Bullet Points: Race for the Yankee Zephyr
Watching and reviewing movies for this site is often like a treasure hunt for me. There are times I come up completely empty, there are times I get exactly what I expected to get from a movie, but every now and again I come across a movie that I would consider a hidden gem.
Race for the Yankee Zephyr is one of those hidden gems.
- The Set Up: Ken Wahl and Donald Pleasence play business partners/adventurers Barney and Gibbie. They run a deer farm in New Zealand. Part of their job is going out in their helicopter and catching deer in a net and then flying them back to the farm. On one such expedition there is a malfunction with the chopper and Gibbie (Donald Pleasence) is stranded in the New Zealand wilderness. This unfortunate situation becomes a fortunate one when Gibbie happens upon a plane that was shot down in World War II named the Yankee Zephyr. The Yankee Zephyr had crash landed in a lake and now years later had washed ashore. Inside the Zephyr were bags of mail and crates filled with medals from the Department of Defense for the service men. Gibbie also finds crates filled with liquor and he gets pretty sauced. When he gets back to town Gibbie takes some of the medals he pocketed to a local pawn shop, when he finds out what the owner is willing to give him for each medal, he knows that he needs to go back and get the rest of them… but the sale of these rare World War II medals sends up a red flag and soon there is another interested party looking for the treasure of the Yankee Zephyr.
- There’s Gold In That There Plane: George Peppard plays the pompous and arrogant Theo Brown. Brown is willing to work out a deal with Gibbie that will allow Gibbie to keep all the medals in the plane as long as Gibbie escorts Brown and his crew to the plane. Brown would then keep the rest of the cargo for himself… and the rest of the cargo included crates of gold bars (a fact that Brown does not share). Gibbie and Barney suspect that Brown must know something about the Yankee Zephyr that they don’t, and since Gibbie is the only one who knows where they plane is, they decide not to deal with Brown and find out what is really inside the plane for themselves. Prior to viewing Race for the Yankee Zephyr, my exposure to George Peppard’s work was limited to The A-Team and Battle Beyond the Stars, so I was pleasantly surprised with how well he played the villainous Theo Brown.
- Three’s Company: While Gibbie and Barney decide not to take Theo Brown’s deal, they still have the problem of helicopter that won’t fly. So Gibbie goes to his estranged daughter Sally (Lesley Ann Warren) to get the money they are going to need to fix the helicopter. What they end up getting is a third partner on what promises to be a lucrative salvage job. Once the chopper is fixed, the Theo Brown problem is back, he’s not going to take no for an answer and if he has to resort to violence to get his way he will.
- The Show Stealer: Race for the Yankee Zephyr is blessed with a talented cast. Ken Wahl from TV’s Wiseguy, is perfect as Barney the rugged leading man, who is caught between a father/daughter conflict all while being shot at by Theo Brown’s goons and pursuing some life changing treasure. Lesley Ann Warren does a tremendous job with the Sally character who starts off as a skeptic but ends up a true blue adventurer by the end of the film. And I already mentioned my admiration for George Peppard’s work as the movie’s main villain. But the man who really steals the show time and time again is Donald Pleasence. Donald owned the screen every time he was on it, whether he was leading Brown’s men on a wild goose chase, grossing out the local bar flies with his story about how alligators eat or going on a drunken rampage with a chainsaw, you can’t help but be captivated by the Gibbie character.
My guess is that 1981’s Race for the Yankee Zephyr has probably flown under the radar of a lot of movie fans. It certainly did for me, but I’m glad I did discover it, even if it took me 35 years. Race for the Yankee Zephyr has a great blend of action and acting, something not all movies in the action entertainment genre can boast. Race for the Yankee Zephyr is definitely worth a watch in my book.
And these bonus Race for the Yankee Zephyr Bullet Points are worth reading in my book too…
- Favorite Quote: “You’re about as warm as Friday’s deer dung.” – Gibbie
- Alternate Title: The movie was also known as Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr in the United States when it first premiered on premium cable.
- Newsreel: The movie open was based on the classic Movietone News newsreels that ran from 1928 to 1963.
- Familiar Tune: Some of the music used in the movie sounded very much like the music used in The Great Escape, a film that also starred Donald Pleasence.
- Down Under: The movie originally was set to shoot in Queensland, Australia but production would move to Queenstown, New Zealand after a labor dispute.
- If You Ever: …wanted to see a movie where a helicopter is transformed into a tank, then this is the movie for you.
- And Speaking of Helicopters: Our colleagues over at Exploding Helicopter would love the scene where Theo Brown’s helicopter explodes while on the ground!