Theatrical release poster
Directed byTom Gries
Written byEliot Asinof (book)
Elliott Baker
Produced byRobert Chartoff
Irwin Winkler
StarringCharles Bronson
Robert Duvall
Jill Ireland
CinematographyLucien Ballard
Edited byBud S. Isaacs
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • March 1975 (1975-03) (International)
  • May 21, 1975 (1975-05-21) (USA)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million[1]
Box office$16 million (US/Canada rentals)[2]

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.[3]


Harris Wagner (Huston) is suspicious that his grandson, Jay Wagner (Duvall), is causing trouble for his nefarious business schemes, which also involve the CIA. Harris has CIA op Cable (Paul Mantee) arrange a murder in Mexico for which Jay is framed. Harris doesn’t want Jay killed, only silenced, so 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.[4]

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.[5]



The prison scenes were filmed at Fort de Bellegarde, France. Romani people (also known as gypsies) local to Southern France stood in for many of the Mexicans.[6]

The original director was Michael Ritchie, but he did not like the idea of the female lead being played by Charles Bronson's wife Jill Ireland. Bronson threatened to leave the project if Ireland was not cast so Tom Gries came in as director. Producer Irwin Winkler was not a great admirer of the final film.[7]

Mexico would not participate in portraying this event.

The film featured a French Aérospatiale Alouette II turbine helicopter, the type of helicopter used in the 1973 Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape. The actual 1971 Mexico event featured a Bell Helicopter.

Actual event

The film was loosely based on an actual event that took place in August, 1971 (see List of helicopter prison escapes).[8]

Joel David Kaplan was a New York businessman and nephew of molasses tycoon Jacob Merrill Kaplan.[9] The elder Kaplan earned his fortune primarily through operations in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.[10]

The J.M. Kaplan Fund (named after the elder of the two) was found in a 1964 Congressional investigation to be a conduit for funneling CIA money to Latin America, including through the Institute of International Labor Research (IILR) headed by Norman Thomas, six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America.[10] These funds were used in Latin America by figures like José Figueres Ferrer, Sacha Volman, and Juan Bosch.[11]

The CIA gave Figures money to publish a political journal, Combate, and to found a left-wing school for Latin American opposition leaders.[12] Funds passed from a shell foundation to the Kaplan Fund, next to the IILR, and finally to Figures.[12] Sacha Volman, treasurer of the IILR, was a CIA agent.[12]

Cord Meyer, a CIA official, was chief of International Organizations Division, a CIA sponsored front for manipulating international groups.[12] It served as part of the covert arsenal to engineer the New World Order.[12] He used the contacts with Bosch, Volman, and Figueres for a new purpose — as the United States moved to rally the hemisphere against Cuba's Fidel Castro, Rafael Trujillo, the strongman (caudillo) that ran the Dominican Republic for 30 years had become expendable.[12] The United States needed to demonstrate that it opposed all dictators, not just those on the left.[12]

For over a year, the CIA had been in contact with dissidents inside the Dominican Republic who argued that assassination was the only certain way to remove Trujillo.[12]

According to Chester Bowles, the Undersecretary of State, internal Department of State discussions in 1961 on the topic were vigorous.[13] Richard N. Goodwin, Assistant Special Counsel to the President, who had direct contacts with the rebel alliance, argued for intervention against Trujillo.[13] Quoting Bowles directly: "The next morning I learned that in spite of the clear decision against having the dissident group request our assistance Dick Goodwin following the meeting sent a cable to CIA people in the Dominican Republic without checking with State or CIA; indeed, with the protest of the Department of State. The cable directed the CIA people in the Dominican Republic to get this request at any cost. When Allen Dulles found this out the next morning, he withdrew the order. We later discovered it had already been carried out."[13]

In May 1961, the ruler of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo was murdered with weapons supplied by the CIA.[14] An internal CIA memorandum states that a 1973 Office of Inspector General investigation into the murder disclosed "quite extensive Agency involvement with the plotters." The CIA described its role in "changing" the government of the Dominican Republic "as a 'success' in that it assisted in moving the Dominican Republic from a totalitarian dictatorship to a Western-style democracy."[15][12] Bosch was elected president of the Dominican Republic in 1962.

In November 1961, Mexican police found a corpse they identified as Luis Melchior Vidal Jr., godson of Trujillo.[10] Vidal was the unofficial business agent of the Dominican Republic while Trujillo was in power.[10] Under cover of the "American Sucrose Company" and the "Paint Company of America", Vidal had teamed up with the American, Joel David Kaplan, to operate as arms merchants for the CIA.[10]

In 1962, the younger Kaplan was convicted in Mexico City of killing Vidal.[10] He was sentenced to 28 years in prison.[10] Kaplan always maintained his innocence.[citation needed] He was held at the Santa Martha Acatitla prison in the Iztapalapa borough of the Mexico City D.F. region.

His sister, Judy Kaplan, attempted to secure his release in numerous ways, finally developing an audacious plot.[10] In a plan hatched by San Francisco attorney Vasilios Basil "Bill" Choulos (1928–2003), a Bell Helicopter with its bottom painted in colors similar to that of the Mexican attorney general's would land in Mexico City's Santa Maria Acatitla prison and conduct a daring prisoner escape.[16]

On August 19, 1971, a helicopter landed in the prison yard. The guards mistakenly thought this was an official visit. In two minutes, Kaplan and Kaplan's cellmate Carlos Antonio Contreras Castro, a Venezuelan counterfeiter, boarded the craft and were piloted away. No shots were fired.[17] Both men were flown to Texas and then different planes flew Kaplan to California and Castro to Guatemala.[9]

The Mexican police requested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrest and remand Kaplan on August 20, 1971.[10] Kaplan's attorney claimed that Kaplan was a CIA agent.[10] Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Department of Justice have pursued the issue.[10]

The Mexican government never initiated extradition proceedings against Kaplan.[17] The escape is told in a book, The 10-Second Jailbreak: The Helicopter Escape of Joel David Kaplan.[18]

Unlike in the film, there was no rape distraction, no shots were fired, and there was no pursuit by Mexican law enforcement.[9][17]



The film opened internationally before opening in the United States and Canada on May 21, 1975.[1][19]


Box office

The film earned $16.0 million in theatrical rentals in the United States and Canada, and was the 21st most popular film of 1975.[20][21] By the time of its second week of US release, it had already grossed $5 million internationally.[19]

Part of its box-office success was due to the then-novel strategy of "saturation booking", in which Columbia released 1,350 prints simultaneously, combined with a heavy advertising campaign costing $3.6 million on the opening week. This was one of the first major studio films to use this method of release. It grossed $12.7 million in its first two weeks of saturation release.[19] 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.[22][23]

Critical response

TV Guide writes of Breakout: "It's one of those vigilante, simplistic stories that has audiences not mistaking the good guys for the bad guys at all. Unmotivated, often plodding, and singularly without humor, this film could have been terrific."[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Breakout at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "Breakout, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  3. ^ Bronson Cracks a Smile March 16, 2014 Retrieved July 17, 2015
  4. ^ Archived July 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved July 17, 2015
  5. ^ Archived 2015-07-21 at the Wayback Machine Breakout Movie Review Retrieved July 17, 2015
  6. ^ 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) eight years later.[user-generated source]
  7. ^ Winkler, Irwin (2019). A Life in Movies: Stories from Fifty Years in Hollywood (Kindle ed.). Abrams Press. pp. 979–1004/3917.
  8. ^ March 29, 2013 Retrieved July 17, 2015
  9. ^ a b c "Whirlaway". Time. August 30, 1971. Archived from the original on December 21, 2008. Retrieved May 2, 2009.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "The Kaplans of the CIA - Approved For Release 2001/03/06 CIA-RDP84-00499R001000100003-2" (PDF). Central Intelligence Agency. 24 November 1972. pp. 3–6. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 23, 2017. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  11. ^ Iber, Patrick (24 April 2013). ""Who Will Impose Democracy?": Sacha Volman and the Contradictions of CIA Support for the Anticommunist Left in Latin America". Diplomatic History. 37 (5): 995–1028. doi:10.1093/dh/dht041. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ameringer, Charles D. (1990-01-01). U.S. Foreign Intelligence: The Secret Side of American history (1990 ed.). Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0669217803.
  13. ^ a b c Bowles, Chester (3 June 1961). "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XII, American Republics 310. Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Bowles) Notes On Crisis Involving the Dominican Republic". United States Department of State.
  14. ^ Kross, Peter (9 December 2018). "The Assassination of Rafael Trujillo". Sovereign Media. Archived from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  15. ^ CIA "Family Jewels" Memo, 1973 (see page 434) Family Jewels (Central Intelligence Agency)
  16. ^ Constatine, Alex The CIA, the JM Kaplan Fund & a 1971 Prison Breakout in Mexico March 16, 2010
  17. ^ a b c Rothman, Lily (8 June 2015). "The Strange Case of the Non-Criminal Jail Break". Time. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  18. ^ Eliot Asinof (1973). The 10-Second Jailbreak: The helicopter escape of Joel David Kaplan (1973 ed.). Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1st edition. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-03-001011-8.
  19. ^ a b c "'Breakout,' 2 Wks. In Saturation Run, Takes $12.7-Mil". Variety. 11 June 1975. p. 3.
  20. ^ "Top 1975 Movies at the Domestic Box Office".
  21. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs". Variety. 7 January 1976. p. 44.
  22. ^ 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
  23. ^ "Kirkham a Movie a Day: The Charles Bronson Film Festival: Breakout (1975)". 22 August 2016.
  24. ^ Breakout at TV Guide