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A highly picked-on, but nearly perfect Italian WWII drama / action piece with a first-rate cast and some fantastic action footage. The film is so good, that it was basically re-made by Enzo Castellari years later as DEADLY MISSION.
During the waning days of World War II in Italy, an inexperienced American officer is assigned to supervise the execution of two military prisoners. Their truck is ambushed by the Germans, and only the officer and the prisoners escape. They accidentally "liberate" an Italian village.
Really, I went into THE LIBERATORS with very low expectations and was wholly impressed. The movie features a fine story, with unique subject matter. It was refreshing to see an Italian war film that did not focus on commandos on an "impossible" mission; here, the characters are, for the most part, just as dirty as the Germans, but we are allowed to see past their crimes. Kinski (CHURCHILL'S LEOPARDS) is basically an atheist who looks out for himself. He is completely anti-war, anti-killing, anti-God - because he was brought up badly and had to fend for himself for most of his childhood. He cares only to fend for himself and come away from every situation, no matter how bad, on the winning side. However, he finds himself sacrificing for a beautiful young Italian girl he falls in love with. Ray Saunders, on the other hand, is a victim of racial bigotry who finds acceptance from a young Italian orphan and learns that not all men are cruel bigots. Finally, Hilton (DESERT BATTLE) starts out as an ambitious, jump-to-attention officer who finally learns that a man's social status doesn't define who he is - it is his character. Kinski and Saunders turn out to be some of the finest men he ever knew, sacrificing their lives in a final battle.
All three characters have shed of religion, too; Saunders believes in God, and brings it up during his explanation of racial prejudice to the Italian orphan. Even Kinski (Yes, KINSKI!) goes from atheist to some form of belief (clutching a cross on his stolen dog tags, staring skyward, as if questioning God's existence) before he meets his fate. This is something you don't see often in modern cinema, and NEVER see mentioned in an Italian war movie. I thought it was pretty cool to see an Italian filmmaker - especially Ricci - throwing a religious sentiment into this film. It's not hammered into the viewer, just mentioned so subtly - and honestly - that you won't notice till after the moment has passed. But the way faith is presented will leave anyone thinking about what they've just seen or heard and questioning their own faith. Sorry to push this point so much, folks, but this is something REALLY unique in an Italian war movie and it blew me away more than the action, drama and technological side of the picture.
While, for the most part, THE LIBERATORS is an anti-war story, it's also got a fine action side. The final combat scene, set in the streets of an Italian village, is one of the best action pieces I've seen. Filled with explosions, loud gunfire (perfect Italian sound effects), dizzying photography, crashing music, a few tanks and dozens of dying German soldiers - it's a great, fabulously edited 10-minute piece. It's very predictable, but so well-filmed that you won't care at all. The earlier action scenes are just as good, but not quite as big or loud as this one.
The movie features some great Italian scenery, showing the countryside and village as good as it looked in the 1940s. The music score is above-average, and cinematography is first rate. One shot of Kinski's blood-smeared face plastered in front of a German tank is, easily, the most memorable face shot from any Eurowar film I've seen. The props are a little wrong (The American Tommy Guns look like toys); Germans drive in American tanks (as usual) and wear ill-fitting uniforms. These are just minor nitpicks which don't strike against the film too much.
I saw THE LIBERATORS on a copy of a NTSC home video from Simitar. It's a well pan-and-scanned copy, with somewhat faded colors, a rather soft image quality and some splices and lots of scratches throughout. It's a pretty average-quality video, at least for an Italian release, but the movie deserves better. The video ran a mere 77 minutes, so it's missing 15 minutes from the original print. Most cuts are supposedly of graphic violence, gore and nudity which were not allowed in US theaters in the late 1960s. As the film exists on video now, it makes perfect sense, but a restoration is in order (and, apparently, underway) and would smooth out some rough spots. The end, in particular, makes little sense. It is a badly edited mix of scenes of the Italians being liberated, cutting to landscape shots as a narrator reads from the Biblical book of Genesis. This makes absolutely no sense at all to me, as the music kept switching and the editing was rather sloppy. In fact, the narrator sounded a lot like John Huston (maybe), so perhaps Simitar randomly cut in scenes from Huston's epic THE BIBLE? I don't know, but it's awfully strange cutting.
THE LIBERATORS is a great anti-war / action flick (if there can be such a thing), with a fine lead cast, great performances all around, a fine script and story, fine action scenes and is just a pretty solid flick in all departments. Most critics criticize it without fail, and I don't understand why. It's easily becoming one of my favorite Italian war movies and I highly recommend it.
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