The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Last Escape

A Euro-war WWII movie made on a small budget with only one recognizable face working with a story that brings absolutely nothing new to the war movie genre.  A winning recipe if there ever was one, right?  So what made me want to seek this movie out.  A straightforward trailer that pushed the movie's action-packed story and little else.  I'm a real sucker for explosions a lot of the time.  Average in every way and below average in a couple more, 1970's The Last Escape.

While spaghetti westerns took over in the late 1960s thanks to the success of the Sergio Leone trilogy among other flicks, a smaller genre of European action movies started to hit screens to similar success.  They were Euro war movies, action packed stories light on story that always managed to be entertaining, sometime in how bad they were.  Imagine spaghetti westerns, but replace a six-shooter with a machine gun and you've got the idea.  'Escape' has a lot going against it, and at times it can be pretty awful.  Cheap/small budget isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it smacks you in the face and screams out how cheap it is, we've got a problem.

The leader of an American commando team, Captain Mitchell (Stuart Whitman), is the only survivor of a German ambush when his team is betrayed. He manages to escape the ambush and hooks up with the British commandos he was supposed to work with.  When the highest ranking British officer is killed, a young, inexperienced officer, Lt. Wilcox (Martin Jarvis), steps into command.  Together, Mitchell and the British commandos must kidnap a German rocket scientist (Pinkas Braun) who holds information that could turn the tide of the war. The scientist is more than willing for a way out of Germany as long as the commandos take all the scientists' families with them.  So chased by an obsessed SS officer (Gunther Neutze) and a Russian tank patrol also looking to bring in the scientist, Mitchell and Co. make a mad dash across Germany trying to get to Allied lines. 

During a scene about midway through the movie, everything clicked for me.  I swore I'd seen this movie before.  Well, sort of.  Some 33 years later in Tears of the Sun, Bruce Willis is basically working with an identical story albeit in a later, different time and place.  That's the problem with the whole movie.  You feel like you've seen it before.  Heavy on footage from other movies (633 Squadron, Operation Crossbow, Battle of Britain), the cheapness reeks in this B-movie.  The inserted footage doesn't even match up with what's going on as bombers attack a German base.  The match up of the footage consists of the same explosions shown over and over again from different viewpoints.  Cheap is one thing, but there's a limit.

The only even somewhat recognizable face here is Stuart Whitman as steely-eyed American commando Captain Lee Mitchell.  Never a big star to being with, Whitman worked best as the sidekick in the roles I'm familiar with, especially working with John Wayne in The Comancheros or Richard Boone in Rio Conchos.  This just isn't a strong part for him, and it's not entirely his fault.  To say his character is a cardboard cutout of what a leading character should be would be an unnecessary dig at a piece of cardboard.  So to start with Whitman's not working with much, and then he growls his way through his lines. It gets to the point you start to wonder if he realized what a lousy movie he was part of  and decided to take it out on his co-stars.  Awkward, unnecessary love story with possible German traitor (Margit Saad) added for a female audience...I guess.

So it was the action that suckered me in after watching the trailer, and it's the action that will allow me to even mildly recommend this movie (which I'm going to do almost in spite of myself).  It is a movie with a smaller budget, but there's never any dead time before Mitchell and his British commandos are caught up in another running firefight with their German pursuers.  The action is never on a large scale, but it's always entertaining with plenty of gunfire and explosions.  The finale is by far the best thing the movie's got going for it as American, British, German and Russian forces all shoot it out so they can get their hands on this all-important German scientist.

I realize I'm probably overhyping the action, but there's not much more to write up.  The rest of the cast leaves little to no impression, and director Walter Grauman (typically sticking with TV shows) doesn't really know what to do to fill out a 90-minute running time. I will say the locations add something to the non-stop chase scene that is the last 60 minutes of the movie.  IMDB says it was filmed in Munich, Bavaria and Germany, and it certainly looks it.  Heavily wooded areas that look untouched by history add a sense of being alone and on your own for Mitchell and his team.  So overall, yes, I'm giving this a slightly positive recommendation.  I don't know why, and I have the right to take this back later.  I enjoyed it though.  Check it out on Netflix's Instant watch if curious.

The Last Escape <---trailer (1970): ** 1/2 /****

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