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Tony Lo Bianco,
Capable Director Interprets Novel That Remembers A Glorious Adventure.
Canadian director Donald Shebib has created two splendid films with mountaineering keynotes, each based upon factual incidents, THE CLIMB (1986), and this work that proves to be more of a "thriller" than are most productions that are announced as being such. High altitude filming requires specific skills not readily taught, but this piece has an advantage of a top-flight camera crew that validates a claim made that it is the highest distance feature yet produced, although several documentaries have recorded activity at greater elevations. Based upon a well-crafted novel, "No Picnic on Mt. Kenya", by Felice Benuzzi, an Italian colonial officer with Mussolini's African theatre war machine who became a prisoner of the English in eastern Kenya, this film dazzles and satisfies while it relates, in expectedly altered form, of events that occurred in and about a prisoner of war camp located in British East Africa at what is now Mount Kenya National Park. The camp contains Axis troops, Italian in the main, under penal control of Major David Farrell (Ben Cross) who has not received his assignment gladly, it being exacerbated by a prisoner, Franco Distasi (Vincent Spano), who has attempted to escape five times, his failures bringing about far from welcome disciplinary measures placed upon his comrades. Farrell is obsessed with scaling the forbidding south face of the nearby peak, but his consistent inability to conquer the mist enshrouded heights provides a source of continual merriment to the otherwise largely demoralized prisoners who have little other available entertainment with which they may absorb themselves. An intriguing personal dispute between the British commandant and Distasi becomes centred upon their race to the summit, necessitated in large part by the prisoner's successful sixth venture at escape, his homesickness rousing in him a compulsion to complete the ascent, as the Italian occupied territory of Somalia lies immediately beyond, offering a conduit for a projected return to his homeland. A subplot involving an attractive English widow, Patricia (Rachel Ward), engages the two men in an ancillary struggle, in part due to an apparent physical resemblance of Distasi to Patricia's late soldier husband, but this plot line is submerged by the siren call of the fateful mountain, with the story hanging together owing to Enzo (Tony LoBianco), the dynamic commanding officer of the Italian inmates, and his determined championing of proficient climber Franco to plant the national flag of Italy atop 16,300 foot Point Lenana, and to then sneak back into the camp in order to accomplish a coup of honour over the British major, always defeated in his attempts to vanquish the peak. Acting by the principals is first-class throughout with both Spano and Cross adeptly disclosing emotional shifts of their characters, and LoBianco performs with intensity as an Italian commander who places his nation's prestige to the foremost, this aspect of the film presenting an open violation of a conventional contemporary consensus morality that positions Axis personnel beneath an umbrella of the Forces of Evil. This melodrama of competition betwixt two men to master a mountain and a woman is filmed on location in Kenya, earmarked by adroit photography from David Connell to the advantage of a viewer who will commend images of fauna within their natural habitats, and of an awe-inspiring mountain. Editing by Ron Wisman and production design under Michael Baugh are additional assets to a film of which director Shebib and all others involved might well be proud.
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