War is always hell, but war movies at the New Beverly are always a “Hell, yeah!” And on July 5th, one day after Independence Day, you can keep the patriotism going with two little-seen unconventional WWII dramas. In these stories, heroes get haunted by the past, officer clashes put their men in greater danger, and one wrong choice can cost dearly.
In the tradition of the “spaghetti western” (an American genre tale made by Italian filmmakers) comes the “macaroni combat” story COMMANDOS from 1968. Americans are recruited to eliminate and then impersonate an Italian garrison in an African desert outpost before the Allies arrive. But the constant conflict between war-weary Sgt. Sullivan (Lee Van Cleef) and newly promoted pogue Capt. Valli (Jack Kelly) threatens to undermine the plan. The mission gets even more derailed when nearby Germans make a social call. Can our boys keep up the ruse and the brass keep their cool?
Like the band of misfits casting of THE DIRTY DOZEN that many ‘60’s WWII films sought to copy, the creatives behind COMMANDOS are a unique gathering. The original short story concept is credited to producer and Cannon Films legend Menahem Golan, the fleshed out story is from ‘40’s screenwriter Don Martin and Polish/German producer Artur Brauner, and an Italian collective including Dario Argento did the final rewrite. Directing the tense action is Armando Crispino, who followed this with the giallos THE DEAD ARE ALIVE (a/k/a THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN) with Alex Cord and John Marley, and AUTOPSY with Barry Primus and Mimsy Farmer.
Lee Van Cleef continues his run of starring in Italian-based productions with his leading role, and joining him from America is Jack Kelly, best remembered as Bart Maverick opposite James Garner in multiple incarnations of the beloved Western wiseguy series “MAVERICK.” Playing supporting role Bruno is Duilio Del Prete, later to have his biggest exposure as part of the romantic foursome of Peter Bogdanovich’s musical AT LONG LAST LOVE, as well as New Bev favorite THE DIVINE NYMPH. Playing the thoughtful Lt. Heitzel is Joachim Fuchsberger, veteran of 13 Edgar Wallace mystery movies and WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE.
The battlefield moves from Africa to Europe for the 1970 adventure UNDERGROUND. American spy Dawson (Robert Goulet) cannot overcome the shame from when, under capture and torture by Germans, he gave up his partner, who was also his wife. To redeem himself, he connives his way back into occupied France to join a resistance mission intent on abducting a German general and his secrets. But Dawson finds himself constantly at odds with team leader Boule (Lawrence Dobkin), and gets drawn into a tryst with Boule’s wife Yvonne (Danièle Gaubert). Will Dawson fail the cause a second time?
While casting the beloved song stylist Goulet in a non-singing dramatic role was unusual, it was surprisingly not his first time playing a WWII secret agent; in the short-lived 1966 TV series “BLUE LIGHT”, written by genre specialist Larry Cohen, he played a deep-cover agent in Germany posing as an American traitor. You might recognize co-star Lawrence Dobkin’s face from the original “THE UNTOUCHABLES” and PATTON, but you may recognize his voice sooner as the narrator of TV series “THE NAKED CITY” and, for many years, the original guide to Disneyworld’s Hall of Presidents. Before appearing in UNDERGROUND, Danièle Gaubert would give her most memorable performance in Radley Metzger’s sexy pop-art romantic tragedy CAMILLE 2000.
The three producers of UNDERGROUND – Jules Levy, Arthur Gardner, and Arnold Laven (who also directed earlier New Bev presentation ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO) – met during WWII while working in the Air Force’s Motion Picture Unit, forming a company together when the war ended. Together, they also produced SAM WHISKEY, WHITE LIGHTNING, and GATOR for Burt Reynolds. Director Arthur H. Nadel directed Elvis Presley in CLAMBAKE and multiple TV series, and in his last years was associated with many Filmation live-action and animated programs. Screenplay credit is shared by Ron Bishop, writer of many late-season episodes of “GUNSMOKE,” and Andy Lewis, who would later share an Oscar nomination with his brother David for writing KLUTE. Lewis would credit producer Levy for first suggesting that a script about a prostitute would make a compelling film.