Race for the Yankee Zephyr [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (26th December 2018).
The Film

Barney (Wiseguy's Ken Wahl) and Gibbie (Halloween's Donald Pleasance) are a pair of deer farmers in New Zealand who hunt by helicopter. On one such expedition, they capture a deer in a net but the old vehicle cannot hold the combined weight of two men and the animal, so Barney drops Gibbie into the nearest shallow lake and promises to come back and pick him up. While Barney returns to the farm, Gibbie in his wanderings comes across the recently resurfaced wreck of the World War II-era plane The Yankee Zephyr. Exploring the interior, Gibbie discovers a case of gold medals but becomes distracted by crates of Old Crow to notice crates of gold bullion. While Barney is looking for him by copter, Gibbie has hitched a ride back to town and pawned the medals to a local collector for seventy-five dollars apiece and is drinking it away at the local pub. When Barney finds him, drunken Gibbie accuses him of trying to kill him and attacks him, causing damage to the pub with his flailing body and a handy chainsaw. When Barney finally sobers up, he tells Barney about the wreck and he thinks there could at least be enough to salvage to pay for the damages to the pub. In need of money to repair the helicopter and supplies for salvaging, Gibbie approaches his estranged daughter Sally (Clue's Lesley Ann Warren) who works at a local mission and administers her mother's estate including any money to be dispensed to Gibbie. Skeptical about Gibbie's request, she makes him and Barney sign a contract and insists on going along. When the mysterious Theo Brown (Breakfast at Tiffany's's George Peppard) and his band of mercenaries among them, right-hand man Bruno Lawrence (The Quiet Earth) approach Barney and try to intimidate him into giving up the location of the Yankee Zephyr, he realizes that there is more than gold medals in the wreck. Barney and Sally clash right away over the particulars of the operation, but they have little time to squabble when Brown and his men come after them with the goal of capturing Gibbie. The helicopter just gets up into the air with the three of them with Brown giving chase, but the copter's unreliability proves to be a good thing when they crash it since Brown's team then loses electronic track of it. Trekking through miles of forest and mountains, they find allies among the hermit herders of the area but Brown has already gleaned an approximate location of the wreck. After Brown's team manages to capture Gibbie, he manages to keep them diverted until they use the threat of harming his daughter; but Barney and Sally prove more resourceful as a team than either expected. The Race for the Yankee Zephyr was the fourth and biggest of five films helmed by actor David Hemmings (Deep Red) and the only one produced by his former company Hemdale formed with John Daly, with whom he would produce two subsequent "Ozploitation" films Turkey Shoot and Strange Behavior following his appearances in Ozploitation films Thirst and Harlequin (along with the drama Prisoners) for producer Anthony I. Ginnane and directing Ginnane's James Herbert adaptation The Survivor. Although Hemmings deployed Ginnane's top-tier collaborators screenwriter Everett De Roche (Patrick), cinematographer Vincent Monton (Long Weekend), production designer Bernard Hides (Attack Force Z), costume designer Aphrodite Kondos (Snapshot), composer Brian May (Road Games) the film is a technically slick production that nevertheless feels extremely disjointed. Whether it was De Roche's screenplay, Hemmings' direction, or the final cutting, the pacing of the entire first act setup of the film moves along in fits and starts with Pleasance in need of being reigned in (or possibly really drunk during a couple scenes) and Wahl's character being given a minimum of characterization. In the case, the film's use of showing-not-telling leaves the audience to fill in a lot of gaps. The film picks up, however, once the heroic trio get up off the ground, and the audiences accepts that Peppard is chewing the scenery as a theatrical villain and not just doing a bad accent (which kind of clashes with the more sober performances of Lawrence and his other crew). The film's speedboat chase is its highlight (the film is dedicated two stunt team members killed during the shoot), but the tension of the final confrontation is short-circuited and what should be a surprise reveal is shown twice, the second time to lesser effect even though it is the perfect freeze-frame for the end credits. The end result is entertaining but not on the level of some of Ozploitation's more family friendly entries like Frog Dreaming or Initiation.


Released theatrically by Film Ventures-offshoot Artists Releasing Corporation as Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr and on VHS by Vestron, the film has been unavailable on physical media although U.S. Hemdale library owner MGM has shown an HD master on television which was also the source for Ascot-Elite's German Blu-ray. MGM's master was also used for Kino Lorber's BD25 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen presentation, and it is a bit dated-looking in terms of detail and black levels, but it is on the whole a good presentation for one of their barebones studio catalog-licensed titles.


The sole audio option is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track of the film's original mono mix which gets the dialogue, orchestral scoring, and sound effects (helicopter whirring and gunplay) across with enough umph to make one wonder why they did not splurge a little more to do a Dolby Stereo mix which one would expect from an action film of even this budget just a year or two later. There are no subtitle options.


The only extras are the film's theatrical trailer (2:58) and trailers for four other Kino Lorber-licensed action titles.



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