Despite some egregious miscasting and a terrible title, Hornet’s Nest is a solid World War II action thriller with an offbeat angle—the guerilla group at the center of the movie is composed entirely of teenagers and children. Set in Italy, the story begins with a horrific scene during which Nazis under the command of the ruthless Captain Von Hecht (Sergio Fantoni) slaughter the women and seniors in a small village because the area’s young men, who are hidden in nearby woods, are insurrectionist partisans. Led by the hot-tempered Aldo (Mark Colleano), the surviving youths swear to exact revenge. Then, when a U.S. parachute drop goes awry, resulting in the deaths of nearly all the paratroopers, Aldo’s gang recovers one American commando, Captain Turner (Rock Hudson), and drags him back to their remote lair. Since Turner is unconscious and requires medical attention, the youths kidnap a Nazi physician, Bianca (Sylva Koscina), and force her at gunpoint to care for Turner. Once the American recovers, he reluctantly agrees to help Aldo’s group attack the Nazis occupying their village before pursuing his own mission of blowing up a strategically important dam.
As does the 1972 John Wayne picture The Cowboys, this Italian-U.S. coproduction explores the fraught dynamic between a veteran killer and young men pulled into bloodshed by circumstance. The storyline is clean and linear, steadily moving toward a climax in which both Aldo and Turner must face the consequences of their violence, and the filmmakers show Bianca suffering badly for the poor luck of ending up near animalistic males. In fact, Hornet’s Nest is such a tough picture that it represents one of Hudson’s boldest departures from harmless-heartthrob territory. The picture is also made quite well, with nimble camerawork and vivid lighting complemented by a plaintive Ennio Morricone score. One big problem, however, is the use of Italian actors in nearly every role—the Germans in the movie sound like they’re straight outta Sicily. Furthermore, Colleano’s performance borders on camp because he’s so overly emphatic, and Koscina is competent but unmemorable. Still, this is a nasty little picture filled with dead children, rape, and throat-slashings, so it can’t be accused of pulling its narrative punches as it seeks to depict the horrors of war. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on Amazon.com)
Hornet’s Nest: FUNKY