The Five Man Army Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
An MGM funded spaghetti western, the idea behind The Magnificent Seven is transported to another era, the Mexican revolution of 1914, and the whole thing is more or less presented as a post western, including some philosophies about aging men living on borrowed time. Our time is over and we know it, says one of the characters. The Dirty Dozen, The Professionals and The Wild Bunch may all have been sources of inspiration, and on script level there are a few similarities to Castellari’s Kill them all and come back alone. At one moment, when a large canon was exposed, I even thought of The Guns of Navarone. French author Giré described the movie as Mission Impossible out West (*1): Lead actor Peter Graves, silver hair and all, was above all known for his starring role in the CBS television series Mission : Impossible and yes: the mission he proposes in this movie, seems largely impossible. In other words: this movie freely borrows from at least half a dozen other - more famous - movies.
Graves plays a character only known as “the Dutchman”, who enlists four specialists in the art of warfare to form his own army of five. Those four are an acrobat, an explosives expert, a knife wielding samurai and a muscleman. The Dutchman has planned to rob a train across the border in Mexico, and the men are all delighted, until they are told that the train is defended by soldiers, armed with a machine gun and even a cannon. „You need magicians, not us,“ says the part-time philosopher of the group. „No, I need you,“ says the Dutchman, and he’s the boss, so off they go. The script leaves most clichés intact – Mexico is in revolutionary turmoil, there are lamenting señoras and there’s the inevitable execution of a revolutionary that is prevented by the heroes in the very last moment. But the movie comes up with a few fresh ideas as well, such as an elegant, unexpected finale and a protracted heist scene seasoned with touches of wry humour. It turns out that the Dutchman has completely different plans with the money than expected, and it looks like the four will have to shoot it out, first with their leader, then among themselves, but thanks to a final twist, all of a sudden the five become revolutionary heroes.
Most reference works mention Don Taylor as director, but over the years there have been rumours that most of the material was directed by either producer Zingarelli or screenwriter Dario Argento. Graves and Spencer have declared Taylor was the man, but according to Tetsuro Tamba and Italian beauty Daniela Giordano Taylor abandoned the production after a few days (*2). Giordano came up with a nice anecdote as well. Taylor wanted an Italian actress who spoke English, but Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale were way beyond the movie’s budget. Daniela passed the language test and … got only one single word of dialogue: No (or rather: Nooooo – she utters the piercing cry when the Federales want to execute the man she has fallen in love with, the samurai, who has even less dialogue!). Could this mean that some plans were altered? Some anomalies in the script (first Graves offers the men $ 1000 to do a job for him, but near the end they think they can keep all the money for themselves) seem to indicate changes in the original plans too. It’s of course all speculation. If anything, these contrary statements prove that the often heard ‘I believe him because he was present at the event’ isn’t a valuable argument. They were all there, and all remember different things.
The movie has met with some harsh criticism (*3), and it's by no means great, but personally I think it has enough good things to entertain, such as Daniela’s pretty face, the exodus of townspeople who fear the revenge of the federal army after they have killed a few soldiers, or Spencer using a rifle with a bayonet as a spear. The train robbery goes on a bit too long, but I liked the idea of the ‘waving dead soldiers’ (watch the movie and you will know what I mean). The American and European actors fare pretty well in this blend of styles. Graves doesn't 'sound' Dutch and he's not a great dramatic actor, but he's okay as the leader of the bunch and Daly adds some spleen to his aging character. Bud Spencer of course plays the muscleman, but otherwise it’s a rather atypical role; the Germans must have had quite some problems to edit a comedy version of this movie. According to Giusti Spencer did his own lines in English. His character was called Mesito, suggesting a mixed descent, probably to explain his accent. Funny thing is that he was still dubbed by a voice actor in the Italian version.
- (1) Jean-François Giré, Il était une fois le western européen, p. 236
- (2) Marco Giusti, Dizionario dell western all'italiano
- (3) See for instance: Kevin Grant, Any Gun Can Play, p. 217-218 ; Kevin compares this movie to Leopolodo Savona's Killer Kid; he prefers Savona's movie, I prefer this one.
Cast: Peter Graves, Bud Spencer, Nino Castelnuovo, James Daly, Tetsuro Tamba, Claudio Gora, Carlo Alighiero, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, José Torres, Daniela Giordano - Director: Don Taylor, Italo Zingarelli (?) - Screenplay: Dario Argento, Marc Richards - Music: Ennio Morricone