Saturday, October 31, 2009

Commandos (1968)

Director: Armando Crispino

Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Jack Kelly

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Seven men who stood between Rommel's Afrika Korps and ultimate victory.

Plot: Sgt. Sullivan puts together a group of Italian-Americans into disguise as Italian soldiers in order to infiltrate a North African camp held by the Italians. Sullivan's commandos are to hold this camp and its weaponry until an American battalion arrives, all the while these Italian-Americans pretend to be Italian soldiers, often hosting the enemy. Lt. Valli is a young, "green," by-the-book officer who is constantly at odds with Sgt. Sullivan, an experienced soldier.

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Ja!

Earlier this week I began what became four nights of four Italian WWII films from '68-'71. COMMANDOS started this mini genre fest. How did that happen? 'CAUSE COMMANDOS KICKS FUCKING ASS!

It's criminally got a bad rating on imdb. I loved it. It's much more than you would expect from a picture of this ilk. It's got LOTS of action, suspense, some humor, a little T&A and, dare I say it, character development!

Lee Van Cleef was an established international badass by this point. Because of films like FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), Cleef shot to the top of popularity in Italy and was, for the first time in his life, getting consistent lead roles. In COMMANDOS he continues his badassness as MSgt. Sullivan, one of three survivors from a battle with the Japanese. Why on three survivors? It's because his superior officer wanted to make a name for himself and risked the lives of his men. As a result, Sullivan has an EXTREME distaste for his new superior officer, Captain Valli (Kelly).

I didn't realize it but in all four of these movies I've watched this week they all share this similar theme. Hmmmmm. Anyway, we get moments when Sullivan has flashbacks to the island where that bloody battle took place and he does some genuine acting, outside of his badassicityness of course. He's the only one who's concerned about Valli's ability as a leader as he's never experienced combat and, more so, Valli's poor decision making like when they raid the desert depot and Valli, having previously stated that they will take no prisoners, takes prisoners. This leads to endangering the entire outfit and Sullivan's PISSED! He knows by keeping them alive Valli is endangering the mission.

What's the mission? Simple. Infiltrate and replace an Italian-guarded oasis (fuel depot for the Germans and Italians) until the American forces arrive.

There's TONS of suspense and action and it delivers everything you'd expect in a WWII actioner. What you don't expect to find is how well the characters are defined. You've basically got three different camps - the Americans disguised as Italians, the Italians and the Germans (not Nazis - I'll explain later). There's no animosity between the groups other than it's war and they have their duty to destroy the enemy.

The Americans are, as is natural in these films, a fun-loving bunch. We only get to know a small handful of them. The same goes with the Italian prisoners and their commanding officer. They all have some sort of personality which gets doled out here and there, like them or not. And then there are the Germans who visit the depot for fuel, food and HOOKER ACTION which we don't get because the Yanks have given her knock-out drops to keep her from talking to the enemy. She wants to make money and the Americans won't let her. She should've called the Better Business Bureau.

YOWZA! Gotsta LOVE them wartime Italian hookers!

Anyway, the Germans, like the Italians and the Americans, are portrayed as REAL people; not some stereotype evil bastards you get in the US WWII films. In COMMANDOS you've only got the head German officer who's kind of nasty but then he's suspicious of the sudden new crew at the depot. He's not an evil asshole. He's a soldier doing his job. The rest are just having fun. We do get the displaced German low-ranking officer who was an entomologist before the war and really doesn't want to be there. Can't blame him. He's very civilized and finds a friend in the American CO, Valli, who shares his taste in poetry. It's a genuine moment and I kind of felt bad for the guy because, if not for the war, they could very well be good friends.

Mario Nascimbene's score is rather odd but brilliantly so. He incorporates the medieval song of death, the Dies Irae, into the score. Nothing strange there. But there's the initial raid on the oasis. He uses a drone tone when the camera is on the commandos and uses a slightly higher-pitched tone for the oasis/Italians. At first I was taken aback by the whole thing but after a couple of minutes it seem to work extremely well. I felt as if, as a student of film and music, I had learned/experienced something valuable. It's a nice balance to the action we're watching, much like in modern war films where you hear a slow, somber orchestral piece over incredible violence. I've taken that idea one step further by always having Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" ready to play whenever I start some ass-kicking. It throws off your opponent and there's a built-in soundtrack for everyone filming the scuffle on their phones. Bonus!

I forgot. There's action.


The Italians escape, causing the Americans to give chase in a great action sequence through the desert. The German commander, at his HQ, discovers the American ruse and sends troops to eliminate them. HUGE fucking firefight where Sullivan saves Valli (nice moment shared between the two actors). The battle leaves two men standing; one American and one German. After a long stare-down, the American throws his machine gun down and the German follows. They start to bury the dead. Cue overhead helicopter shot pulling away.


GREAT FUCKING CLIMAX! I did not see that coming.

This film's loaded with everything you'd expect and then some. I was so excited at coming across this gem that I started watching more in my collection that I had never gotten around to. They didn't live up to the bar set by COMMANDOS but then few could. They were enjoyable and I certainly won't stop looking that next great film, 90 minutes at a time.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Battle of the Commandos (1969)

Director: Umberto Lenzi

Starring: Jack Palance, Wolfgang Preiss, Thomas Hunter & Curd Jurgens

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: They Challenged the Devil... and Won!

Plot: The story focuses on a band of British ex-cons, who are recruited by Scottish Colonel MacPherson (Jack Palance) to clear a path for British commandos through a minefield off the Normandy coast on the night of June 4th, 1944. When the commando force is ambushed by a German PT Boat, MacPherson becomes obsessed with taking on their mission: destroy a huge railroad gun which threatens the imminent Allied landings, which happens to be commanded by his nemesis, Colonel Ackerman (Wolfgang Preiss), much to the dismay of his men.

My Rating: 7/10

Would I watch it again? Oh, yeah!

And here's the second of three Italian WWII pictures I watched this week...and it's fun! I'm a huge Palance fan to begin with so toss him into a cheesy Italian WWII picture and I'm all over it. Fortunately, it's quite good despite the low rating on IMDB.

The oddest thing about the film is Palance plays a Scot, so hearing him with a Scottish accent is a odd and fun. He's got a beef with the general who's maneuver got all but two of Palance's men killed on their latest mission. Palance's German counterpart, Col. Ackerman was the one who did the killing. The opening of the film has Palance burst into HQ all huffing and puffing, making his way to the general's office. When he gets to the general's secretary who says he can't see the general, Palance slams the guy's forehead and goes in anyway. Classic.

The general's slick. He's got a new mission for Palance who's got a huge "Fuck You" for the general. The general name drops Ackerman as someone who'll be in the vicinity of Palance's mission. Sold. Now he needs a team and there's no one around but these criminals. It sounds like THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) but it's not. Sure, it's a men-on-a-mission with criminals but that's about where it ends, really. There's no training - just the mission, an unexpected change of plans and Palance's need for revenge.

Palance's nemesis, Nazi baddie Col. Ackerman (Wolfgang Preiss)

Hey, kids! It's Curd Jurgens! You know, the villain in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME!

There was a choice bit of dialogue when the sole American of the bunch is alone with a "lady". The gang had come across a French farmhouse inhabited by a young woman and an older man, her lover. He's shot trying to escape and they take her with them. Anyway, the Yank is alone with her and he wants to know the story on the older man...

Janine: Have you ever been so hungry that you faint from the pain of the cramps in your stomach? I have.

Burke (Hunter): You'd better get out of here.

Janine: No. Listen to me. The first time, it was not like it was in books. It was not romantic. No lovely moonlight. No beautiful words. He was a pig, but I knew afterwards he'd give me a dozen tins of food.

Burke: And then?

Janine: Eating becomes a habit.


It's fun. I enjoyed it. I was never bored once. I found Palance to be fun and his mission filled with plenty of action thrown in; enough to certainly feel like you got your money's worth.

Oh, and Marcello Giombini's score with its lighthearted marches just didn't work for me. It's the kind of score that asks the question, "Did you even see the film?"

Don't look for historical accuracy or much of an attempt to make this film stand up to the scrutiny of a larger budget, more detail-minded production. I'm not looking for that in a picture like this. I'm just looking to be entertained and BATTLE OF THE COMMANDOS did just that. Thank you Umberto Lenzi. Thank you Jack Palance!

Kill Rommel! (1969)

Director: Alfonso Brescia

Starring: Anton Diffring, Carl Parker and a crapload of Italians

More Info: IMDB

Plot: During WWII, US Lieutenant Morris and British captain Hull are assigned in a mission to kill Rommel.

My Rating: 6.5

Would I watch it again? I could see that happening if I've exhausted all other Italian WWII films

Outside of the US (if not more so), Italy is my favorite country for film output. They exploited everything in the 60s and 70s. Eurowar is a great example. It wasn't until THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), easily one of the greatest WWII films of...all...time, came out and became an international success that the Italians dove into the WWII action genre head first. I have no idea how many were made but the genre lasted only a few years into the early 70s but they raped and pillaged those years until there wasn't much left.

This is the third night in a row that I've watched an Italian WWII actioner and KILL ROMMEL! is the least of the three. That's not saying it isn't good. It is for the most part. It's the acting (could be the dubbing, too, but there are scenes where, dubbing or not, he's pretty bad) by the lead, Carl Parker as the sole American - Lt. George Morris. He's pretty lousy and it brings down most scenes where he's doing some 'acting'. It's no shock to see by his credits on IMDB that this is his first of 4 films he's acted in. Outside of that, it's quite a good picture.

The story's about Morris joining a British "Rat Patrol-esqe" force in Africa during WWII. There's just a handful of them and Morris, a Texan (we're told), wants to do things his own way and has a complete distaste for his British commanding officer, Captain Richard Hull (very nicely played by Anton Diffring). That's all fine and dandy if Morris weren't such a fucking baby about everything. He bitches about shit almost as much as Anakin Skywalker in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. His inability to obey orders gets him and his comrades into some shitty situations.

After the first quarter of the film Morris court martialed for disobeying orders. The Lt. gets him off the hook so he can join his team on a plan to kill Rommel. Intelligence (bad intelligence...bad) has it that Rommel will be arriving at a small air field. The boys tear through the town, killing everyone in sight, hauling ass to the air field on the outskirts. Killing Germans left and right they end up in pursuit of the general, eventually killing all passengers including the decoy. WTF? He's a decoy? It's not the real Rommel? That's right. Shit. Now they're doing their best to get the fuck out of Dodge 'cause the Jerrys are hot on their tail. What follows is a series of action sequences that end up killing off some of the men leaving Morris and Howell left along with an Italian prisoner they picked up along the way. Will they make it back to HQ across the unflinching desert?

It's really got a lot of action and some terrific location shooting. I love this shit. Lots of great WWII desert fights with the usual machine guns, tanks, planes and so on. Really fun stuff. But goddamnit! Parker is bad. His character doesn't really have much of an arc, either, although they try. He's just at a point where he's doing what he can to survive. That'll change anyone in some way. I will say that his acting improves 'slightly' in the second half of the film since he's not complaining much and in the final minutes of the movie he's got that Harrison Ford look going for him.

In all, it's definitely worth a look. The copy I watched was a TV rip from where I don't know but it's letterboxed and a good print. I'd hate to think of how shitty this would be in a full screen, pan & scan version. The wide shots of the terrain in KILL ROMMEL! are fantastic. Don't cry yourself to sleep if you can't find it. It'll turn up somewhere and when it does, you'll have fun.