The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hell in Normandy

Ah, the companion piece, and here I sit. Having bought a collection of 44 spaghetti westerns a few years back and enjoying the flicks through all their good, bad and awful, my girlfriend bought me a similar collection of 50 war movies, the Combat Classics 50 MoviePack. I didn't start in order -- the first one in the collection is a war movie musical -- and jumped into the collection with 1968's Hell in Normandy.

It's the days leading up to the D-Day invasion and a key German installation on the coast has to be knocked out. An intelligence agent, Lt. Strobel (Peter Lee Lawrence), poses as a German officer with a professor, Aubernet (Philippe Hersent), along to try and scope out the coming mission. Back in England, a special squad of American commandos led by Capt. Jack Murphy (Guy Madison) is training to take out the installation, a heavily fortified pillbox guarded by crack troops and an intricately laid minefield. The plan is to parachute into France the night before the invasion and take out the pillbox, but everything is thrown off its schedule when the invasion is postponed a day. It's too late for Murphy and many of his men though who jumped from the plane before the postponement signal came through. Now working with Strobel, Murphy and his men must hide out for a day, waiting for their chance to strike.

Poke around the site, and you'll see I love spaghetti westerns and generally will give any cheap European flick from the 1960s/1970s a pretty fair shot. The war collection has a fair share of similarly minded war flicks, Euro-war movies that were made on the cheap with an American star or two and a cast filled out by Italian actors. They were light on story and heavy on action. How can you lose, right? Like so many other like-minded flicks, 'Normandy' is pretty standard stuff. At different points in its 90-minute running time, it's exciting, dull, too much going on, not enough going on, and generally pretty goofy. I didn't love it, and I didn't hate it. It was good enough for a one-time viewing, and fans of Italian war movies should get at least a kick out of it.

I'll give credit where it's due in the originality department. Now, I've seen my fair share of war movies, but I've never heard of the plot device utilized here. What exactly is the German installation the American commandos are so desperate to knock out? Well, other reviews seem to identify it as a heavily-guarded flamethrower, but unless I misunderstood some lousy dubbing, that'd be wrong. Instead, the Germans have set up fuel lines in the water along the coast. When the invasion comes, they will open the fuel lines and light the fuel on fire. In other words, a rather warm, rather unpleasant welcome awaits Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy. It's a cool if ridiculous premise, and it doesn't help that we only see about 12 feet stretch of this so-called "weapon" along the shore. Should the Allies have avoided this strip of fuel-injected water, I feel they would have been safe.

Having transitioned from American TV star to a regular in some middling spaghetti westerns, Guy Madison makes the jump to the Italian war movie genre. He isn't given much to do and isn't even introduced until 20 minutes or so into the flick, but his Capt. Jack Murphy is a cool character. He questions the point of his upcoming mission, knowing the chances of him and his team pulling it off successfully and getting out alive are slim at best. It's cool to see that cynicism in a main character in a war movie. His polar opposite is Peter Lee Lawrence as Strobel, a dedicated, even fanatical/obsessed officer hellbent on destroying the installation. Posing as a German officer, he puts himself directly in harm's way, a painful death awaiting him should he slip up in the least. Their scenes together are solid, two different characters working together to try and pull off the impossible.

There ends the conversation of "known actors" in the cast. Erika Blanc is solid as Denise, the young woman working with the French resistance and the commandos in helping them get the job done while also trying to protect her paranoid, aging father (Renato Pinciroli). Hersent is also good in a smaller part as the intelligent professor along with the mission for some reason. I couldn't quite figure out why his part is so key. Max Turilli is the main villain -- if underused -- as a highly driven German soldier close behind on the trail left by Murphy's men. The focus is almost exclusively on Madison, Lawrence and Blanc with the rest of the cast mostly serving as background players, the cast listing at IMDB not even listing most names.

Part of the beauty (some would say not so beautiful) of these film collections is that all the movies are public domain. In other words, they're cheap and feature a lot of films, but you get what you pay for. Public domain usually means pretty low quality, and that's no exception here with a washed-out look and a really lousy print of pan-n-scan that bounces all over the action. That said, it's enjoyable enough. Much of the action is saved for the finale in a run and gun battle between the German outfit garrisoning the installation and what remains of Murphy's men. The ending does provide quite the twist in the surprise department. A mild recommendation overall. Watch HERE if you're curious.

Hell in Normandy (1968): ** 1/2 /****   

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