05 September 2011

Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr

Australia – 1981
Director – David Hemmings
Vestron Video, 1984, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 37 minutes

Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr is essentially a formulaic Western, set on the margins of civilization where intrepid loners are defined by their actions and uphold a stoic moral code in a lawless land. Nothing but the accents have changed. New Zealand is more or less the rocky wild frontier of the (English) Empire afterall, still unpenetrated by metroplitain 'order'. Gibbie (Donald Pleasence in top form) is a rugged frontiersman who has spent his life living on the fringes forging his own path. Barney (Ken Wahl) is a young rebel, born into a society that offered nothing but a conformity he couldn’t stomach and wouldn’t eat anyway. So reticent are they to stray from the lonely path of personal initiative that our protagonists argue with each other for the first half of the film.

On the left is Bruno Lawrence of Quiet Earth
Drunken mountain-man Gibbie discovers a U.S. military planeload of WWII vintage loot half-submerged in a remote New Zealand lake. Trading some of his haul in the nearest village he finds himself the subject of persecution by a semi-official and terribly fake-accented George Peppard. Gibbie reluctantly teams up with bitter youth, ‘Nam-era cultural drop-out Barney, they action-scene their way through the remaining film. With the help of some stalwart Kiwi frontiersmen, they keep Peppard’s forces of modern metropolitan greed from commodifying their myth of rugged self-sufficient outsiderism and win the day with handfuls of loot and hugs all around.

All this and yet, director David Hemmings' Kiwi Western fantasy doesn’t manage to be anything but safe. Gibbie and Barney do dabble a little in rebellion, but it would be far too upsetting if they were ever allowed to truly reject society. That’s why, in order to succeed Zephyr’s protagonists actually have to embrace it. What better way to do that than by recreating that bedrock of social institutions, the family with the introduction of a woman. Gibbie’s estranged daughter Sally (Lesley Ann Warren) starts out scolding and yelling, but reconciles with her father and falls in love with Barney in time to assist in their triumph. And of course it’s important to consider that recreating civilization in the wilderness essentially robs it of any of its frontier character. Onward colonizing heroes flush with Old Crow and treasure!

1 comment:

Ty said...

Good review! Will have to check this out one of these days. Love the cast.