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The Five Man Army Review

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The Five Man Army (Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini

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A MGM funded spaghetti western. The idea behind The Magnificent Seven is transported to another era, the Mexican revolution of 1914. 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. In 1969 everybody in the business seemed to be concerned with the end of things: the West, the western, the westerner, you name it. The Dirty Dozen and The Professionals may also have been sources of inspiration, and on script level there are a few similarities to Castellari’s Kill the all and come back alone. Some have called it Mission Impossible out West. Lead actor Peter Graves, silver hair and all, is above all known for his starring role in the CBS television series, and the mission he proposes in this movie, seems largely impossible.

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 want to travel to Mexico with them in order to rob a train, 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 senoras and beautiful senoritas, and there’s the inevitable execution of a revolutionary that is prevented by the heroes in the very last moment. And yet the movie manages to come up with a few fresh ideas as well, such as an elegant, well-handled finale and an unusually protracted heist scene seasoned with remarkable 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 nice 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 some (or even most) of the material was directed by either producer Zingarelli or screenwriter Argento. Graves and Spencer have declared Taylor was the man, but Tetsuro Tamba (who plays the samurai) and Italian beauty Daniela Giordano sustain that Taylor abandoned the production after a few days and that the bulk of the movie was directed by Zingarelli. Giordano came up with a nice anecdote as well. Taylor wanted an Italian actress who spoke English, but Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale (who where known to speak it a little) were way beyond the movie’s budget. Somebody thought of Daniela, she 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? Could it also mean that Taylor abandoned the production because some of his ideas couldn’t be realized? It’s of course all speculation. If anything, these contrary statements prove that the ofte 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.

This is by no means a great movie, but 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 thought it was well-conceived and I liked the idea of the ‘waving dead soldiers’ (watch the movie and you know what I mean). The American and European actors fare pretty well in this blend of styles, even Daly, who manages to add some spleen to his aging character. 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 stilled dubbed a voice actor in the Italian version. Moricone’s score isn’t one of the greats either, but perfectly serviceable. The main theme sounds a bit too familiar, but some of the other tunes are quite catchy. I often get the idea that it’s nearly impossible for this man to write bad music.

--By Scherpschutter

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