Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 24 - Sinai Commandos and a Franco Nero double feature

Today's viewing consisted of a nice little triple feature of b-movies set in exotic places - the Middle East, Colombia and Mexico - two of them featuring Italian action star Franco Nero.

Sinai Commandos (1968)
Director: Raphael Nussbaum
Format: DVD (First Look's Grindhouse Experience Vol 2)

The concept of a rag-tag bunch of soldiers fighting their way through enemy territory to destroy a radar station/ammunition dump/gun position/whatever has been done countless times in war and action movies. But while the setting for these tales is usually World War II (Pacific, Europe or North Africa), Vietnam or Korea, Sinai Commandos offers a new setting - the Six Day War in the Middle East.

I'll admit to knowing very little about that conflict before watching this movie (and subsequently doing some internet research). As the name would suggest, it was fought for six days (June 5-10 1967), between Israel and the combined forces of its Arab neighbours.

Depending on your political leaning, the war was either an act of aggression by Israel or a pre-emptive strike of a defensive nature. Either way, when all was said and done, Israel had taken control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

But enough about the history - you want to know about Sinai Commandos, am I right? Well, needless to say this Israeli-American-German production is firmly on the side of Israel being the heroic underdogs fighting back against the evil Arabs.

Directed by German Raphael Nussbaum (whose credits also include 1976's intriguingly-named THE AMOROUS ADVENTURES OF DON QUIXOTE AND SANCHO PANZA), it stars Robert Fuller (a veteran of westerns, including long stints on TV shows LARAMIE and WAGON TRAIN) as the leader of a group of Israeli soldiers sent into the Egypt-held Sinai region to blow up a radar station that will allow Israel to turn the tide in the war.

Joining their mission is a pretty woman (Esther Ulmann - her only acting credit) who sneaks them into enemy territory on her father's speedboat and tags along after the boat is sunk. The rest of the commando characters aren't fleshed out too much, with the exception of womanising Private Bulgaro (Reuven Bar-Yotam, making his on screen debut before going on to a career in US television).

While things start off quite slowly, once the action starts Nussbaum does a good enough job of keeping things interesting. As you would probably expect from a movie of this nature, the plot boils down to a string of firefights, as the commandos move on from one incident to the next amidst the barren rock landscape of the Sinai.

Baring in mind this movie was made in 1968 (they didn't mess around in getting it done after the war), it's missing the trappings of later war-action movies. Forget outrageous explosions and cartoonish characters, but if you're after a straight forward war flick with lots of machine guns and grenades, Sinai Commandos is worth a watch.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982. History lesson over.

Alien Terminator (1988)
Director: Nello Rosatti
Format: AVI (VHSrip)

When I was preparing to sit down and watch this, I thought it was the 1995 film with the same name, an erotic scifi flick starring former Las Vegas showgirl Maria Ford. That's the problem when all you've got is a computer file with a name - there's no cover, so mix ups can happen.

So imagine my delight when I started watching and the opening credits appeared. Franco Nero! George Kennedy! Directed by Nello Rosatti!

Instead of a bad 90s skin flick, here we've got an Italian production, shot in Colombia, which was originally titled Top Line. Alien Terminator is the name it got upon video release in the UK.

The previous year Rosatti had
directed Django 2, the sequel
to the groundbreaking 1966 scifi western Django. The sequel once again starred the great Franco Nero as the title character and was filmed in Colombia. It doesn't take much deduction to figure out Rosatti probably filmed Alien Terminator while he was on location, especially since the two movies share another couple of actors in common - William Berger and Rodrigo Obregon.

Nero plays drunken author Ted Angelo, who lives in Colombia on the dollar of his rich publisher ex-wife (Mary Stavin, HOWLING V). When he comes across some priceless Aztec artefacts that get his museum curator friend (Berger) killed, he and his friend's assistant (the lovely Deborah Moore, WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE) are thrown into a dangerous series of events that involve secret agents, an evil artefact collector (Kennedy, COOL HAND LUKE) and a UFO buried inside a mountain.

The first two thirds of the movie are entertaining enough, unfolding like a jungle adventure mystery, but with a name like Alien Terminator you could be forgiven for expecting more... well, alien terminators. For that you'll have to wait until the last third, which is thankfully when things really pick up. As well as the long-awaited arrival of a terminator-ripoff alien robot, there's also an exciting highspeed pursuit through windy mountain roads with Angelo on the back of a truck being driven by drunk chicken farmer, as well as shootouts, explosions and a twist ending that's nicely done.

Nero struggles through his lines in English, but does well as an ageing action star. His funniest line comes during a shootout with the alien terminator, when his lady friend asks "Who could have built a machine like that?" and he replies "Not even the Japanese".

It's a shame there couldn't have been more of the fun stuff in the last portion of this movie throughout its running time, as the build up takes a bit too long to get going. But if you go into Alien Terminator knowing what to expect - a jungle adventure with some elements of scifi - you shouldn't be disappointed.

The Shark Hunter (1979)

Director: Enzo G Castellari
Format: DVD (First Look's Grindhouse Experience Vol 2)

In the late 70s, Jaws rip-offs were a dime a dozen. Following Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster came Mako: Jaws of Death (1976), Orca: The Killer Whale (1977), Piranha (1978) and a whole host more.

The Shark Hunter (aka Il cacciatore di squali, aka El cazador de Tiburones) isn't a direct riff on the adventures of Bruce the shark, but it is clearly cashing in on the craze. Directed by Enzo G Castellari (1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS), it stars Franco Nero (DJANGO) as a Quint-esque grizzled shark hunter haunted by the past. In his case it's the deaths of his wife and child and a plane crash in the waters off Mexico.

Sporting ridiculous long blonde hair, Nero's character (Mike di Donato) lives at a Mexican beach resort (shades of the other Nero movie I've watched today, where he was an American living in Colombia). He is
happy hunting sharks, but has also devised a plan to
retrieve 100 million dollars from the sunken plane
from which he was the only survivor.

A local crimelord (Eduardo Fajardo, DJANGO) and his assorted hired muscle are also after the money, as is a former colleague of di Donato's from a shady American agency (Michael Forest, BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE). Jorge Luke (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER) offers the comic relief as loud mouth local Acapulco, who becomes di Donato's sidekick.

The race is on for the money, with plenty of shoot outs, explosions, fist fights and high speed chases (including one between a seaplane and a speedboat) to keep things interesting. And the sharks? Well, they mostly just swim around looking menacing until the finale, when they finally get to chomp on some suckas.

The DVD I watched was a straight rip of a VHS (with hard Dutch subtitles), so the picture quality wasn't that great. A lot of the underwater shots were too dark to see what was going on, but luckily there's not too many of them.

The Shark Hunter is above-average 1970s action and a must for any fans of Franco Nero.

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