Ken Wahl, Donald Pleasance, Lesley Ann Warren, and Goerge Peppard Star in Ozploitation Actioner.
DIRECTED BY DAVID HEMMINGS/1981
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: DECEMBER 4, 2018/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
One would think that if a noted cargo plane carrying $50 million in gold (plus assorted metals and cash) went down during World War II, someone, in the thirty-five years following would’ve headed up a legit expedition to recover it. Particularly, if the plane was conveniently wrecked near the water’s edge in a picturesque swimmin’ hole in the mountains of New Zealand. But apparently, nope. Per plot contrivances, the wreck of the Yankee Zephyr- the very cargo plane in question- has remained lost, Lost, LOST! to the ages (well, decades) since its unfortunate disappearance. Because, the movie says so.
But dread not, adventure fans- all it takes is a drunken Donald Pleasance, conveniently dropped into the drink from his younger, cooler buddy’s (Ken Wahl) chopper, not 500 feet from the crashed plane, and viola- There’s officially gold in these thar hills! Cashing in, however, is not so easy for Pleasance (who annoyingly cackles and coughs his way through this role) and his crew. Some backstory, for what it’s worth…
Pleasence (The Black Windmill) plays a washed-up drunk who, for whatever reason, is involved in stocking a deer farm out in the middle of nowhere. Ken Wahl (The Wanderers), looking like a forgotten sweathog from Welcome Back, Kotter, flies the rust-bucket chopper they use to wrangle them.
Lesley Ann Warren, plays Pleasance’s beautiful but tightly wound daughter who not only finances their ragtag expedition, but insists on coming along. The sole and token girl in the movie, Warren gets to set aside her comedic magnetism in favor of nagging, naysaying, and general irritation until such a time that she warms up to the studly Wahl. She doubts the whole thing, is lousy with a machine gun (but that’s okay- in this film, everyone is), but looks good in the hot bath. With the exact same character traits, she could just as easily be a villain. Late in the game, once our heroes actually figure out how much gold is at stake, her desperate brainstorming over how to collect it is played for laughs (laughs that land uncomfortably at best, but played for laughs all the same). Forget that heroes aren’t supposed to be preoccupied with personal greed, particularly when it’s established that the character already isn’t hurting for cash… but, you know, who wouldn’t want to get the gold?? Right???
Accents are all over the place in this movie, as the villainous “Brown”, played by American actor George Peppard (Cannon for Cordoba) speaks with a high class British accent. Meanwhile, Pleasance speaks with his native scraggly Brit inflections, though his daughter in the film, played by Warren (Color of Night), gets to remain all-American. New Zealand, majestic and undeserving of any of this, plays itself.
Like Peppard’s soon-to-be career revitalizing TV gig, The A-Team, Yankee Zephyr’s perpetual machine gunning and other perilous close combat is really nothing for anyone to worry about, as no one actually gets hurt in amid all of this pandemonium. Peppard’s character Brown is an unsuited forerunner of Die Hard’s Hans Gruber, a erudite European crook with no mercy, a crew of thugs (among them, “Mr. Broken Teeth”, “Mr. Ruptured Spleen”, and “Mr. Rape Your Daughter With Sword If You Don’t Play Ball”), and a tall drink that’s never dry and he never puts down. Brown and his pack of official looking baddies arrive knowledgable of the Yankee Zephyr’s treasure, and that Pleasance is the only one who knows where it is. No sooner do they capture him than he begins leading them on a wild goose chase. What are they going to do, kill him?
Race for the Yankee Zephyr, aka Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr is an early 80’s actioner seemingly designed to sort of emulate the up and coming Raiders of the Lost Ark filmmakingmodel of “don’t stop long enough for anyone to question any of it”. In other words, lots of running around, harmless thrills, and maybe a laugh or two. (Maybe). Zephyr is not at all great, but not bad either, it settles decently enough as one of those completely inconsequential movies that passes the time well enough.
That said, in certain post-Tarantino film buff circles, Race for the Yankee Zephyr earns an easy pass for its standing amid the “Ozploitation” niche. Ozploitation is the term applied to an emerging trend in Australian filmmakers and producers crafting pure, shameless exploitation movies of all genres in an attempt to woo Western audiences. In this case, it worked well enough for Yankee Zephyr to be picked up by MGM.
Today, the chronically restructuring studio is all too happy to kick their movies like this over to Kino Lorber, where they are branded as “Studio Classics” and released on the high definition Blu-ray format. If Ozploitation in the 1970s is celebrated for its raw adherence to nudity and violence, the 1980s permutations ran toward the more Reagan-era friendly PG rating. Like the Italian model of the previous decades, Hollywood Stars were courted to parts unknown to occupy roles in these silly, ingloriously disposable movies, and more importantly, appear on their posters.
Relentless orchestrated action music by Brian May (not that Brian May) that tends to overcompensate in moments of limited or no action, but interestingly sometimes goes away when the on-screen action is sufficiently busy.
Director David Hemmings, best known for his acting career (Blow-Up; Barbarella), is interestingly credited as his own Second Unit Director. Which begs the question, what was the First Unit doing on those days, and who was directing that? Apparently, they do things a bit differently in New Zealand.
Aside from its trailer, and a few others, there’s no bonus material on this Kino Lorber Blu-ray. Because, who needs it, anyway? The gold is all right there in the movie itself.