Breakout (1975 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tom Gries
Produced by Robert Chartoff
Irwin Winkler
Written by Eliot Asinof (book)
Elliott Baker
Starring Charles Bronson
Robert Duvall
Jill Ireland
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Lucien Ballard
Edited by Bud S. Isaacs
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • May 22, 1975 (1975-05-22)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $16,000,000[1]

Breakout is a 1975 action film from Columbia Pictures starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Robert Duvall, John Huston, Sheree North and Randy Quaid. Bronson and Ireland, the lead actor and actress, were married in real life. The film is notable for giving the usually serious Bronson a more comedic, lighthearted role.[2]


Harris Wagner (Huston) frames Jay Wagner (Duvall). In order to keep him silent, Jay is incarcerated in a Mexican prison.

Jay's wife Ann (Ireland) is unhappy at this turn of events and hires a Texas bush pilot in Brownsville, Texas, Nick Colton (Bronson) and his partner Hawk (Quaid), to fly into the prison and rescue her husband.

The first attempts don't work, so Colton quickly learns how to pilot a helicopter.[3]

While Hawk and accomplice Myrna (North) feign a rape to distract the prison guards, Colton pilots a helicopter into the prison complex, Wagner boards the helicopter, and they escape. The group (Colton, Hawk, Myrna, Wagner) return to Texas in a four-passenger light aircraft.

Alerted to the escape, Harris Wagner orders his agent Cable (Mantee) to Texas to intercept the group. Cable, driving a Citroën SM with Washington, D.C. license plates, locates Ann Wagner and follows her Chevrolet Impala convertible, knowing she will lead him to Jay Wagner.

Cable uses false identification to lure Jay Wagner away from the group when they land. Cable nearly succeeds in kidnapping Wagner, but Colton becomes suspicious and pursues them. The film ends with a runway incursion as Cable and Colton fight among departing airplanes at Brownsville Airport.[4]


Actual event

The film was loosely based on an actual event that took place in August, 1971.[5] In a plan hatched by San Francisco attorney Vasilios Basil "Bill" Choulos (1928–2003), a pilot, Vic Stadler, flew a Bell helicopter with its bottom painted in colors similar to that of the Mexican attorney general's into Mexico City's Santa Maria Acatitla prison and assisted a prisoner in a daring escape.[6] That prisoner, New York businessman Joel David Kaplan, claimed to have been framed for murder and had been serving a 28-year sentence since 1962. A Venezuelan prisoner, Carlos Antonio Contreras Castro, escaped along with Kaplan. Unlike in the film, there was no rape distraction, no shots were fired and there was no pursuit by Mexican law enforcement.[7][8]


The prison scenes were filmed at Fort de Bellegarde, France. Mexico would not participate in portraying this event. Romani people (also known as gypsies) local to Southern France stood in for many of the Mexicans.[9]

The film featured a French Aérospatiale Alouette II turbine helicopter in place of an American Bell Helicopter.


The film earned $7.5 million in North American theatrical rentals, and was distributed internationally.[10]

Part of its box-office success was due to the then-novel strategy of "saturation booking", in which Columbia released 1300 prints simultaneously, combined with a heavy advertising campaign on the opening week. This was one of the first major studio films to use this method of release. Inspired by the success of Breakout, Universal Pictures used the same technique to promote Jaws. After Jaws became the highest-grossing movie of all time, saturation booking became the standard method of releasing major films.[11]

See also


  1. "Breakout, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  2. Bronson Cracks a Smile March 16, 2014 Retrieved July 17, 2015
  3. Archived July 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved July 17, 2015
  4. Breakout Movie Review Retrieved July 17, 2015
  5. March 29, 2013 Retrieved July 17, 2015
  6. Constatine, Alex The CIA, the JM Kaplan Fund & a 1971 Prison Breakout in Mexico March 16, 2010
  7. "Whirlaway". TIME. August 30, 1971. Retrieved May 2, 2009.
  8. Eliot Asinof. The 10-Second Jailbreak: The helicopter escape of Joel David Kaplan (1973 ed.). Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1st edition. p. 268. ISBN 0-03-001011-X.
  9. Actor Robert Duvall became interested in the gypsy culture whilst working with gypsy extras on the set of this movie. Duvall drew on this experience as a writer-director when he later made the film Angelo My Love (1983) about eight years later.
  10. "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44
  11. Wyatt, Justin (1998). "From Roadshowing to Saturation Release: Majors, Independents, and Marketing/Distribution Innovations". In Lewis, Jon. The New American Cinema. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2115-7, p 78
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