- Operation Thunderbolt (1977) movie review: Menahem Golan’s ineptly directed, written, and (for the most part) acted real-life-inspired terrorism drama fails on virtually all counts – including its function as political propaganda.
- Operation Thunderbolt was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
Operation Thunderbolt movie review: Real-life-inspired flag-waver surely 1 of worst Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees
Notwithstanding the complex, gripping real-life basis for his 1977 flag-waving drama Operation Thunderbolt / Mivtsa Yonatan – i.e., the previous year’s hijacking of a Tel Aviv-Athens-Paris Air France flight – Israeli filmmaker Menahem Golan, multitasking as director, co-producer, and co-scenarist, succeeded in making a movie utterly devoid of depth, suspense, and intelligence.
With its cheap look (despite full cooperation from the Israeli armed forces), subpar craftsmanship, and one-dimensional characters, Operation Thunderbolt is so bad that it’s surely one of the very worst productions to have received an Academy Award nomination in the often mediocre Best Foreign Language Film category.
Dramatic rescue operation
Operation Thunderbolt begins on June 27, 1976, when Air France flight 139, on its way from Tel Aviv to Paris (by way of Athens), is hijacked by a small band of terrorists (among them Klaus Kinski and co-producer Sybil Danning) connected to the far-left German-based group Revolutionary Cells and to a splinter group of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Following an unsuccessful attempt to keep the plane in Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya, the hijackers fly to the airport in Entebbe, Uganda, where they are welcomed by that country’s psychopathic dictator, Idi Amin Dada.
Once in Entebbe, the Jewish passengers are separated from the others – the non-Jews are freed, the Jews are held as hostages at the airport. In order to release the Jewish passengers, the hijackers demand that Israel free several convicted terrorists held in its jails. If the Israeli government fails to meet the set deadline, the hijackers vow to kill all hostages.
Feeling pressure from its citizens to save the passengers, Israeli political leaders debate the merits and the dangers of a rescue operation. Finally, they allow an elite commando unit to stage a raid at the Entebbe airport.
No depth, no nuances
Menahem Golan – whose Cannon Group would distribute some of the trashiest productions of the 1980s – and co-screenwriter Clarke Reynolds were apparently so busy elaborating cliché-ridden dialogue and flag-waving monologues that they made no effort to add either psychological depth to their characters or nuances to the political underpinnings of the crisis.
As a result, Jews/Israelis are depicted as either pitiful victims or fearless warriors, while the German and Arab terrorists are mean-spirited, grenade-carrying people with no taste in clothes or sunglasses and no raison d’être.
Unsurprisingly, with the exception of Yehoram Gaon’s charismatic turn as commando leader Col. Yonatan Netanyahu (older brother of future far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), the performances in Operation Thunderbolt come across as flatter than cardboards. Even master scenery-chewer Klaus Kinski is quite sedate here – and for once, his Nosferatu fangs were sorely missed.
Now, it would be naive to expect unbiased historical context from filmmakers who made a point of presenting the Israeli rescue commandos through deifying camera angles reminiscent of those used on the 1960s puppet TV series Thunderbirds. But it must be pointed out that such gross disregard for subtlety ends up working against the film.
For even though Operation Thunderbolt is supposed to be a retelling of actual events – it even boasts the appearance via documentary footage of several Israeli government officials – its propagandistic tone is so blatant that viewers will wonder not how much, but how little of what they see may actually have any connection to reality.
Operation Thunderbolt / Mivtsa Yonatan (1977)
Director: Menahem Golan.
Screenplay: Menahem Golan & Clarke Reynolds.
Cast: Klaus Kinski. Yehoram Gaon. Sybil Danning. Gila Almagor. Assi Dayan. Arik Lavie. Ori Levy. Mark Heath.
“Operation Thunderbolt Movie (1977) Review” notes
Victory at Entebbe & Raid on Entebbe
 Two quickly assembled made-for-television flicks, both featuring impressive name casts, found their way onto American small screens within six months of the hijacking – before, producers and executives hoped, U.S. TV watchers had forgotten all about the previous summer’s thrilling world-stage event.
Aired on ABC in December 1976, Marvin J. Chomsky’s Victory at Entebbe features Helmut Berger, Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor, Helen Hayes, Theodore Bikel, Jessica Walter, Linda Blair, Julius Harris, Harris Yulin, Richard Dreyfuss, Kirk Douglas, David Groh, and Christian Marquand.
Aired on NBC in January 1977, Irvin Kershner’s Raid on Entebbe features Peter Finch, Charles Bronson, Yaphet Kotto, Horst Buchholz, Sylvia Sidney, Martin Balsam, John Saxon, Stephen Macht, Jack Warden, Robert Loggia, and Eddie Constantine.
“Operation Thunderbolt Movie” endnotes
Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning Operation Thunderbolt movie image: Golan-Globus Productions.
“Operation Thunderbolt Movie: Inept Oscar-Nominated Terror Drama” last updated in September 2021.
Very Relevaqnt in October 2016 I have DVD. Many Stars Celebs and Politicians. Exciting Doco Drama!
thanks for this beautiful movie. Where i can buy the dvd from the real version israeli and not american.
I can’t found it anywhere in france or europe .Thanks for your response of having this tape or dvd
i loved songs, music, the atmosphere and brillant actors and actresses
all the best for ISRAEL
deborah gazel france
I was extremely disappointed by Klaus Kinski’s lazy paycheck performance, as he was the only reason I even watched the film. The moral significance of the actual events that inspired the film are irrelevent at best, especially from the perspective of an American 30-somthing in 2012 who is rather sick of both the Israeli’s and the Arabs oil n religion sucking us back into that dead end desert. Weve got all the God and Oil we need right here in the States, so lets keep our boys at home while the jews and arabs go at each other like dogs in the street, because nothing we say or do is gonna change a fuckin thing over there.
Sorry, “moral” equivalence.
Sybil, thank you for your defense of the film.
I get tired of evenhandedness with scum. There is no maral equivalence between those who would kill old ladies and helpless civilians and those who would rescue them.
Yonni Netanyahu was a hero of the first rank, a Harvard educated philosopher and warrior who led from the front and was the only soldier killed at Entebbe. Yeah, he deserved the shoot from the feet deify shot.
I’m sorry, but terrorists are slime. Take Nidal Hassan, for example. I was hired to work at the Fort Hood Darnell Medical Center as a psychiatrist before I took my other job, so I would be dead today except for luck.
Hasan lectured about cutting off the heads of infidels, he frequented exotic dancer bars, and he was, by all accounts, a very subpar clinician.
Yeah, most terrorists have limited worldviews and limited fashion and behavioral sense.
Andre, What the f—. Know the true facts before claiming to know them. All in the movie is authentic, clothes, my glassesa, etc. Menahem Golan interview the survivors! Sybil Danning
Andreas makes criticises the cinematic craftsmanship of the movie, however, I differ entirely on the point, it was enjoyable and all the more so because in its essential elements the movie is factually accurate.
A group of idealistic militants took a vessel by force, and threatened the lives of over one hundred randomly selected passengers, except for one common thread: all the passengers they earmarked for execution unless certain demands were met were of Jewish heritage.
Andreas intimates that there is some factual context missing from the movie. He implies that the threat by these hijackers to murder these people of Jewish ancestry could somehow be justified (just a little, just a little bit, with these words:
“Thus, Jews are either poor victims or brave warriors, while terrorists are mean, grenade-carrying people with neither raison d’être nor taste in clothes or sunglasses”.
Therefore, if we knew a little about the “raison d’être” we could sympathise more with the threat to murder these Jews? The movie is deficient in this respect?
I wonder, at what point can we not just draw a line and say, group punishment of innocent civilians is just wrong, treating the matter on a case by case basis.
Andreas, if you have a moral story to tell and think you can do better, let us know when the film is finished.
In the meantime, this was an excellent relaying of the essential events of a horrifying criminal act where astonishingly the victims were spared from harm by an decisive and bold government instructing an amazingly well-trained and organised military unit.
True that not everything Israel does is beyond condemnation, but this is a nation of people who since World War II and prior have struggled to survive against some incredibly hostile actions. There are others who in turn have suffered at the hands of Israelis in their struggle to survive. Andreas, go and tell that story. But this one is a complete and neatly wrapped package, not too ambitious for the time and attention span of a mainstream cinema going audience.