Well, it's been about a year since I reviewed a cheap Italian war movie so we might as well dive back in, right? Part of the Combat Classics 50 Movie Pack DVD set, here's 1969's The War Devils, another not so well known World War II movie. Not a spaghetti western, but a spaghetti war movie instead!
The fighting is raging in North Africa, and Captain George Vincent (Guy Madison), an American Ranger, has been tasked with leading a squad of commandos deep behind enemy lines. Though the mission proves costly, Vincent and his men pull it off but are left stranded in the desert. Their only possibility to get out alive? The American commandos are forced to team up with a squad of similarly stranded German infantry, commanded by fiery Captain Heinrich Meinike (Venantino Venantini). Both sides must put their differences aside if they hope to survive, but the desert is full of obstacles. Whatever happens, the war and the fighting might not be done with both Vincent and Meinike even when the war seems so far removed.
I can't quite put my finger on it. Growing up, I fell hard for the western genre and eventually fell just as hard for the spaghetti western genre. I kinda naturally assumed I would love the Euro-war genre that popped up in Italy in the wake of the popularity of the spaghetti western craze of the late 1960s. So far? It just hasn't been there. Now granted I haven't seen a ton of these films -- I mildly enjoyed 1968's Hell in Normandy -- and the ones I'm watching are public domain DVDs so the quality isn't always there in terms of viewing quality. I've enjoyed the movies, but there's that special something missing. Now if only a young budding star like Clint Eastwood had starred in these movies and helped make them more readily available for foreign audiences....eh, I guess that's wishful thinking.
I'll give credit where and when it's due. From director Bitto Albertini (who also worked on the story/screenplay), 'Devils' definitely tries something a little out of the ordinary. It is one of very few movies that makes a major jump in theaters, bouncing from continent to continent. 'Devils' runs about 96 minutes and splits down the middle, the first 50 minute following the fighting in North Africa while the last 45 jump to fighting in France in 1944. The reasoning behind that time jump? SPOILERS Both Vincent and Heinrich survive the fighting in North Africa, the German captain vowing to kill his American counterpart should they ever run into each other again. They do -- of course -- a year later in France. END OF SPOILERS It's nothing too crazy, but it does work as far as throwing something slightly different into a familiar formula.
A TV and film star in America in the 1950s, Guy Madison ended up getting another crack at stardom via Euro-war flicks and spaghetti westerns. He's in his mid 40s here, looking grayed and grizzled a bit as the most recognizable face in the cast. Not great acting (now THAT would be out of place), but Madison was always a pretty cool screen presence. His counterpart, Venantini, gets to ham it up a little bit as the very loud, emotional and fiery German intelligence captain. Pascale Petit gets to play the sexy young French woman, thrust into the mission with her father's life on the line, because every WWII movie needs a sexy young French woman. Also look for Anthony Steel in a small part as Colonel Steele (originality not required), a key intelligence officer, Claudio Biava as Sgt. Kelp, Vincent's right-hand man, and in the odd casting department, John Ireland making a one-scene appearance as an Allied officer and Raf Baldassarre in a wordless part as a sheik helping Vincent's commandos.
Now there's an end-all, be-all with these flicks, and that's ACTION!!! There's plenty, with two major firefights dotting the running time. 'Devils' may have a small budget, but that money was spent on some decent pyrotechnics. Lots of bullets flying, lots of arm-flailing deaths as dead soldiers go tumbling through the air. Still, there's got to be something more. Soldiers get killed, and the camera lingers like we're supposed to be distraught. That's a problem when they've been background players in most of the scenes up to that point. The action is tolerable, but the movie itself is pretty dull unfortunately. Check out the full movie below if you're curious.
The War Devils (1969): **/****