Respected Canadian director Donald Shebib--auteur of GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD (1970), the Canadian EASY RIDER--tries his hand at big, old-fashioned adventure. With its ultra-traditional narrative, easy masculine camaraderie, and uncomplicated wartime bonding, THE ASCENT feels like an artifact
of simpler, less cynical times.
Near the end of WWII, in a POW camp in British east Africa, a plucky band of Italians and the odd German are waiting out the inevitable in the care of a stiff-lipped British commander, Major Farrell (Ben Cross). Farrell's chief obsession is to climb nearby Mt. Kenya; his nemesis Franco (Vincent
Spano), a prisoner, is a world-class climber who spends all his downtime trying to escape. During one breakout attempt, Franco stops to fix a truck and is apprehended by its occupants, Patricia (Rachel Ward) and her industrialist father. Franco is drawn to Patricia, little knowing that she's the
object of Major Farrell's unrequited love. Meanwhile, Franco's friend Aldo (Tony LoBianco), struggling with demoralization, devises a way to regain the prisoners' dignity: a select band of them will escape, climb the elusive Mt. Kenya, plant the Italian flag at its summit, and then escape back
into camp, humiliating their captors. The linchpin is Franco, who agrees with the proviso that he will escape down the other side, even though his chances of success are minimal. Climbing gear is supplied by camp artisans, including Kist, a German (Bavarian by birth), who trades his compass for a
place on the three-man climbing team. Franco is prevailed upon to repair the industrialist's antiquated sawmill and simultaneously manages a quick liaison with Patricia in the hayloft. Farrell, suspecting the worst, confronts first Franco and then Patricia; his impotent rage only precipitates the
plan to take the mountain.
Once over the wire, Kist betrays the others and heads for freedom. He's quickly captured, however, and reveals the climbers' plans to Farrell, setting up a mountainside chase. When oxygen sickness leaves Aldo alternately breathless and hysterical, Franco proceeds alone, with Major Farrell hot on
his trail. By day, they catch fleeting glimpses of each other across the canyons; by night, their shouted banter takes on sexual overtones, as "she"--the mountain--comes to stand for Patricia, as well as other, less tangible, aspirations. At the summit, Farrell draws a bead on Franco and implores
him to halt. Franco buries the flag but then surrenders, returning to camp as a hero to the men.
In both its CinemaScope dimensions and gaudy Technicolor palette, THE ASCENT wants desperately to recall those great POW epics of the past; e.g., THE GREAT ESCAPE or THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. Efficiently directed and often gorgeous to look at, it's a reasonable simulation of what passed for
Hollywood high adventure in the days before BONNIE AND CLYDE and THE WILD BUNCH. But contemporary American audiences--conditioned by post-Vietnam cynicism and a slew of ultra-violent action pics--no longer have much patience with this type of muscular, relatively innocent, wartime adventure. What
the producers no doubt had in mind was a mass entertainment combining old-fashioned "good movie" values with the high-wire dynamics of a CLIFFHANGER--but without the latter film's sadistic villains, flashy technology, high body count, or comic-book irreverence toward its subject matter. What they
come up with is a movie anachronism. (Violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: PG
- Review: Respected Canadian director Donald Shebib--auteur of GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD (1970), the Canadian EASY RIDER--tries his hand at big, old-fashioned adventure. With its ultra-traditional narrative, easy masculine camaraderie, and uncomplicated wartime bonding, T… (more)