Friday, February 22, 2008

7th July 2007: Spaghetti War & Western double #2!

A Bullet For Sandoval

Italy/Spain 1969 colour

aka Los Desesperados, Vengeance Is Mine, Desperate Men, Those Desperate Men Who Smell Of Dirt And Death

Director Julio Buchs Writers Julio Buchs, Federico De Urrutia, Ugo Guerra, José Luis Martínez Mollá

Cast Ernest Borgnine (Don Pedro Sandoval), George Hilton (John Warner), Annabella Incontrera (Rosa), Alberto de Mendoza (Lucky)

A Bullet For Sandoval is a film in most people’s spaghetti western top ten list, and by the shattering climax of the film you’ll see why.

Italian western regular George Hilton stars as Corporal Warner, a Confederate soldier who leaves his post to marry his pregnant sweetheart Rosa. He arrives in a town riddled with cholera to find Rosa has died giving birth to a baby son who also has the plague, and her wealthy landowner father Pedro Sandoval (American actor Ernest Borgnine) consumed with blind hatred. Hardened by the death of his would-be family, Warner teams up with a fellow deserter, a very worldly lay preacher and several cuththroats and murderers, and fashions himself as the leader of a tag team hell-bent on destroying Sandoval. He ends up persued by both Sandoval and the Confederate Army, who want to hang him for desertion, and thus the film spirals downwards towards a stunningly brutal yet entirely fitting ending: imagine a knife fight above a very angry bull in a bullring, and you get the picture.

As a revenge saga, A Bullet For Sandoval is second to none. Both George Hilton and Ernest Borgnine are usually known for their wisecracking screen personas, but not here - their all-devouring hatred for each other is etched in their faces. It has all the hallmarks of classic spaghetti western cinema: anti-heros, corruption and dubious morality, disease and pestilence, downbeat realism, and as always a fantastic musical score, and a Spanish desert backdrop that’s a perfect substitute for Mexico.

If you’re not fans of war films and westerns, I fear we’ve already lost you tonight, but if you are, this first film is a treat. Before you can say “aye chihuahua”, we present the classic, almost operatic revenge saga from 1969, A Bullet For Sandoval.

The Battle Of The Last Panzer

Italy/Spain 1969 colour

aka La Battaglia dell'Ultimo Panzer, The Last Panzer Battalion

Director José Luis Merino Writers Giuseppe Chiarolla, Giuliana Garavaglia

Cast “Stan Cooper”/Stelvio Rosi (Lt. Hunter), Erna Schürer (Jeanette), Guy Madison (Lofty), Rubén Rojo (Sgt. Schultz)

War film logic dictates that both Americans, Germans and the occupied French will all understand each other while speaking fluent Americanese. With this kind of co-operation, why was there ever a war in the first place? Possibly to inspire no-budget tank operas like Battle Of The Last Panzer. It’s the tale of a doomed panzer squad led by the clearly-insane Lieutenant Hunter (played by Italian actor Stan Cooper, real name Stelvio Rosi). His men know the war is over and are on the brink of mutiny, but Hunter, who spends most of the film with his shirt off and practicing his strange full-facial style of overacting, is determined to see his mission through to the last man standing. They bulldoze their way into a tiny French village and capture the sycophantic mayor and his less-than-impressed wife Jeanette, who despises weakness and sees something sexy in Hunter’s bullish macho destructive determination.

Played by German actress Erna Schürer who spent most of the Seventies in more sleazy Italian fare such as Strip Nude For Your Killer and Deported Women of the SS Special Section, Jeanette willingly volunteers to become their tour guide, supposedly to save her husband, but after a while trapped in a tank full of sweating, leering Germans her motives are quite clear, showing off her flesh and playing the affections of one soldier against the other. At one point, Hunter peers up her skirt and says “Pull up into the underbrush and park!” Jawohl, mein herr.

Unlike spaghetti westerns, the Italian war cycle was far shorter, much less prolific, and produced no stand-alone genre classics, least of all this one. But Battle Of The Last Panzer from 1969 has the look and feel and musical score of a spaghetti western from the same era - transpose Confederates versus Yankees on top of the WW2 players, substitute a war wagon for the panzer tank, and gatlings for submachine guns, and you have a Sergio Leone movie. A rough-as-guts Leone at a third of the running time, one-fiftieth of the cost and with a script rewritten buy a team of monkeys on typewriters, but a Leone film nonetheless. And with a cool red-tinted spaghetti western style shootout at the end, it’s worth sitting through this interesting yet deeply flawed Italian-Spanish poverty-row production. So gather the troops and fire up the Tiger for another excursion into enemy territory courtesy of the losing side: the Italian war epic Battle Of The Last Panzer.

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