World War Two movies have always posed a problem for the Italian exploitation film industry: they were on the wrong side for most of the war. Whilst this isn't necessarily a problem with regard to films designed primarily for domestic consumption - 2002's El Alamein: Bond of Honour
, for instance, which tells of the harrowing experiences of the Italian troops on the receiving end of the UK's great desert victory - but for the wider international market, troops fighting for the fascists against the UK and US as heroes was a non-starter. So, back in the late sixties and early seventies, keen to cash in on the war movie boom of the era, (blockbusters like Dirty Dozen
, Battle of the Bulge
, Kelly's Heroes
and many, many others were hitting big screens at this time), the Italians fell back on the old expediency of anglicising the cast's names and putting them into British or American uniforms. Despite the desert war being a popular locale for these so called 'Macaroni War' genre, the Italian army was never in sight, with the Germans always cast as a bunch of Nazi bastards.
Whilst my experience of the genre is fairly limited, I have to admit that I've developed a soft spot for the 1970 release Overrun!
which ticks most of the boxes for this type of movie: the desert setting, Italian actors pretending to be British, lots of explosions, anachronistic and often just plain wrong military equipment and dreadful dialogue. It also seems to be a compendium of scenes inspired by just about every desert-set war movie the makers had ever seen: the vehicle bogged down in sand and having to be pushed free from Ice Cold in Alex
, for instance, the sand storm from Bitter Victory
, the relentless pursuit by the Afrika Korps from Sea of Sand
, Brits disguised as Germans to get through enemy lines as in Tobruk
, even the Arab cavalry riding to the rescue from Lawrence of Arabia
! But in other ways it is atypical of the genre. Most 'Macaroni War' pictures I've seen have involved the protagonists involved in carrying out some kind of perilous mission behind enemy lines. In Overrun!
there is no mission. Our heroes are merely trying to find their way back to the British lines in the wake of the defeat at Tobruk. Consequently, they find themselves engaged in a series of meandering adventures and encounters which encompass virtually all of the tropes of the genre: strafing by enemy planes, taking a German soldier prisoner, helping perform a life-saving operation on a local Arab chief's son and so on.
It is also atypical in featuring three leading female characters, (although they only appear at the half-way mark, they become instrumental in the film's subsequent plot developments), in the form of a military doctor, a secretary and an entertainer from the USO (dubbed with an American accent). Two of whom have red hair - an apparent obsession amongst Italian film makers when portraying 'Anglo Saxon' women. Whilst the plot meanders, a consistent theme quickly develops, with top-billed Ivan Rassimov's Lt. Crossland, a by-the-book military man obsessed with discipline and orders, increasingly coming into conflict with Al Landy's ex-university lecturer turned supply officer Captain Leighton as how best to achieve their aims. Although outranking Crossland, Leighton at first defers to the junior officer's greater combat experience, but grows increasingly unhappy at his apparent belief that it is their duty as soldiers to continue fighting some kind of guerrilla action against the enemy, rather than simply finding their own lines. This develops into a dialectic between the two men as to the point of war, notions of 'duty' and honour. Crossland's tactics culminate in a desperate last-stand against one of those German armoured columns which just seem to randomly roam the desert, at an abandoned fort, resulting in the deaths of most of the party before the intervention of the Arabs. The film ends with Leighton and the other survivors contemplating the futility of war as they watch Crossland receiving a medal.
Not exactly profound, but at least a change from the usual gung ho heroics of this kind of film. Unlike many 'Macaroni War' films, Overrun!
doesn't feature any imported British or American 'stars'. However, many of the cast are recognisable from other Italian exploitation films, particularly Rassimov and 'Kirk Morris' who was usually to be found impersonating Maciste and other muscle men in Peplums. The desert sequences were filmed on location in Egypt and are quite impressive, as is the scale of the Afrika Korps operations - half the Egyptian army seems to be doubling for them. As ever, most of the vehicles are anachronistic or incorrect. Most entertainingly, the same Sherman tanks (some with the AMX-13 turret) and Archer tank destroyers fight on both sides - for most of the film they are in German colours, but in the final scene you can see them in British colours and insignia, lined up behind Crossland as he receives his medal. But hey, that's all part of the fun of watching these movies!
Labels: Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze