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Film / Hornets' Nest

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"Here's your problem! You had a knife in your spleen!"

It's World War II. In the Italian village of Reanoto, the SS, under the command of the cruel Major Taussig, massacres the entire adult population while a group of children look on from nearby. Not long afterward, a group of American soldiers led by The Stoic Captain Turner are to parachute in for a top-secret commando mission, but are waylaid by German forces led by the stern, no-nonsense Captain von Hecht. Only Turner survives, and barely. He's found by the kids from Reanoto, who are led by the borderline psychotic Aldo.

The kids nurse Turner back to health aided by a beautiful captive German doctor named Bianca. In return for Turner teaching the kids how to load and fire machine guns, Aldo and the gang will help Turner complete his original mission, filling in for his dead team and blowing up the supposedly impregnable Della Norte Dam. Turner clashes with Bianca over what is best for the boys, whilst Aldo begins disliking the American taking over leadership from him, and, in the meantime, von Hecht is hunting for Turner, whom he knows is alive.

Tropes used in this film:

  • Action Prologue:
    • The massacre of Reanoto and the botched American landing.
    • The Novelization has its own Action Prologue in the form of a bit of Adaptation Expansion where Turner and his team prepare for their mission by attacking an Allied-held dam under the supervision of a guy named Major Darcy, with American troops standing in for German ones.
  • Break the Cutie: And nothing is better for that than watching their parents getting massacred by the SS.
  • Butt-Monkey: Carlo is this for Aldo, who mistreats him often and ultimately kills him. Then there's Silvio, who seems to have the most bad things happen to him out of all the kids. He eventually dies at the end.
  • The Cassandra: Captain von Hecht spends half the movie trying to convince his boneheaded superiors that Turner's target is obviously the dam, with a list of good reasons why he thinks so. He ends up needing to go rogue in an ultimately doomed effort to stop the American from succeeding. May also classify as Ignored Expert, given his experience in dealing with partisan activity.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: Scarpi is the only partisan to escape the Action Prologue ambush, but he's gunned down just a scene or two later when the Germans catch him trying to find a doctor for the wounded Captain Turner.
  • Children Are Innocent: This movie doesn't so much avert this trope as brutally strangle it to death, then shoot its twitching corpse just to make sure.
  • Cold Sniper: Partisan leader Scarpi is a skilled rifle shot who ruthlessly snipes one of his own men for talking under torture.
  • Death of a Child: The first few minutes has the SS machine-gunning nursing mothers and their babies. Then subverted up until the deaths of Carlo and Silvio.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Aldo suffers a particularly heartwrenching one at the end when the enormity of what he has been through - what he has done and what he almost did - finally takes its toll on him.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: A fatally wounded Silvio dies cradled in Turner's arms.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: Von Hecht. He sees the lone American commando running around as a challenge he must accept.
  • Everybody Smokes: Half the cast is seen puffing away. Even the kids.
    Turner: [as Aldo offers him some Lucky Strikes] I see you smoke my brand.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Turner never divulges his name to anyone until the end. Throughout the whole movie, everyone just calls him "Soldier."
    Bianca: [after calling him "Soldier"] I'm sorry... they don't call you anything else.
    Turner: Soldier's good enough.
  • Failed a Spot Check: This is what gets Gunther killed. Coming in, he doesn't notice Turner standing directly to his right, allowing the American to disarm him and break his neck.
  • Free-Range Children: Justified by the fact their parents, and indeed every adult in their village, got massacred.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: When Turner blows the dam.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: There's a few surprisingly cute scenes of the kids and the Germans interacting, particularly the bit where Carlo and Paolo trade two guards some candy for their cigarettes.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: There are very few wholly good and wholly evil characters in this film. Mostly, everyone is just emotionally and psychologically messed up.
  • Heel Realization: Turner suffers a minor one following the rape scene (or seems to, anyway), but he shrugs it off. After the death of Silvio however, he suffers a full-blown one. Aldo also suffers a delayed one at the end over accidentally killing Carlo.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Sometimes it seems like the slightest thing will set Aldo off.
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: Von Hecht kills Taussig this way.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted. Turner's suppressed handgun makes the correct noise for a silenced firearm, and isn't entirely silent, since the noise is shown to attract attention.
  • Hospital Hottie: Bianca.
  • In the Back: Turner's preferred method of dispatching unsuspecting Germans. This is also how Bianca attempts to kill him at one point.
  • La RĂ©sistance: The Partisans.
  • Male Gaze: Aldo when picking Bianca out as the doctor to kidnap.
  • Manly Tears: All over the place.
  • Mercy Kill: One possible reason Turner finishes off a German who'd already been shot.
  • Mook Lieutenant: Schwalberg.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: For the most part, Turner doesn't dwell on the fact he's arming preteen kids and teaching them how to kill. It's only after Silvio dies in his arms that he wonders if he did the right thing. Carlo's death results in him taking away the kids' guns and breaking them all in a rage.
  • Named by the Adaptation: All of Turner's doomed squadmates, Scarpi's second in command and a German soldier at the dam.
  • Neck Snap: Unleashed by Turner on Gunther.
  • Nominal Hero: Aldo. Although he claims he has the other boys' best interests at heart, he reacts violently to any challenge to his authority, real or perceived, and tends to fly off the handle when he doesn't immediately get what he wants. As the movie continues, it becomes clearer and clearer he enjoys killing a little too much.
  • No Name Given: We never learn Turner's first name.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Turner at one point says he understands the boys' need for vengeance, explaining he lost his father in an oil fire and spent most of his childhood fantasizing about destroying every oil rig he could find.
  • Novelization: By Michael Avallone.
  • Pet the Dog: Von Hecht is nice to Aldo and even literally gives him a pat on the head at one point.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Most of the Germans, but especially von Hecht and his men.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "Where! Are! The Partisans?!"
  • Rape as Backstory: Aldo mentions that the Nazis raped his mother and sister.
  • Rape as Drama: Aldo and some of the older boys try to force themselves on Bianca when she won't treat Turner because he's an enemy soldier. Turner saves her, but later it's very strongly implied he rapes her himself. The scene cuts away, though. It's worth noting that in Michael Avallone's Novelization the sex is consensual, albeit a bit rough, of the Slap-Slap-Kiss variety
  • Rape Discretion Shot: When Turner forces himself on Bianca, it cuts away.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Aldo insists this.
  • Rebel Leader: Scarpi. Aldo styles himself one, but is too violent, impulsive and incompetent to really succeed.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Aldo and Dino. Aldo is the Red one, violent and impulsive as described above; Dino is the Blue, the quieter and more thoughtful boy who prefers thinking things through.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The scene where one of the kids distracts a German soldier by walking up to the guy and taking a piss in front of him. The kids later distract the Germans at the dam by skinny dipping in the reservoir.
  • Revenge Before Reason: The kids don't care that blowing up the dam will flood the valley, drowning thousands of Nazis, including the ones who now occupy their old town. They want to personally kill their parents' murderers. This is understandable, but as Turner points out, is not at all practical. For the other kids, wiping out the SS is enough to satisfy their need for payback, but not for Aldo, who keeps right on wanting to kill Germans until Turner manages to knock some sense into him (but not before Carlo has paid the price for Aldo's private war).
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: With Turner's help, the kids essentially do a drive-by on SS headquarters and kill everything that moves.
  • Sanity Slippage: The film is basically one long road towards this for Aldo.
  • Self-Serving Memory: At one point, Aldo reminisces about an evening with a prostitute in Venice. One of the other boys points out that Aldo was eleven when he was last in Venice, and likely wouldn't have been able to get or know what to do with a prostitute at that age.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Averted with the regular German soldiers and played totally straight with the SS. They're stereotypical goosestepping, Sieg-Heiling fascists, although considering the movie begins with them massacring a whole town, they aren't really all that wacky.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Bianca spends much of the movie as a meek civilian blind to the Nazis' crimes, trying to avoid confrontation and letting herself get walked all over by Turner and the boys, even sexually assaulted by them. However, when Silvio dies defending her and the younger children from some attacking German soldiers, she grabs up his gun and mows all of her countrymen down in a fit of rage over the boy's death. Even Turner is shocked. She even gets some small revenge against Turner by reminding him the Nazis can just rebuild the dam.
  • Uncertain Doom: The Germans on the dam, particularly Schwalberg and Captain Kreuger. Even the Novelization doesn't explicitly mention what happens to them when it blows up.
  • Unscrupulous Hero:
    • Turner, who unhesitatingly arms children and trains them to kill and even commits rape at one point. He comes dangerously close to being a Nominal Hero. However, his intentions are good, and he has enough Pet the Dog moments and a good enough Heel Realization scene to avoid being completely nasty.
    • Scarpi. He vengefully shoots a captured Partisan who sold them out, even though the guy was obviously forced to talk. He too floats between being an Unscrupulous Hero and a Nominal Hero.
  • Villainous BSoD: Taussig suffers one when he returns and finds all of his men slaughtered.
  • The Voiceless: A few, particularly Dino's little sister Maria, who never speaks. It's possible it's due to the trauma of witnessing their parents gunned down. Meanwhile we also have German soldier Hermann, who also never actually talks.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Schwalberg. Although seen with von Hecht as his Satellite Character for basically the entire film, up towards the end, he just sort of vanishes. May also overlap with Uncertain Doom.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Turner spends the entire movie knifing and shooting nameless Nazi Mooks, but prevents Aldo from killing an unarmed Captain von Hecht, taking him prisoner instead.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Bianca repeatedly calls Turner out on his reckless use of the kids as replacements for his dead men.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Most of the "Germans" are played by Italian actors speaking English while trying to do a German accent.
  • Worthy Opponent: Von Hecht sees Turner as this.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian:
    • Von Hecht doesn't kill civilians and dislikes the murderous SS. However, he considers Partisans fair game and isn't above using the threat of being turned over to the SS to entice Italian civilians not to harbor or aid them.
    • Averted, of course, with the SS. Killing civilians seems to be all they're good for.