Operation Thunderbolt (1977)

PG   |    |  Action, Drama, History

Operation Thunderbolt (1977) Poster

In July 1976, an Air France flight from Tel-Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked and forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda. The Jewish passengers were separated and held hostage in demand to ... See full summary »


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Cast & Crew

Top Billed Cast


Menahem Golan


Ken Globus (dialogue), Menahem Golan, Clarke Reynolds

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9 February 2014 | Bunuel1976
| OPERATION THUNDERBOLT {U.S. Theatrical Version} (Menahem Golan, 1977) **1/2
Following my recent viewing of Israeli director Moshe' Mizrahi's French movie MADAME ROSA – the 1977 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film – I decided to watch the only remaining contender in that category sooner rather than later. As it turned out, the official Israeli entry was the weakest of the five final selections and I am guessing that its sheer topicality – being based on a very recent hijacking episode that had grabbed world headlines – was what made it jump ahead of other notable competitors among the 24 international Oscar submissions, namely Larisa Shepitko's THE ASCENT, Wim Wenders' THE American FRIEND, Bo Widerberg's THE MAN ON THE ROOF (1976), Paul Verhoeven's SOLDIER OF ORANGE and Krzysztof Zanussi's CAMOUFLAGE.

For the record, my relative disappointment with OPERATION THUNDERBOLT has just been exacerbated by my discovering that I had acquired and watched the U.S. Theatrical Version (culled from a TV screening on the MGM channel) – which has characters mostly speaking their lines in English, barring the occasional lapses into French and German – rather than the original version which has characters (be they Israeli, German, French or African) rightfully speaking in their native tongue...and which is available as a "Full Movie" video on "You Tube" and on a renowned torrent download site! Having said that, craggy-faced chief hijacker Klaus Kinski's equally distinctive voice can be heard in both versions but, apart from his trigger-happy cohort Sybil Danning and nemesis Assaf Dayan (as the Israeli commando second-in-command), he is the only recognizable name in the cast...that is, if one is to discount the personal, silent appearances of the Israeli politicians that faced the crisis in real life, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres; in any case, the acting honours here are stolen by Yehoram Gaon as the ill-fated commando leader Yonatan Netanyahu (who, at one point, is amusingly seen reading Alistair MacLean's "Circus" - a novel I also read myself as a kid). This sharply contrasts with the contemporaneous, star-studded, rival re-enactments of the events for U.S. TV, namely VICTORY AT ENTEBBE (1976; which I had intended watching last year for Burt Lancaster's centenary but had to jettison it due to time constraints) and RAID ON ENTEBBE (1977) – both of which, incidentally, also exist in longer and shorter edits.

While the fact that the viewer is aware from the outset of the narrative's outcome can perhaps lead to the film feeling rather predictable, the presence of a surprisingly restrained Kinski (billed "Kinsky" in the all-English opening credits!) and Danning make up for that; on the other hand, while the final assault on Entebbe airport occurs towards the very end of the film and can thus appear to be a long time coming, the swift depiction of it is quite electrifying (especially the sight of Kinski's twitching body as it expires early on in a hail of machine-gun bullets). Seeing the names of commercial 1980s Hollywood entity Cannon Group founders Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus among the makers of this film somewhat undermine its proposed authenticity (shot with the full co-operation of the Israeli government and Air Force); indeed OPERATION THUNDERBOLT (which, decades afterwards, also became the name of a video game!) succeeds more as an action movie than a psychological or political thriller which might not have been congenial to this particular subject but serves as a veritable template for the later Cannon Group star-studded blockbuster THE DELTA FORCE (1986; also helmed by Golan and easily Chuck Norris' most prestigious star vehicle) complete with overblown rousing music throughout.

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