Wednesday, August 29, 2012

70's Bonanza: Sky Riders

Terrorism. Susannah York kidnapped. James Coburn. Hang gliding. Need I say more for pure, unadulterated 1970's bliss? In all seriousness, Douglas Hickox's "Sky Riders" (aka "Assault On the Hidden Fortress", which is a pretty kick ass name in and of itself) is great fun... an actioner that never takes itself too seriously and dispenses with deep characterizations and motives and focuses on it's loopy, Saturday afternoon serial style.

On a quiet morning, American diplomat Robert Culp leaves his wife (York) and two children at home. Soon after, a group of hockey masked terrorists break into the guarded compound and kidnap the family, whisking them away high atop a mountain in Greece. Ex husband James Coburn becomes involved with the rescue process and tracks the kidnappers to their abandoned monastery in the mountain, eliciting the help of a group of professional hang gliders in attacking the compound. Forget that Coburn only needs a day or two to learn hang gliding and that the assault involves daringly guiding oneself through impending, jagged mountain cliffs. This is James Coburn, and he does it all with flair.

Directed by Douglas Hickox, "Sky Riders" best asset, besides the wide grin that Coburn flashes every few minutes or Susannah York's (again) bra-less performance, is the majestic Greek landscape anchoring the narrative. The point of view shots as the hang gliders are in flight, or the terrific night-time raid set piece towards the final half of the film are outstanding examples of mise-en-scene. Hickox, a director best known for "Zulu Dawn" or my personal favorite piece of 70's nihilism "Sitting Target", probably should have gotten more chances at directing large action films instead of the TV series work he was relegated to later in his career. The final shoot-out between the terrorists, the police and Coburn's crew igniting mayhem in the skies turns into a "Wild Bunch" scenario of machine guns, grenades and falling bodies. Even if one doesn't buy the exagerrated scenario, "Sky Riders" wins you over through sheer gusto.

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