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.
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 DIRTY SPOILERS.....
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.
END OF SPOILERS...Yarrrrrrr
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.