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, April 15, 2014


Some movies should just have been better. That's all. Good cast, cool story, lots of potential....and then they're not very good. That's what I thought with 1955's Bengazi. It starts off strong and then it just fizzles....quickly.

A World War II veteran who served in Africa, John Gillmore (Richard Conte) owns half of a bar in Bengazi co-owned by an aging Irishman, Robert Donovan (Victor McLaglen). Gillmore is involved in all sorts of black market deals, especially running guns, and consistently stays ahead of the local police detective, Inspector Levering (Richard Carlson). His most recent crime? He stole a jeep mounted with a machine gun from the British motor pool. He has a plan in place, working with a recently released convict, Selby (Richard Erdman), who knows the location of a hidden gold treasure at an abandoned mosque in the desert. Gillmore enlists Donovan's help with the promise of a huge payday in the end -- dangerous road aside -- but their plan has a wrench thrown in it when Donovan's daughter (Mala Powers) arrives in Bengazi to visit her father she hasn't seen in over 15 years.

A B-movie from director John Brahm, 'Bengazi' clocks in at 79 minutes, seemingly a perfect length for a relatively cheap flick. Well, that's what I figured at least. After some early potential, this movie derailed quickly and never recovers. As I've said, cheap/low budget doesn't mean bad....but, yeah, the cheap ends up impacting this one in the end. The disparate quasi-refugees and crooks working together in a crime-ridden foreign city, a suicidal mission with touches of countless westerns and war movies -- including The Lost Patrol, which McLaglen starred in -- are all archetypal stories and situations that never amount to much in the end. By the end, things are just thrown at the wall hoping some of them stick. Most don't.

If there's the remotest semblance of a positive here it comes from the cast. That doesn't mean it's good, but there's certainly some interesting casting. I like Conte, a solid character actor who never became a star so it's cool to see him in a leading role. The script does him no favors in a painfully forced subplot with Powers as Donovan's daughter, Aileen, falls madly in love with him and vice versa. They have no chemistry but are instantly in love in a dangerous situation. Gag. Late in his career, McLaglen hams it up like his life depends on it, but it's Victor McLaglen so that can be fun even when it's bad. Carlson inexplicably has a brutal Scottish accent, his Levering just an odd character in the end. Erdman is underused as the slithery Selby while Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, Jay Novello and Maurice Hill have small supporting parts.

I wanted to like this one. The cast is pretty cool and that premise was interesting if somewhat familiar. After traveling across the desert, Gillmore, Donovan and Selby find the abandoned mosque near a desert oasis, but they're not alone, Bedouin tribesmen hovering just beyond the horizon in an effort to protect their hidden gold. Gillmore reveals a machine gun as protection and the trio wait for help. Wouldn't you know it? Levering shows up with his assistant and Aileen...because, well, we need some love tension, not because that move makes any sense in the real world. From there, it's a matter of who will survive, if anyone. We never see the Bedouin tribesmen other than a late reveal -- budget restrictions I'm assuming -- but that sense of danger never permeates the story. Yeah, they're there in the dunes, but when there's no interest in the characters, who cares who makes it?

By the end, the bodies pile up -- Conte calling his machine gun "Baby" -- but things degenerate into painfully slow, downright dull dialogue scenes and the always unbearable love triangle. Who will Aileen pick?!? The roguish Gillmore or the reliable Levering?!? Bleck. Just steer clear of this dud, solid cast and premise aside.

Bengazi (1955): */****

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