DEADLY MISSION (1977)
Enzo G. Castellari
Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten, Fred Williamson, Ian Bannen, Michael Pergolani, Raimund Harmstorf, Jackie Basehart, Michael Constantin, Debra Berger, John Loffredo, Donald O'Brien, Peter Boom, John Stacy, Massimo Vanni, and Angelo Ragusa.
For a short while, I'd almost begun to wonder if the Italians had forgotten how to make a good action war movie -- then I got this masterpiece. It's a fun, fast-paced, and well-made shoot-em-up with a great cast.
Bo Svenson stars as an American officer who's thrown into a prison convoy with a murderer (Peter Hooten), a Negro (Fred Williamson), a thief (Michael Pergolani), and a coward (Jackie Basehart). En route to the stockade, the convoy comes under attack by the Germans and the men escape across the French countryside. Roughly the first half of the movie has these men wandering around France shooting Germans and blowing up stuff, while the second half revolves around their entanglement with an important Allied mission in France.
The movie features a top notch cast. Peter Hooten is especially memorable as the bigot, and Fred Williamson turns in a great performance, too, as an African-American soldier who does his job despite some extreme prejudice. Bo Svenson, himself a renegade, still tries to do the decent job as an officer and keep these boys in line. Michael Pergolani has little to do in his role as the hippie/thief; he does have one great motorcycle stunt scene, though, a la Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE. Watch for Michel Constantin (THE DIRTY HEROES) as a partisan leader; Donald O'Brien as a German officer and even Enzo Castellari himself as a German officer. John Stacy (BATTLE FORCE) is also one of the German Generals on the train.
The movie has some stunning action scenes; there are plenty of shootouts and explosions. The big gun battle amidst ruined German and American trucks and halftracks is especially impressive. The Partisan raid on the train near the end is well filmed, with lots of great slow motion shots -- but features many repeated shots of the same action happening over and over again. The miniature work is not the greatest, but is much better than the later, similarly-themed BRIDGE TO HELL.
The plot is basically a combination of THE DIRTY DOZEN and BATTLE OF THE COMMANDOS, but it's so fast-paced that you won't really care. Castellari lets only a few minutes go by between scenes before something important happens. He really develops the personalities and attitudes of his lead characters, which is another important feature we don't get to see much of in typical Italian war films. There's also some great humor, involving a scene in which Pergolani steals a German motorcycle; and another in which he tries to sell pictures to a Frenchman who can't speak a word of English except for expletives.
Despite all of the good stuff, this movie has a few rough spots. For one thing, it's got a very needless love story sub-plot that never goes anywhere and has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Another complaint: there are some lengthy conversations between the German characters that weren't dubbed. It's impossible to understand what they're saying. This got really annoying because these conversations usually affected what would happen next.
Another thing that's a little bit unusual is the pure R-rated content of the movie. There's plenty of gruesome violence with blood spurting from woods; lots of profanity and even a lengthy scene in which the heroes run into a bunch of stark naked German women bathing under a waterfall. This doesn't happen that much in Italian World War II movies and I wasn't expecting it.
The version I saw was from Lightning Video, entitled DEADLY MISSION. The source print was of top quality, with fresh, accurate colors and good sound. The opening and closing titles, however, were apparently new material -- simply red lettering over a black background. This is also available in video under the titles: THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, G.I. BRO, and HELL'S HEROES.
Overall, this is a fun-to-watch Italian adventure piece. For the great cast, production values and action scenes, this one's a winner.
SGT. SLAUGHTER'S RATING: