big prestige picture.
Leonard's original plot was solid enough not to need any additional spins: a businessman is blackmailed over his affair, but rather than pay up he comes clean with his wife. None too pleased, the blackmailers murder his mistress and set him up for the crime, forcing him to set them against each other (shades of Leonard's 50s Western The Tall T) before they can drop him in it. In this version the hero is now the US Ambassador to Israel, it's his wife who's having the affair and the stakes are raised by the blackmail scheme coinciding with his attempts to get the Israelis and the PLO around the negotiating table. Yet turning a private scandal into a possible international incident actually lowers the tension - even though he tries to handle it quietly himself, Mitchum's character simply has too much power, too much access to money and too many resources to call on, which makes him less self-reliant and devious than Roy Scheider in 52 Pick-Up. It doesn't help that most of the heavy lifting is done by Hudson, surprisingly not looking too unhealthy in his final film, or that the villains are a poorly defined bunch who are never manipulated, merely caught.
While J. Lee Thompson's film is not as appropriately seedy as Frankenheimer's later version, the old lech does manage to persuade Burstyn to let her puppies out of their kennel as the ambassador's wife with a taste for getting drunk at receptions and sleeping with Arab antique dealers-cum-PLO leaders, and there are enough explosions, helicopter shootouts and unconvincingly bloody massacres for the Go-Go boys to get a good exploitation movie trailer out of it despite its high political ideals ("He's through negotiating!"). But the cast are surprisingly good and generally avoid coasting even if they're not on top form, it's solidly made and, like co-producer Menachem Golan's earlier Operation Thunderbolt, more even-handed with the Arab characters than you'd expect even if the politics never stray beyond simplistic well-meaning "give peace a chance" platitudes. Unexceptional but watchable.
The German DVD and region-free Blu-ray offers a cleaned up widescreen transfer with US trailer and stills gallery as extras.