Hello, cowpokes and cowlasses....or...whatever the female equivelent of cowpoke is....and WELCOME to the first Edition of WESTERN MOVIE OF THE WEEK (applaud, please). I am your Host, EvilFutsin and it's time to start geekin' out about films that include sand, panchoes, revolvers, bad dubbing, cliffs, or (my personal favorite) bright unrealistic blood from the 60s.
To start off, we'll focus on a little-known, perhaps not the greatest flick, and a very unorthodox Italian/Hollywood co-production by the name of...!
The Stats: Director: Don Taylor (Director of Omen II) and Italo Zingarelli (Producer of My Name Is Trinity) Cast: Peter Graves, Bud Spencer, James Daly (and more!) Type: Hollywood-Finanaced Spaghetti Western (end of Spaghetti's reign) Supercool Trivia: Giallo maestro Dario Argento wrote/worked on the screenplay! Availability: Unknown (potentially rare)
The Content: Checklist:
Spaghetti Gunshot Sound Effect - CHECK! Anti-Hero or Criminal Main Character/s - CHECK! Mexican Setting - CHECK! B-Movie American Actor - CHECK! Mexican Soldiers - CHECK! Cultural Stuff - CHECK! Gimmick - CHECK x 4! (The Samurai, the Acrobat, so fourth) Delicious Food - CHECK!
One thing that characterizes the Spaghetti western is one phrase - youthful creativity. You could also label it with vigorous ingenuity and other complicated synonoms and adjectives, but let's not go there. But the point is that it's creative, it's unique. Aside from the Django ripoffs, of course, but even there, the creative flow is still apparant.
In the case of Five Man Army, we have a film that is unique given the time it was made and the person who worked heavily on the script (Argento), because what it basically is, is a cobbling together of various cliches, genres, and ideas from films throughout the 1960s. It's a western, specifically a spaghetti western; then it's a Heist film, with gold being stolen for Revolutionaries off a Military Train; then it's a Men on a Mission film, with the robbers being grouped together by the lead Peter Graves; and to add things into it, the characters are archetypes commonly seen throughout the 60s. You have two types of gimmicks (a Samurai and a Mexican Acrobat), the Explosives Expert/Old Man, the Dumb-But-Lovable Muscleman, and finally - the leader who pushes his crew and has ambition. (he's not exactly Charlie Crokker, but he's close)
So, aside from all the "interesting" and "fascinating" factors, let's get down to what the film is about, what it's like, and the big one - why it's cool.
The story basically, as mentioned above, is standard Men On A Mission/Heist Movie fare, with Peter Graves getting his crew together of old friends from different jobs, the group aged and hoping to pull that one last score for a group of Mexican Revolutionaries, gaining a share of $1,000 each (or something like that). There's of course more to the motivations than this money (which is little compared to the amount they're really stealing), but that's for you to see when you watch the flick (IF you see the flick of course...).
So it goes about the motions of getting the materials together, avoiding the Mexican Soldiers (those lovable, shootable mooks that we remember fondly being blown to bits in The Wild Bunch ), pulling the heist, and getting away with it. It's predictable, not always, but it's pretty straightforward.
However - straightforward is not always this amount of fun. Rather than bore us to death with heavyhanded moralizing, "tough guy posturing", dark grit and intrigue, complicated stories that boggle the brain to bits, or any of that crap; the film's also straightforward in exactly what it wants to do - entertain in a unique fashion by cobbling the ingredients together. So okay, it's got typical cliche archetypes in the group - but it's got a freakin' SAMURAI (who sadly does not use a sword, I must add)! And all right, sure, it's got Bud Spencer doing the Bud Spencer thing...BUT THAT'S A GOOD THING.
It's nice to see, especially after the grimness of Corbucci and the moral ambiguity of Leone, a western in the Spaghetti style that's lighter, but without being too comical as to get into Trinity/My Name Is Nobody territory.
There's more to be said on the subject, but due to time constraints I'm going to have to cut this short. To be honest, I feel I've said enough. I'll be updating with images and some further comments later. Anyone else got any questions, just ask. I'll be looking into its current availability in common territories. Remember to look at the IMDB page if you find this fascinating because then you can look for alternate titles which can help you to get your mitts on this.
Peter Graves is also best known as James "Gunsmoke" Arnes' brother. He was quite the b-movie actor of his time before becoming a spokesperson for Biography, though Mission:Impossible, from what I've heard, was where he truly shined.
Other good films with Peter Graves (these being oldies):
#1. It Conquered The World (if you can get the MST3K version - do so! It also has Lee Van Cleef...WITH BLACK HAIR!)
#2. The Beginning Of The End (Bert I. Gordan flick about giant killer locusts - again, stick to the MST3K version )
Also worth mentioning, the musical score is by the great Ennio Morricone
I haven't seen this one yet, but I'm lucky enough to live in Seattle, where Scarecrow Video has a copy, so I'll rent it soon. Scarecrow (http://www.scarecrow.com) is so well-regarded that Quentin Tarantino made a pilgrimage to it when he was in town.
There are musicians. There are composers. There are masters.
And then there's Ennio Morricone.
I wasn't humongously impressed with his score for Five Man Army as he does reuse a lot of beats from the Leone work. It feels like a cranked-out job, but so does most of the film in general. There's some good pieces here and there, though; but his scores for Leone, Corbucci, and Bava were all a step up from what this holds. (his few pieces for The Battle Of Algiers were also very cool)