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. French author Giré described the movie as Mission Impossible out West (*1). 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.
Peter Graves - best know for the TV series Mission Impossible - 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 also comes up with a few fresh ideas 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). She also came up with a nice anecdote: the producers wanted an actress who spoke English; she passed the language test ... and then got only a single line of diaogue !
The movie has met with some harsh criticism (*3). It's by no means great, but I think it has enough good things to entertain. There are a few anomalies on script level ((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) and 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. 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