River of Death (1989)
While this is along way from screen adaptations of Alistair MacLean’s Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare it does have that straight to VHS guilty pleasure quality with a group of aging well known faces.
Released by Cannon films for the home video market it should come as no surprise that the leading role went to Michael Dudikoff. The young actor was one of their in house action stars. The film was actually produced by Harry Alan Towers and Avi Lerner. Towers gave us countless B and C films while Lerner in recent years has teamed with Stallone and company to give us the Expendables franchise.
Our film starts as WW2 is crumbling around the German forces. We have our crazed Nazi doctor played by Robert Vaughn who is about to have a falling out with SS officer Donald Pleasence. Their parting of the ways sets up the plot twenty years in the future.
1965- Amazon Jungle. Guide Michael Dudikoff is leading a group through the rain forest and goes in a little too deep. Perhaps he’s gotten to close to Robert Vaughn’s new hideaway.
As the sole survivor of the ill fated hiking expedition, Dudikoff finds himself in demand. Channeling the spirit of Claude Rains in Casablanca we have local police chief Herbert Lom wanting information.
L.Q. Jones seems to be representing an interested party in hiring Dudikoff to get back to the same general area. Turns out it’s wealthy businessman Donald Pleasence under an atrocious wig. And so the second expedition begins.
Now it’s time to borrow elements from other successful films of the day like any good exploitation film is apt to do. Dudikoff begins to give us his Martin Sheen style narration as the groups sails up the river into parts unknown. Tribes turn up along the river. Some peaceful, some not. Are you catching on?
Once mysteries begin to unravel and Dudikoff figures out who’s who, we get a flash of Indiana Jones down the stretch as Vaughn’s new Nazi paradise comes crashing down around him and those who wish to see a new Reich rising from the jungles to once again rule the world.
Directed by Steve Carver of Lone Wolf McQuade fame this is strictly a formula pic. But then those that turned up for a paycheck I am quite sure knew that all along. So anytime I can see Vaughn fence with Pleasence adding in Lom and L.Q. turning up for a shot at some Nazi gold, I am going to take a peek.
Think about it, we’re getting to see L.Q. from the Sam Peckinpah stock company mixing it up with a member of the Blake Edwards company in Herbert Lom. That’s not an everyday opportunity.