Hornet’s Nest

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll know that I have a lot of work coming out in the next few months. That means a lot of shilling from yours truly about my wares, on this site and my various social media feeds. It is unavoidable.

But amidst all the sales talk and my other commitments, I don’t want to forget why I originally started this site, reviewing books and films that take my fancy. Seriously, I miss bullshitting about this stuff with you all. Then it occurred me, the answer is shorter, sharper reviews, less formal, more stream of consciousness, fun to write and (hopefully), read. Obvious, I know, don’t know why it took me so long to realise it.

So, first up in the new regime of reviewing, Phil Karlson’s terrific 1970 revisionist World War II noir film, Hornet’s Nest. I first watched Hornet’s Nest with my folks, when it showed on a Sunday night on TV way back in the late 1970s. I can’t remember what I made of it then, but I sure as hell liked it when I re-watched it recently.

A detachment of US paratroops is dropped behind German lines in Italy to blow up a major dam and, thus, disrupt German troop movements ahead of a major allied offensive. The Germans get word of the plan and massacre all the Americans, save one, the commander, Turner (Rock Hudson). He is rescued by a traumatised gang of Italian orphan children whose parents have all been killed by the Nazis, led by the hot headed and particularly unhinged, Aldo (Mark Colleano). Turner realises his only option is to train the kids into a fighting unit and use them to help him blow up the dam.

Like so many wonders of 1970s cinema, this is a film that would never get made today. Recently, a number of people have mentioned that I should see the 1976 Spanish horror, Who Could Kill A Child, about English tourists who land on a island where the children are murdering all the adults. Hornet’s Nest is very much in that wheelhouse. It is violent and completely unsparing in its depiction of the horrors of war on children.

Hudson, nearing the end of his big screen career, is like something from the front cover of a 1950/60s men’s sweat pulp, as the ruthless, largely silent, machine gun wielding Turner. Karlson even manages to shoehorn a bit of sex appeal into the proceedings via the character of Bianca (Euro exploitation regular, Slyva Koscina), an Italian nurse kidnapped by the children to tend to the wounded Turner. She suffers a number of indignities at the hands of the children but remains the film’s moral centre, the only person who can see the madness about her and call it for what it is. The film also has a terrific Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

I don’t know a great deal about director Phil Karlson, except that he made a number of excellent and underrated noirs, including Kansas City Confidential (1952), 99 River Street (1953), The Phoenix City Story and 5 Against the House (both of which appeared in 1955). All these films have what I can only describe as a Don Siegel feel to them, highly intelligent B-movies that are not afraid to go in hard but keep it just within the confines of respectable so as they do spill over into exploitation film territory.

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