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Hornets' Nest

Hornets' Nest(1970)

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Hornets' Nest (1970)

One of the more offbeat World War II adventure films and a relative obscurity in Rock Hudson's film career, Hornet's Nest (1970) follows Captain Turner (Hudson), leader of an American commando unit, as he parachutes into Italy with his team to blow up an important dam. But the Nazis discover the plan and kill all the Americans as they land. Turner, though wounded, is the only survivor, and he is taken to safety by a gang of orphaned Italian boys who are part of the Resistance. The boys then locate a German doctor, Bianca (Sylva Koscina), and force her to treat Turner's wounds. After his recovery, Turner decides to recruit the boys as his new commando team in destroying the dam; they agree but only if they're also allowed to take revenge on the Nazis who have captured their village.

Rock Hudson's fortunes as one of the top male stars of the '50s and '60s began to slip as a new decade rolled around. According to his autobiography, he was rarely able to judge if a project he was working on was good or not; the best he could do was remain optimistic. The great hopes Hudson held for his other release of 1970, Darling Lili, certainly seemed justified: a big-budget Blake Edwards romantic spy story co-starring Julie Andrews. But the $25-million film flopped. So he put a lot of faith in Hornet's Nest.

Director Phil Karlson had risen through the studio ranks helming low-budget quickies for the Bowery Boys and Charlie Chan series to become one of the more interesting B-movie mavericks of the '50s. In that period, he turned out a string of tough, richly detailed crime-action pictures that had as keen a feel for offbeat characters as they did for harsh violence: Kansas City Confidential (1952), Scandal Sheet (1952), The Phenix City Story (1955), The Brothers Rico (1957). He also scored some solid hits with Kid Galahad (1962), starring Elvis Presley, and two films in the Dean Martin "Matt Helm" series, The Silencers (1966) and The Wrecking Crew (1969).

Hudson was also looking forward to working for the first time with Sophia Loren, who was cast as the German doctor. But Loren was replaced at the last minute by Yugoslavian-born actress Sylva Koscina, who had been making movies in Europe (mostly Italy) since 1955. Koscina came to international attention in Georges Franju╒s Judex (1963) and Federico Fellini╒s Juliet of the Spirits (1965). This led to appearances in several American films, including the Paul Newman war comedy The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968) and the crime drama A Lovely Way to Die (1968) with Kirk Douglas. Koscina also had high hopes for the film and felt that it "shows how war destroys mentally as well as physically. We are all destroyed╔myself, Rock, the children," she told Photoplay magazine during the film╒s location shoot in the hills of Northern Italy. She also spoke to the magazine about her emotional connection to the work, having experienced the brutality of war firsthand as a child in her native country.

So with all these elements ╨ including a plot based on a true story ╨ it was a disappointment when Hornet's Nest didn't click with audiences. Granted, the film had some problems. The central theme of innocence corrupted was often overshadowed by the violent action sequences, and the scene in which Hudson's character rapes the female doctor, thus winning her love and respect, was decidedly distasteful. But Hudson didn't waste time dwelling on the film's failure and bounced back with another unusual project, this time playing the sexy murderer in Roger Vadim's black comedy Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971). For the remainder of his life (until his death of AIDS in 1985), Hudson's biggest successes were on television and not the movie screen.

Koscina continued her successful career in Europe until her 1994 death from heart disease. However, she did make one other American film after Hornet's Nest, a bizarre low-budget take on Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac called The Manipulator (1971), starring Mickey Rooney as an insane Hollywood make-up artist. Karlson only made three more pictures after Hornet's Nest, but one of them, Walking Tall (1973), was such a hit, it made him a rich man for the first time in his Hollywood career.

The Italian prints of Hornet's Nest bear the name "Franco Cirino" as co-director. An occasional actor, Cirino was often called in as second-unit director on American movies shot in Italy and elsewhere on the Mediterranean.

Director: Phil Karlson, Franco Cirino
Producer: Stanley S. Canter
Screenplay: S.S. Schweitzer, Stanley Colbert
Cinematography: Gabor Pogany
Editing: Terry Williams
Art Direction: Arrigo Equini
Original Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Rock Hudson (Captain Turner), Sylva Koscina (Bianca), Sergio Fantoni (Von Hecht), Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Schwalberg), Jacques Sernas (Major Taussig), Mark Colleano (Aldo).
C-110m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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