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"Commandos" was released in 1968 and has been in circulation on public
domain home video (and now DVD) in the United States and abroad since
the early 1980s. A great widescreen print has now surfaced on DVD, one
from the Platinum Disc Corporation and another from St. Clair Vision.
This is one of the easiest to find Italian war films, and it's really
not too shabby, either
On the eve of the American landings in North Africa, a band of Italian-American soldiers are recruited for a special mission behind the enemy lines. They will capture and hold a vital oasis the day before the Allies land. Unfortunately, the garrison of Italian soldiers and a German Panzer unit will do anything to stop this takeover.
Director Crispino is all about style, and just about everything else is disregarded here. The main conflict is between Sergeant Sullivan (Lee Van Cleef, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly") and Captain Valli (Jack Kelly, "To Hell and Back"). Sullivan is an experienced veteran, and Valli is a rear-echelon officer who really shouldn't be in charge. Sullivan questions Valli's authority every step of the way. Unfortunately, this conflict remains shallow throughout, and the characters do little besides yell at and threaten each other. As an individual, however, Sullivan is a fleshed-out, battle-scarred veteran who's haunted by images of a failed campaign in the Pacific. Sadly, Van Cleef overacts through every scene, chewing up the scenery so much that it's hard to take him seriously.
The kudos go to the supporting cast, who manage to put on a convincing show from start to finish. Joachim Fuchsburger is fabulous as Lt. Heitzel, a German professor who is now drafted as a Panzer officer. He hates the war, but does his duty for country. Heitzel's character draws sympathy from the audience is his character is naturally fleshed out over the course of a long dinner scene with Valli and Tomassini. It's very nice to see a late-1960s war film in which a German character has a sympathetic role, rather than a clichéd "evil Nazi" part which was so common in other action films produced during the era. On the other hand, Götz George is equally good as Lt. Rudi, a dedicated Hitler Youth-type. The Germans and Americans discuss culture and politics over dinner in one long scene, and this makes their face-to-face encounter during the final battle all the more moving. Finally, there's Marino Mase ("The Five Man Army") as Lt. Tomassini, who commands the Italian garrison and will stop at nothing to escape with the survivors and liberate what's rightfully his. Add to this long list some excellent small roles filled by Ivano Stacciolo, Pier Paolo Capponi, Heinz Reincke and Romano Puppo.
Crispino's focus is on the action, and makes the characters just believable enough to appreciate the big, explosive proceedings. The American takeover of the Italian garrison is excellently shot and finely edited, and the climactic tank battle in the oasis is purely awesome. It's filled with great shots of people getting shot, tanks exploding, bullets kicking up puffs of dirt there are some shots with action going on in both the background and foreground, making for interesting composition.
The movie has a very realistic look and feel to it, as well. The Americans and Germans are appropriately armed and clad for the time period. The sweltering sun and dry desert are completely convincing. The oasis set is massive and Crispino makes use of every part of it. The interiors, particularly the big dining room, are well-captured with wide shots and pans. At night, the set is well-lit and the action is completely clear.
"Commandos" is a well-written, well-shot and action-packed war drama with a fine supporting cast and some nail-biting combat sequences, which put it a notch above many other Italian war productions in the same vein.
Who would of thought that a low budget Italian/U.S. war drama with no big
stars would be one of the best films of 1968? Certainly not me. I saw
"Commandos" on the budget video shelf in a closeout store. The price was
right ($.99) and it said "Letterboxed Edition" on it. So I figured, it's
less than the price of a rental, so why not?
What surprised me is what an exciting and thoughtful film this was. In an era of glamourized war films (The syrupy "McConnell Story" and ludricous "Sands of Iwo Jima" come to mind), a gritty film like "Commandos" is a real pleasure indeed.
It stars Lee Van Cleef, who you may remember from "A Few Dollars More" and "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly." He was sort of the Harvey Keitel of that time, an actor who took risks and made unconventional films for the time. This is one of his very best performances. How many actors other than Lee Marvin would take such a risky role? He is heroic, but not by choice.
The plot is not really important. It's your standard search and decease mission film that's been used many times before and after. What makes "Commandos" special is its' focus on two things: mind boggling action sequences and characterizations.
I would like to make everyone aware that for a budget video copy, the video transfer is excellent. The colors are vibrant, the sound is exceptional and the full CinemaScope image (2.35:1)is very revealing in its' compositions. Front Row Entertainment has made this one in a series of films that include "Zulu", the two Chinese made Bruce Lee films "Fists of Fury" and "The Chinese Connection" and the Jackie Chan epic "Drunken Master" ("Legend of Drunken Master" is the sequel)that get the full letterbox treatment. Congratulations are in order and I hope I see more in the series.
"Commandos" is one of those films that either grab you or they don't. It grabbed me. It was not destined to receive any Oscar nods, but since when does Hollywood ever honor a truly deserving film. Look at this year's winner, "Gladiator". I rest my case.
**** out of 4 stars
I didn't know this movie existed until I accidentally ran across it at
a retail store. Intense not so covert war action with good drama
between characters and a few twists in the plot. The movie highlights
the individual heroic efforts in battle, the insanity and randomness of
events during conflict (and the responses by the players), and the
disconnect between the battlefield and the strategic planners (both
blind to each other).
Sergeant Sullivan (Lee Van Cleef) shows scares from previous conflicts, illustrating the personal side that never is far away from the professional. His past torments him throughout the film. The personal conflict and struggle between Sergeant Sullivan and Captain Valli (Jack Kelly) is constantly simmering and sometimes boiling over. Captain Valli, untested in battle, struggles to lead his newly appointed team on a very dangerous and unpredictable mission. At one point, he displays a dilemma in leadership, having to choose between his hard earned gains in the battle with his new team vs. new direction from above. The result of that decision has enormous consequences.
A very cool movie.
See This Movie!!! As for all the nay sayers on this site, it doesn't
sound like they actually saw the movie or watched it all the way
If you love WWII films or action films, make this a must see. The action is so intense it's difficult to believe this was made way back in 1968. The production quality is very high.
How intense is the action? Well, I've seen this movie twice and I've yet to find a rifle on screen! (no kidding) Every character is armed with a submachine gun. Just as 'Die Hard' tought us, SMGs make for the best action scenes no matter how unrealistic it would be to actually hit a target at 100 feet. (or 50 feet) The plot: October 1942, North Africa. Lee Van Cleef leads a band of New York Italian American paratroopers whom must raid and hold an Axis water supply depot. Most importantly they must be about to pass for Italian solders in order to fool their German comrades.
The oasis depot proves to be a very elaborate but well fortified Axis hotel. There's even a bar and grill and a prostitute.
The GIs do their best to fool the Germans but inevitably the situation cannot hold. Their Italian prisoners escape, more and more German squads keep visiting and worse yet Van Cleef himself is a deranged and unstable veteran of Bataan who hates all superior officers as glory hounds carelessly putting his men at risk.
The final scene is a really great one. I've never seen anything like it in any war movie! It's the perfect conclusion.
For those of you not familiar with the "Spaghetti WWII" film 'Commandos' is a great place to start.
No, "Spaghetti WWII" is not part of the "Nazisploitation" films made in Italy during the 70s and 80s. (remember 'Salon Kitty' 'Last Orgy of the Third Reich' or the Elsa films?) "Spaghetti WWII" films are an overlooked genre that embodied much of what we love about American WWII films. The brotherhood of solders, the hell of war, and the glory of combat. These films were told from either the Axis or Allied side and just like traditional WWII films the Nazis always lose. Even if they are the main characters.
Unlike neutered German WWII films like 'Stalingrad.' The Italians got it right. No drama or romance, just guts and glory.
'Desert Commandos' is a perfect companion piece to this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Autopsy" director Armando Crispino's historically inaccurate but
nevertheless gripping World War II behind-enemy-lines, secret-mission
thriller "Commandos" qualifies as a rugged, gritty, suspenseful combat
epic. This cynical Italian produced melodrama about a group of
Italian-Americans masquerading as Royal Italian infantry so they can
capture an oasis on the eve of the North African campaign in early 1942
removes any traces of glamour about war. Crispino and fellow scenarists
Lucio Battistrada of "Crime Boss," Stefano Strucchi, and Dario Argento
of "Suspiria" drew their robust screenplay from a short story by Israel
filmmaker Menahem Golan as well as a story by Don Martin of "The Storm
Rider" and Teutonic producer Arthur Brauner. Brauner is a landmark
German filmmaker who refurbished the "Dr. Mabuse" franchise in the
Lee Van Cleef delivers a riveting performance as a belligerent, battle-scarred Bataan hero who survived, along with two other companions, a death-defying ordeal. He relives the horror of the experience throughout "Commandos." Van Cleef has a lot to sink his teeth into and he looms above everybody. The supporting cast is good, particularly Joachim Fuchsberger as Oberleutnant Heitzel Agen, nicknamed the professor because he studied insects at the university. Götz George shines as Oberleutnant Rudi, the type who could have excelled as dedicated Hitler Youth. The most unusual roleas it says something about the difference between the Allied armies and the Axis foebelongs to actress Marilù Tolo who plays a prostitute named Adriana. Although she doesn't play a major part, she poses an interesting complication for our heroes. Interestingly, she points out that she can earn more money in the army camp than back home.
The conceit of "Commandos" is that our heroes are descendants of genuine Italians and Sergeant Sullivan and his right-hand man Dino (Romano Puppo of "Death Rides A Horse") have spent a month training them for the mission. Sullivan has little regard for most of them, but he has nothing but sheer contempt for his superior officer, Captain Valli (Jack Kelly of "To Hell & Back") who has never baptized in combat. Sullivan and Valli get off to a bad start when Sullivan describes their objective as "some harebrained mission you made up yourself." Valli defends the mission and his knowledge. "I know this operation exactly, right down to the last detail." Sullivan criticizes Valli's shortage of experience. "You got a lot of bright ideas, Captain, but do you know what killing isexactlywith these (makes gestures with his hands) and (brandishing a bayonet) this?"
Later, Valli explains that they will parachute near their destination. They will drop two or three miles from their objective and then take an hour to march to the Italian garrison and occupy it. Arriving after dark, they encounter opposition and resort to their firepower instead of knives. Captain Valli refuses to watch Sullivan turn the raid into a massacre, and he spares the lives of Italian Lt. Tomassini (Marino Mase of "The Five Man Army") and many of his troops. Valli warns Tomassini that the lives of his men depend on his cooperation with Sullivan and him. "I mean exactly what I say so you better get that through your head." Germans from a nearby base show up for spaghetti and our heroes struggle to suppress any suspicious behavior, especially from Rudi who wants to locate his missing engineers. Sullivan kills the surviving German engineer, but the Hun shoots Sullivan's pistol. Everybody spills into the open with guns drawn. A soldier apologizes for shooting at a jackal. No sooner do the Germans leave than the Italian hatch a plan of escape.
The themes of "Commandos" include the inhumanity of war, experienced versus inexperienced combatants, battlefield shock, and the duty that an officer has both to his men and the mission. The irony is that the Germans and the Italians are depicted with greater sympathy than the tough guy Americans. The German soldiers get along with each other as do the Italians, but the Americans clash, principally Sullivan and Valli. Other instances of irony occur that heighten the philosophical mindset of "Commandos." The ending summarizes the madness of war. Allied command scrubs the mission that Captain Valli has carefully orchestrated and he cannot accept this change of mind. Surprisingly, Sergeant Sullivan refuses to obey higher authority. Consequently, "Commandos" concludes with the Americans exploding the water holes and fighting the Germans with tragic results for both Sullivan and Valli.
Mind you, the authenticity of the action doesn't bear close scrutiny. Most military enthusiasts will recognize the flaws immediately. For example, the Afrika Korps tanks are not the genuine vehicles. Instead, they are repainted U.S. Army Chaffee and Walker Bulldog tanks with German insignia, and the M3A1 submachine guns that the Americans tote weren't available for another year. Allowances must be made, however, and the Cold War tanks overlooked since the German tanks were long since kaput, while the "Dirty Dozen" machine guns look cool.
The sun-scorched widescreen photography of "Taste of Death" lenser Benito Frattari makes this desert-locked minor war film look sprawling and the nocturnal actions scenes have a perilous, primitive quality. The strident music of composer Mario Nascimbene enhances the suspense, especially when Sullivan and his men search for a wounded German engineer who remains at large in the compound. Nascimbene makes superb use of classical music from composer Edvard Grieg, specifically "In the Hall of the Mountain King." Whatever the case, "Commandos" neither glorifies nor glamorizes combat. Fighting is a hard sweaty business. Sergeant Sullivan summarizes it succinctly to Captain Valli in an earlier scene. "Do you know what blood smells like, Captain? It's a hot smell, and it can get things messed up, too, because most men die hard."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is October 1942 and the Germans are nearly at the height of their
World War II successes. In North Africa the German-Italian Axis forces
under Field Marshal Rommel are at El-Alamein. This situation is the
setting for the movie. Italian-American commandos, led by a humane
Captain Valli and a tense Sergeant Sullivan, have the mission of taking
an oasis held by Italians in preparation for Operation Torch, the
planned American invasion of Africa in November 1942. Without going
into details, the movie focuses on the escapades of the commando unit
as they first take on the Italians, then pose as the "regular" Italians
in deceiving the Germans, and then battle the Germans in a lengthy and
exciting action sequence (only to face a bitter irony revealed during
The movie was not cliché-filled as Leonard Maltin has written in his Movie Guide. Instead the ending is a complete surprise BIG TIME SPOILER ALERT as only one Italian-American (not a lead character) and a German (a jovial sort of fellow) are left. They make a truce and gather the dead. It is pleasing that the Germans are not pictured as nasty Nazis, but as regular soldiers fighting for their country (not a cliché, Mr. Maltin). The Italians too are portrayed as doing their jobs and having contributed to the Axis victories (not a cliché). The movie does indicate that the Italians were hampered by inferior weaponry during World War II, like the Mannlicher-Carcano semi-automatic rifle (not a cliché).
The movie is not perfect, as there are errors, like Valli's improperly worn captain's insignia on his uniform and the 1968-style bikini underwear worn by the Italian woman. Despite some shortcomings, the movie passes inspection and is enjoyable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
- A group of American commandos, disguised as Italian solders, must
infiltrate North Africa and take of an Italian outpost. In addition to
the Axis forces in the area, the commandos face one other obstacle - a
battle-hardened and battle-scarred sergeant who doesn't see eye-to-eye
with his "green" commanding officer. This may prove to be the biggest
hurdle that the American solders face.
- Commandos has a lot to recommend - action, suspense, cast, and locations. The action sequences are first rate. The final battle scene is a thing of beauty and far exceeded my expectations given the films obviously limited budget. In between the moments of action, Crispino is able to inject the movie with some very suspenseful moments. For example, you can feel the tension in the air when the commandos have their first face-to-face meeting with some of the nearby German troops. Several Euro-movie regulars make-up an excellent supporting cast. Chief among them are Marino Mase (the Italian officer who must work with the Americans to save his men) and Joachim Fuchsberger (the German officer who would rather be at home than fighting a war). The entire production takes place on what I felt were very authentic looking sets. If not for a couple of flaws, this could easily have become a personal favorite.
- But there are flaws in Commandos. Chief among them is the usually solid Lee Van Cleef. You can look far and wide but I doubt you'll find anyone who overacts and chews the scenery quite like Van Cleef does in this movie. He plays Sgt. Sullivan, the grizzled solder who has seen more than his fair share of combat. He has issues taking commands from the new Captain and he doesn't mind showing it. The problem is that Sullivan shows his disdain for his new CO a little too often and a little too vocally. I just can't imagine a real solder questioning a superior officer quite like Sullivan does in Commandos. It would seem to be a sure fired way to get yourself court marshaled. To top it off, Sullivan's beef with the Captain is so superficial. He never gives the Captain a chance. He dislikes the man from the moment he hears his name. A more realistic disagreement between the two solders would have made the movie much better.
- There are several budget companies that specialize in public domain films that have released Commandos. I paid all of $1 for my copy and couldn't be happier.
Lee Van Cleef and Jack Kelly are the two American stars of this
European made war film with an Italian and German cast. Van Cleef is a
combat veteran of the Pacific and Kelly is a Captain in his first
mission. That mission is a gem.
Kelly and Van Cleef head a team of picked Commandos all of whom have an Italian background and speak fluent Italian. Their mission is to take a desert waterhole over from a company of Italian soldiers and hold it until Eisenhower's army, landing in Morocco can reach it. In the meantime the group is to kill all the Italian soldiers and take over their command like a relief unit and keep their cover under the watchful eyes of the Germans.
Van Cleef is convinced that Kelly is incompetent and Kelly proves him right. Their bickering also endangers the whole mission.
The story is interesting, but the production is truly shoddy. Not more to be said about Commandos.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm another one who got in the bargain bin at wal-mart in an 8 "Classic
War Movie" package for $5.50.
It was enjoyable, especially the battle sequences. FOr me it was entertaining to see how everything seems to go wrong for the Americans. There are some technical problems here and there with weaponry and the producers/scriptwriters' love of submachine guns.
It surprised me how halfway through the movie I realized that the Italians and Germans were the ones portrayed sympathetically and the Americans weren't.
The Germans are very well portrayed with accurate Afrika Korps uniforms (down to such details as pink piping and skull collar insignia for tankers) as are the Italians. Conversely the American details are off, from the postwar M3A1 submachine guns to the late war "Ike" jackets.
The use of US tanks is always excusable for me because where were you going to get real German WW2 tanks in 1970? The M24 Chaffees do have Jerry cans and spare track added to give them a Pzkpfw III look and the M47 Patton II's are similarly modified. Though the AMX-10VCI APC with Afrika Korps palms is laughable. Look closely you'll also see that they are very realistically portrayed with scuffed and worn schemes like real Afrika Korps tanks and not the freshly-re-painted-for-the-movie look like the tanks in Patton.
I gotta say it was enjoyable. It ain't a classic but it ain't bad and the little uniform details and sympathetic portrayal of the Germans/Italians made it worth while for me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I got this as part of Millcreek's 50 Combat Classics for under 20.00 at Amazon. It has some decent movies on it and is worth the purchase. My experience with Italian war movies are that most made in the 60's (well just about all) are comic book with the exception of the one about the Naples uprising and the one about the Battle Of El Alemain, both are good for a couple of viewings before you see some pretty bad flaws with the acting. I had low aspirations for Commandos but the print on this public domain set was so good, and Lee Van Cleef is so warped that I started to get into it and was ready to give this a 8 star review. Then something happened, actually that was incorrect, nothing happened. You can pretty much skip the middle 1/3 and not miss anything, I wish I had. Its a shame too because this film print is really decent and a really wide format wide screen, plus you've got two actors you will recognize, Van Cleef and the German guy who flew the fighter plane over Omaha beach in The Longest Day movie (among other recognizable roles he has played to American audiences). Production values are really decent here, the problem is the script, its pretty bad. The story curiously enough was written by someone with a Jewish sounding name, I find that curious since it's a joint Italian/German production and clearly puts both of their armies in a good light were as the Americans kind of stink. 5 of 10 only for hard core war film buffs. Go in with very low expectations and you will be happy.
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