A PLACE IN HELL (1969)
Guy Madison, Maurice Poli, Claudio Biava, Noburo Homma, Fabio Testi, Maurizio Tocchi, Helene Chanel and Derrick Williams.
"A Place in Hell" does something Italian war movies rarely do: it places reasonably-developed characters in an unconvential setting and then tells a straightforward story. This is an original, zesty little action movie and that alone gives it plenty of gas to run on until the final shots.
A drunken war correspondent, a prostitute and happy-go-lucky Italian GI barely escape a bombing of Manila, only to realize that the island they land on has been captured by the Japanese. They hook up with a band of Allied survivors and attempt to escape. There's a twist, though: the US forces had been using the island to house an experimental radar base. The Japanese have captured the base, and are going to use it to guide their fleet in the coming invasion of the Philippines.
Guy Madison, who was to become THE leading man in Italian war movies over the next few years, is the perfect leading man. He plays a war correspondent who's forced into leading the men simply because he has an honorary rank of major. His reactions to every situation are complex and believable. Sometimes he knows what to do, sometimes he doesn't; the moral conflicts of what actions are necessary and what should be avoided seem to come naturally. He plays a slightly toned-down version of the character Tom Hanks would play in "Saving Private Ryan", a civilian forced to lead men in battle - something he never prepared for.
The supporting cast is full of familiar faces from other war films of the period. Maurizio Tocchi, Maurice Poli and Fabio Testi all bring parts of American soldiers to life, as they must deal with being stranded on an enemy-occupied island. When they must choose whether or not to escape or engage the enemy, the choice doesn't come easily.
The script is a little formulaic, but director Giuseppe Vari keeps the pace moving, filling his story with quick, violent encounters between roving Japanese patrols and the American guerrillas. These action scenes are actually the low-point of the movie, as they don't involve much except a lot of Japanese soldiers running into the path of oncoming American fire and falling down dead. The juicy characters manage to keep the audience engrossed during the quieter moments, because there is always something signifigant going on.
As far as camerawork goes, Vari's work is pretty standard, too, but definitely not dull. He uses lots of handheld shots, some high angles, and rapid editing in the action sequences to make this one high-energy movie. The jungle scenery looks fresh and often foreboding, though occasionally beautiful. The chaos of war set against the beauty of the lush jungles is stressed in some final anti-war comments by Madison's character.
"A Place in Hell" is an engaging, well-shot and well-told story about men fighting against the odds. It's unique and enjoyable pulp, with a message behind it about the violence and pointlessness of war. A very good movie, and that's all there is to it.
SGT. SLAUGHTER'S RATING: