Monday, March 10, 2014

The Five Man Army (1969)

Growing up I was never a kid who got into westerns. I was a monsterkid from day one and well I still am but as I have gotten older I have branched out into many different genres of film. The spaghetti western is a genre that I had never really dipped into until recently. I was already familiar with Sergio Leone’s films starring Clint Eastwood but really wanted to check out some other lesser known titles, well lesser known to me anyway. 

The 5 amigos!
The Five Man Army stars Mission Impossible star Peter Graves as “The Dutchman”, a gun for hire type outlaw who assembles a five man team to pull off a train heist worth $500,000. The film takes place during the Mexican Revolution, a time period that seems to be a running theme in quite a few westerns from the land of pasta. Each member of the army has a special skill set which is needed for the task at hand. The army includes Nino Castelnuovo as the ex-acrobat turned thief Luis Dominguez, Bud Spencer as the strong man Mesito, Tetsuro Tanba as the Samurai (who doesn’t speak but is extremely handy with knives) and James Daly as the explosives expert Capt. Nicolas Augustus. 
Traaiiin....Train....lawd take me on outta this town.

The train not only carries it’s payload of gold but it is heavily armed with machine guns, several military troops and a cannon. The gold is going to Dictator General Huerta and the revolutionaries want the gold to help finance the revolution. The Dutchman is the man for the job but there seems to be a plan to take the gold for themselves. An impossible situation since this train has to pass through several checkpoints which really are just open fields where members of the military can see the train from afar. The five man army devise a pretty interesting plan which involves being stowaways strapped underneath the cars, quietly taking out the armed soldiers and detonating explosives to separate the troop car from the rest of the train using dynamite and metal coffers that muffle the sound of the explosions while the train whistle is blown. Sound impossible? Well it is really when you put this all into real life but we have Peter Graves on our side so this mission is possible. See what I did there? You know I couldn’t write this up without making some type of connection.
Bud Spencer fights with tiny bullets and big hands

The mission is a success and the five many army load the gold and make way to a burned out village to plan the rest of their escape. The story takes a twist as Luis decides he is taking the gold for himself but he soon thwarted at gun point by the Dutchman who then turns tail on all of them taking the gold for himself….or does he? It turns out the Dutchman is taking the gold to give to the revolutionaries as promised. The Dutchman’s wife was murdered by the Mexican army so he has vowed to help overthrow the dictator. The rest of the crew is not happy and are feeling pretty stupid until the Mexican army shows up and they rejoin the Dutchman to take out the troops. You just don’t mess with the Five Man Army!
Graves ponders his impossible mission

What really attracted me to this movie was first the soundtrack. The film was scored by the great Ennio Morricone who had scored many a Western including the Leone “Dollars Trilogy” (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). This film might not feature his best work but it really drives the film and gives it that classic spaghetti western attitude. 

The beautiful Daniela Giordano
The film was backed by MGM who wanted Peter Graves to be in the film to help boost ticket sales. It was also directed by Englishman Don Taylor (The Planet of the Apes) which might not make it an official spaghetti western BUT the script was written by none other than the Italian maestro of terror Dario Argento! That just blew my mind because I really didn’t know that little factoid. I had probably read it somewhere at some point but my mind just couldn’t hold on to it for some reason. The following year Argento would release his debut giallo film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). Cinematography and editing were done by Enzo Barboni and Sergio Montanari respectively so this ends up being an Italian/American pasta fagioli that like the dish is quite tasty!

As a side note, actor Giacomo Rossi-Stuart makes an appearance in the film but is quickly dispatched via a Samaria sword. I was very disappointed too since I really liked him in Mario Bava's Kill Baby Kill (1966).

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