Stuck Between a Partisan and a Soldier
When they were children Kurt Kohler (Adam West) and Anna Kleitz (Brioni Farrell) were sweethearts but now with the war going on they are technically enemies. When Kohler, now a Captain in charge of transporting Jews in a river boat to a POW camp, finds himself transporting Anna to an inevitable death he tries to help her escape. But the tables are turned when a group of Partisans lead by Marko (Rod Taylor) attack the boat it is Anna who helps Kurt to escape. But this is just the first of many crossing of paths as the partisans lead by Marko frequently cause losses to Kurt and the men he finds himself in charge of with Anna stuck in the middle as Marko becomes close to her.
I am by no means an expert on the Yugoslavian movie industry but one thing I have learned when it comes to their war movies is that in the early 70s they hit a sweet spot where they were quite entertaining but then started to tail off especially in the 80s. And in "Hell River", which amongst its various names is also known as "Tactical Guerilla" and "Partizani", they got things pretty spot on with an entertaining war drama which combined action with a romantic love triangle. Now I say it got things spot on but I am talking about in relation to other Yugoslavian war movies and for those not used to Yugoslavian made movies might find it weak in places.
In truth the strength of "Hell River" comes in the main casting as whilst Rod Taylor is too old to convince as a fiery partisan leader who would attract an attractive younger woman the fact that he can do action and aggression in a convincing manner makes his character entertaining in a Hollywood traditional sort of way. And then there is Adam West who to be honest is not someone you would expect to be playing a Nazi but he makes this reluctant soldier easy to warm to even if his attempt to do a military man is incredibly stiff, oh I will say it, at times Adam West is wooden in this. And of course there is Brioni Farrell, although named Xenia Gratsos in this, and Farrell is extremely beautiful which works for her being stuck between the two men and allows her to bring some vulnerability to the role.
But whilst there is this story which sees both men torn by their feelings towards Anna and her feelings to these enemies this is a war movie and one where you are never far away from some action which compared to those later movies is pretty powerful. Director Stole Jankovic not only does a nice job of staging the action, which is often short but packs a punch, but he also stages the aftermath quite brilliantly. When Marko walks through his hometown and we see him stand by the side of a blown up building, the fact there is a photo of a couple hanging on the wall really helps to establish the devastation on a human level rather than just as another destroyed building.
What this all boils down to is that "Hell River" is definitely a cut above what you usually got from this sort of war movie with a decent lead cast and an element of style which lifts it. In fact some of the staging is so good that at times it almost has an epic quality to it especially when you see the vast numbers of extras used in some scenes.