I am exhausted and badly in need of some sleep. This elongated Easter weekend has been one long orgy of over-indulgence in movies, many of dubious quality. Yesterday was a triple bill of late sixties/early seventies Italian war movies, at least one of which still makes no sense to me whatsoever, no matter how often I try to work the plot details out in my head. I followed that up with pseudo Spaghetti western Captain Apache
starring Lee Van Cleef, before rounding off Easter Day with a Harry Allan Towers produced obscurity from 2001 called High Explosive
. I'm afraid I just couldn't make it to the end of the latter, which was just too painful to watch. (It was made during Towers' sojourn in South Africa and starred Patrick Bergin, who looked terrible, although, to be fair, he looked even worse until I realised I had the TV screen in the wrong ratio, he must have 'lost' at least three stone after I corrected it). I'd already kicked the weekend off with a serious Italian war movie about El Alamein
and a late night viewing of my DVD of The Longest Day
on Thursday into Good Friday. Obscure British horror comedy What a Carve Up!
followed on Friday, whilst on Saturday I took in another Italian war movie, Churchill's Leopards
, and a faux Terence Hill/Bud Spencer Spaghetti western, (the producer evidently couldn't secure the services of the real thing, so found two actors who looked like the popular duo and, in the English language version at least, appeared to have them dubbed by the real deal's regular voice artists). Today I confined myself to more Italian war action with Suicide Commandos
By now, you are probably wondering why on earth I'd put myself through the ordeal of watching so many 'bad' films over such a short space of time, (most courtesy of Movies4Men, by the way)? Well, the answer to that lies somewhere in the wider questions of what constitutes a 'bad' film and why we watch films at all. Obviously, the simple answer to the latter question is: entertainment. The question of why 'bad' films are often so perversely entertaining is more complex. Do we watch them 'ironically', aware of their badness but deriving pleasure from sneering at so as to assert our critical superiority in being able to see them as 'bad' films? Or do we watch them uncritically, aware of their flaws but not caring? Watching the Italian war movies and comparing them with Hollywood epic The Longest Day
, was interesting. The latter laid great emphasis on 'authenticity' and historical accuracy in its portrayal of the events of D-Day, taking care not to sensationalise the action or misrepresent the historical figures it portrayed. Indeed, by 1962 standards, it was reasonably accurate and authentic, but still carefully tailored its narrative to show the allies as uniformly heroic, the Germans (except Hitler, the SS and Gestapo) as reasonable and honourable, even if they were fighting for a misguided cause. The sixties and seventies Italian war movies make no claims for authenticity or historical accuracy, by contrast. They are unashamed 'blood and thunder' adventures full of blazing machine guns and exploding grenades. As such, they are, perversely, far more easily accessible and entertaining than The Longest Day
. Sure, the latter is a film I admire for its virtuous attempts at accuracy and authenticity, but it fails to really convey either the exhilaration many men feel when they fight in wars, or the other side of the coin, the sheer terror others feel at the horror of it all. Moreover, one longs for it all to erupt into a no-holds barred tank battle, just to keep it all moving!
The Italian films are often derided for their lack of budget, lack of authenticity with regard to the equipment and uniforms used and their, often, haphazard use of stock footage. Yet the truth is that both the US and UK put out plenty of low-budget war movies in the fifties and sixties which exhibited all of the same traits. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen post-war US tanks pretending to be Panzers or Bf 108s and Harvard trainers masquerading as Bf 109s and Focke Wolfe 190s, respectively. When it comes to poor use of stock footage, I caught part of a fifties Korean War cheapie called Dragonfly Squadron the other day whose climax featured stock footage of US M46 tanks representing North Korean T34s, which were then attacked by a montage of aircraft footage, in which the attacking South Korean jets changed type several times, during a strafing run they turned into Mustangs, a piston engine, prop driven aircraft. But the Italian movies remain far more entertaining than their English-language counterparts which, regardless of their low budgets, feel it necessary to burden themselves with tedious 'character development' and lots of turgid dialogue about the horrors/glories of war (depending upon the makers' stance). Italian war movies, generally speaking, simply sketch in the briefest of character details necessary to set up the consequent character conflicts and launch straight into the action.
To be fair, it isn't just low budget English war movies which lack authenticity and historical accuracy: Battle of the Bulge
, for instance, a big budget mid-sixties box office hit, not only features both sides using entirely inaccurate tanks and equipment, but the story it tells is a travesty of real events. It's poorly acted, with unspeakable dialogue and features unconvincing and poorly co-ordinated action sequences, to boot. Yet the average UK or US war movie fan will hold it up as a classic whilst simultaneously slating, say, Desert Commandos
. for exhibiting many of the same faults. One area where the Italian films are often slated are their poor special effects. I'll be the first to admit that the exploding dam in Churchill's Leopards
and the blazing plastic model fighter planes at the climax of Suicide Commandos
represent some of the worst miniatures work I've ever seen, but I've also seen some big budget US and UK films with almost as dodgy miniatures work: just watch the climax of You Only Live Twice
, for instance, when the interior of Blofeld's volcano HQ explodes and all those miniature figures and vehicles dance across the floor. All of which, in a roundabout sort of way, brings us back to the question of why I spent the better part of a four day weekend watching these movies. I suppose it all comes down to the fact that, for one thing, in the case of the war movies, they bring an unfamiliar perspective to a hackneyed subject, free from many of the preconceptions and conventions of English-language war films and, ultimately, they simply aren't self-conscious, they don't feel the need to 'justify' the fact that they are entertainment by burdening themselves down with claims of historical fidelity or pretentious 'messages'.
I'll be looking at some of these films in more detail in due course, along with some more cinematic treats promised by Movies4Men over the next few weeks, including a spaghetti pirate movie with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, some classic British B movies and a smattering of Peplums...
Labels: Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze