Back during the years of World War II, a cargo aeroplane filled with Christmas mail, whisky and medals went missing over the South Island of New Zealand, never to be seen again. But there was more to the cargo than that, for also included were a number of gold bars worth millions of dollars in the nineteen-forties, and even more in modern times. Not that they will be any good for anybody now - until two deer hunters, who use a helicopter to chase down the beasts, are bumbling around in the wake of a more professional outfit when the pilot, Barney (Ken Wahl), drops his cohort Gilbert (Donald Pleasence) into a lake and leaves him there overnight. On waking, what should the old man see?
That's right, the wreckage of the plane, named, as you can guess, The Yankee Zephyr, which has been washed closer to the shore after spending the past forty years or so under the water. Gilbert is intrigued and investigates, taking his pick of the medals and whiskey in the hope the former will garner him some cash and the latter will get him drunk, but he does not notice the boxes at the bottom of the plane are filled with those gold bars. This has already seemed off the wall from the first fifteen minutes, not least because Pleasence mumbled his dialogue and laughed like Muttley for almost his entire screen time in that opening, so the stage was set for something truly out of the ordinary.
Well, that was the idea, and with Everett De Roche on scripting duties, one of the most distinctive voices in Australian cinema of the seventies and early eighties, you might have anticipated a lot more entertainment than was consequently on offer. At the time, this project suffered in its release because it was compared to Steven Spielberg's instant classic Raiders of the Lost Ark what with its action-adventure trappings and search for treasure (it was released in the United States as Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr instead). But it was not really comparable, as while it was stuffed with stunts, there was no supernatural element, and Wahl was more an everyman than an Indiana Jones character.
David Hemmings was director, replacing Richard Franklin who left the project when it moved from Australia to New Zealand for various reasons, and proved he had a good eye for the landscape, if not too adept at the handling of the actors, who tended to go over the top, and in the case of head baddie George Peppard, were so weird that they were difficult to work out (what accent is he doing, for a start?). Therefore in essence the results were more a travelogue movie where you were invited to visit the country to appreciate its rolling hills and placid lakes, this underlined by the amount of time the characters spent travelling over and on them, as there came a point in De Roche's screenplay where he apparently forgot about telling a story and simply instructed Hemmings to shoot the vehicles.
Said vehicles were those helicopters, naturally looking highly dynamic as they zoomed over the landscape and took part in impressive aerial stunts, and the jet boats which hared across the water, though were also responsible for a tragic accident that claimed the lives of three men while making this, a fact that tended to cast a shadow of gloom over the effort, no matter how exciting these boat sequences were potentially intended to be. If you could put that to the back of your mind, you would find there was not much else to occupy it as the plot, such as it was, resolved itself into Wahl, Pleasence and new addition Lesley Ann Warren trying to avoid the heavies who were demanding to be told the location of the downed plane, while simultaneously trying to rediscover it for themselves, now well aware of the bullion contained within its rusting hulk. Really, this was half an hour of storyline padded out to nearly two hours, a bit much even by standards of the adventure genre which ate up the action we witnessed here. You would either be captivated or bored. Music by the Aussie Brian May (sounding like the Panorama theme in places).