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Film / Sky Bandits

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Sky Bandits, also known as Gunbus, is a 1986 British adventure film about two outlaws from the Wild West, drafted to the battlefields of WWI, who enlist in the fledgling Royal Air Force flying early warplanes called gunbuses.

When two cowboys, Barney and Luke, are captured in the old west trying to rob a bank, they are exiled to the front lines of World War I to fight alongside the British. They get into a bet to see if they can fly a Gunbus, they do but then end up in another base under an officer who is determined to hunt down a German airship.

Sky Bandits contains examples of:

  • Badass Longcoat: Most of the pilots wear calf length leather flying coats. The commander of the German airship is wearing a black leather trenchcoat.
  • Bank Robbery: At the start of the film, Barney and Luke are staging a series of bank robberies across the American west. These robberies usually end with Barney blowing up the bank by using too much dynamite.
  • The Bet: The main plot kicks off when Barney makes a bet with Nicky that anyone who can drive a truck can fly a plane.
  • Black Cloak: The evil captain of the German airship wears a black leather trench coat. He is the only character to do so.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Not exactly a museum piece, but after the German airship bombs all of the squadron's planes while they are on the ground, the heroes have to use the old gunbus—an outdated plane from the early years of the war—to go after it. The gunbus was being repaired at the time of the attack and so was the only plane not bombed.
  • The Cavalry: When Barney and Luke and trying to take on the heavily-armed and armoured airship in only their outgunned and outdated gunbus, they are saved by Major Bannock's squadron showing up flying Fritz's 'specials'.
  • Cigar-Fuse Lighting: While robbing banks, Barney lights a dynamite fuse off his cigarette. Much later, he rides through the German base on a bicycle, smoking a cigar and casually lighting fuses and tossing the dynamite behind him.
  • Cool Airship: The German experimental airship is a veritable flying fortress, armed with all kinds of strange weaponry, such as floating mines and caltrop bombs.
  • Demolitions Expert: Barney is an expert dynamiter. However, his Mad Bomber tendencies mean that he always uses too much dynamite.
  • Dread Zeppelin: The heroes have to battle a German experimental armoured airship that is a veritable flying fortress, armed with all kinds of strange weaponry, such as floating mines and caltrop bombs.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Fritz. Fellow Grease Monkey Chalky notes that he is a mechanical genius, and he cobbles together bizarre flying contraptions out of wrecked planes and whatever other machines he can find: including an old car and what appears to be a tractor. Despite their ungainly designs, all of these 'specials' (as he dubs them) manage to fly.
  • Grease Monkey: Chalky is the main mechanic who keeps the squadron flying. Fritz, the other mechanic of note, is closer to a Gadgeteer Genius.
  • Hard-to-Light Fire: When Barney and Luke attempt to blow the bridge over the canyon to prevent the Posse catching up with them, Barney plants the dynamite in the middle of the bridge, but then cannot find any matches. He calls to Luke desperately for matches, and Luke provides him with a single match. Barney lights the fuse, which then burns out without detonating the dynamite. Barney is reduced to setting off the dynamite by shooting it. Luke later reveals he had a whole box of matches and was just messing with Barney. This also marks the first instance of the film's Running Gag of Barney never having a match when he needs one.
  • High-Class Glass: The RFC officer who acts as toastmaster for the fallen pilots sports a monocle. It pops out in surprise when Barney and Luke tell him that they have seen the airship.
  • Implausible Deniability: Barney and Luke are caught about to dynamite open the vault of a bank in the middle of the night. They claim they just came in to make a deposit.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: Barney and Luke manage to land their unwieldy gunbus on top of the German airship!
  • Knife-Throwing Act: Bannock's squadron is based in a circus camp, with many of the performers still there. One of them is seen practicing his knife throwing while chopping up vegetables for dinner.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: The girls put themselves forward as the stake in The Bet between Barney and Luke and Aldiss and Nicky.
  • Mad Bomber: Barney is a Demolitions Expert, but he usually uses too much dynamite. When he and Luke are robbing banks, he usually winds up blowing up the bank rather than blowing the safe open.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Barney and Luke mug a pair of drunk British officers and steal their uniforms so they can gain access to the officers club. Barney later steals a uniform off a German airman and gives it to Luke so he can infiltrate the airship base.
  • Ramming Always Works: During the final aerial battle against the German airship, Major Bannock crashes his Fritz 'special' into one side of the airship and out the other.
  • Running Gag: Barney never having any matches on him.
  • Sniping the Cockpit: As the bomber comes in on a bombing run over the infantry, Luke and Barney open fire with six-guns. One of them manages to hit the pilot, causing the bomber to crash.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Fritz constructs strange flying machines he calls 'specials' out of the remains of crashed planes and machinery he finds lying around. After most of their planes are bombed, Major Bannock's squadron press the 'specials' into service. Many of them look like they should not be able to fly at all.
  • Those Two Guys: Aldiss and Nicky, the two British officers whose bet with Barney and Luke unwittingly dumps them into the thick of the action. They keep turning up in the background of the subsequent action, such as refusing to confess to stealing the Gunbus or very deliberately not noticing Barney and Luke stealing the planes from their base.
  • Trading Bars for Stripes: When Barney and Luke are caught trying to rob a bank, the sheriff hands them over to the local recruiting sergeant rather than sending them for trial. They are shipped straight off to the front lines of WWI.
  • Twilight of the Old West: Barney and Luke are a pair of old school bank robbers trying to ply their trade in the dying days of the wild west. New forms of transport and communications spell an end to their crime wave. At the end of the film, they return to their bank robbing ways, only now they are using a plane to make their getaway.
  • Vehicle Title: The alternative title of Gunbus refers to the plane Barney and Luke learn to fly on, and which is later used in their final attack on the airship.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What became of Mitsou and Yvette? The movie ends with Barney and Luke defeating the airship, and then cuts to the pair back in the US, the war presumably over, but no sign of their girlfriends. Did they leave them in war-ravaged Europe?