Undoubtedly more representative of the 'Macaroni War' genre than Overrun
, which we looked at the other week, this 1968 Italian/Spanish co-production is a typical 'men on a mission' entry in the oeuvre. The token US 'star' is Aldo Ray, somewhat bizarrely cast as a Frenchman, despite his obvious American accent, clearly down on his luck at this point in his career and cheerfully refusing to take any of this nonsense seriously. His tough commando sergeant is charged with recruiting a team of specialists to parachute behind German lines and destroy an air base which somehow threatens the D Day invasion. (Apparently it has something to do with the Messerchmitt Bf 109Ks based there). Not having the Dirty Dozen
's budget, Ray's team has only four members, (a fifth, an explosives expert, joins them on the plane flying to the mission, but is killed shortly after the parachute drop, having uttered only one line of dialogue). They are, naturally, the usual bunch of misfits - a drunken Maltese soldier, an ex-officer with a death wish, a gypsy and, most bizarrely, a scoutmaster who is an expert at orienteering and tracking. The latter character is played a lantern-jawed actor named Ugo Fangareggi (or Hugo Fangar-Smith in the English language credits), who, unfortunately, looks like a popular stereotype of a child molester, making his scenes with his scout troop look unfortunately creepy to contemporary eyes.
The recruitment and training process is - by contrast with the equivalent US/UK movies, where it frequently comprises at least half the running time - mercifully quick. Indeed, the raining is glossed over with a couple of brief sequences - none of the gruelling, but repetitive and boring, ordeals you usually see the recruits subjected to in these films. Clearly preferring to get to the real action, after a cursory briefing from their comic relief British army Colonel, director Camillo Bazzoni has the team board their Dakota and set off on their mission well before the half-way point, inevitably forced to bail out prematurely after the aircraft is attacked by a Harvard trainer pretending to be a Focke Wulf Fw 190. The consequent rapid elimination of the explosives expert and the capture of his supplies is revealed as plot device to force the commandos to change their plans. There is a brief switch to an espionage type plot as Ray is forced to contact the local British agent to try and get more explosives. As can be seen, the film is commendably fast-paced, almost to the point that it can disguise its various plot holes and implausibilities. The cast, particularly Ray, are engaging and the characters, whilst broadly drawn, are reasonably well thought-out. What lets it down is the low budget which, at the climax, undermines it all with some very poor model work, as what appear to be rows of plastic kit-built aircraft go up in flames and melt. It almost redeems itself with a coda in which Ray takes out a German tank, armed only with a pistol and a hand grenade, which is hampering his team's retrieval by keep shooting down the Dakotas sent to pick them up, (not quite as crazy as it sounds, a tank shooting down planes, as many anti-tank guns in WW2 were based on anti-aircraft guns).
Far more entertaining than similar 'men on a mission' Italian war movies, (particularly Battle of the Damned
, a film for which the term 'generic' might have been coined), Suicide Commandos
boasts far more distinctive plot and characterisations than its rivals, not to mention some excellent location photography and pacey direction. The fact that the script is apparently deliberately tongue in cheek for much of its length, with the cast playing it as such, helps immensely. Indeed, it is sufficiently enjoyable that I could almost
overlook the hilarious error when Ray - looking at the target airfield through his binoculars - mutters 'there are those damned Messerchmitts', when the planes he is looking at are clearly Ju 52s, a three engine transport, rather than a single engine fighter which could threaten D Day...
Labels: Musings From the Mind of Doc Sleaze