Sky Riders is a mid-’70s thriller directed by Douglas Hickox, who is primarily remembered for Theater of Blood. That film featured Vincent Price in one of his better roles during his British phase, but Hickox also directed Brannigan, one of the two cop films John Wayne starred in after the success of Dirty Harry (a part that The Duke regretted having turned down). Sky Riders was Hickox’s first film after Brannigan, which came out the year previously in 1975.
The ’70s had a massive increase in left-wing terrorism, like the abduction of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army or the activities of the Red Army Faction, to name two. Naturally Hollywood would reflect this in genre films, with Black Sunday and Day of the Jackal being probably the two best-remembered films during that time, as well as the appearance of numerous terrorists in Bond films. Sky Riders, however, is mostly a showcase for the aerial photography in the impressive climax, not a feature that was actually interested in the politics of the terrorists.
James Coburn was a man whose sheer presence and charm was able to salvage almost anything he ever appeared in. This is no exception: here he plays the former husband of Ellen (Susannah York) who is married to a rich industrialist. The terrorists kidnap her and her children. Coburn’s Jim McCabe is the biological father, and he soon steps in after the police’s rescue attempts fail. He plans out a daring rescue mission using hang gliders.
The whole film moves at a pretty unrelentless pace over 90 minutes, and rarely gets bogged down with exposition. The opening sequence is absurdly violent in that way that so many films from the ’70s were, and is quite startling. It’s kind of downhill from there, but things pick up when Coburn hires the hand gliders and the rescuers carry out their mission. You never really get to see the interworkings of the terrorist group — they only serve as villains, which is a shame.
Overall it’s a perfectly good action film, wth a strong performance as Coburn and impressive aerial photography. It’s a good film to watch on a lazy sunday afternoon with your pops. The release is dual format, but doesn’t have any other special features.