Dear reader, I’m emigrating in a few weeks, so until I’m done and settled at the other end, reviews may become a little more infrequent and random, as I work my way down the pile of DVDs I haven’t seen yet, or wasn’t sure about taking with me. Today’s top of the pile is the second movie made in the three-movie deal that British TV star Lewis Collins signed with producer Erwin C. Dietrich, following the not-terribly-good “Code Name: Wild Geese” – returning from that, along with Collins, are director Antonio Margheriti and co-star Klaus Kinski.
It’s also one of the final entries in the “Macaroni Combat” genre (which definitely doesn’t slide off the tongue as easily as “spaghetti Western”). From the 60s to the late 80s, mostly Italian produced, filmed either there or in the Philippines, war movies were made for the international market, but unlike the westerns, none of them are well-remembered or particularly beloved today. Perhaps “Hornet’s Nest” with Rock Hudson, or “Anzio” with Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk? But anyway, the genre died a death in the late 80s and we’ve been there to cover it with “Strike Commando” and “Strike Commando 2”.
Lewis Collins, the Englishman, is Enrique Carrasco, who evidently moved away from the unnamed Latin American dictatorship at a young age and lost the accent (I was about to say he lost the skin tone too, but it seems this country has a very random racial base, mostly Filipino-looking though). He’s back, though, and is now a beloved guerrilla commando (the “Leopard” of the title, possibly a reference to the 1963 classic “The Leopard”, with Burt Lancaster), and we meet him blowing up a dam with his buddy, the Scottish soldier Smitty.
They’re fighting against the military dictatorship of “The General” and his sidekick Silveira (Kinski), and I can’t help but think they could have done with just a smidgeon more explanation as to who everyone was and why they were fighting. You assume that the English guy is a mercenary but he’s a beloved local figure; and when, later on, the sole female rebel, Maria (Cristina Donadio) throws a guy out of a hospital bed so one of her troops can have the space, it’s reasonable to think that the rebels must be scumbags too (it turns out the guy she was throwing out was a Government soldier, but we certainly weren’t told that at the time). Although, when Silveira’s men slaughter an entire village, the lines become a little clearer.
There’s a curious splitting of the duties of the “lead role”, with Collins doing all the fighting, and Manfred Lehman as Padre Julio, the guy in charge of the hospital in the bombed-out village where most of the action takes place. He has the romance subplot and the dramatic sacrifice and is a pretty decent actor; it’s almost at the stage where you think it was a whole movie about him but they brought Lewis Collins in at the last minute for some machismo.
A lot of stuff happens in “Kommando Leopard”, and when it comes to a crescendo at the halfway point, it’s a similar amount of plot and action as most movies we review manage in their entire running time. There are twists and turns of plot, arrests and escapes, and the tactics used by the Government to defeat Carrasco are actually smart – they trick him into attacking the wrong plane, but when he smells a rat, blow it up themselves (with 185 kids on board!), blame it on him and do a leaflet drop in his jungle heartland telling everyone what he did. But is that too far for the country’s other military leaders?
Collins emotes a few times, but he’s still way too much of a blank slate to be much of a leading man. He reminds me of Sam Worthington, in terms of “how did that guy get all these leading roles?” Kinski, allowed to use his own voice in this one (he was dubbed in “Code Name: Wild Geese”), isn’t as wild and OTT as you’d hope, but is still the most fun thing about it. Lehman is excellent, and “That Guy” extraordinaire Luciano Pigozzi is fun too.
The locations are fantastic – looking on IMDB, it was partly filmed in Maracaibo, Venezuela, although that seems to be a bustling metropolis, so the worn out looking villages and buildings they filmed in must have been Pagsanjan, Philippines. Kudos to the person who found the incredible-looking disused church, authenticity on that scale makes a low budget look gigantic (Pagsanjan was also the location for some of “Apocalypse Now”).
And a quick word about the miniatures, some of the finest miniature work I’ve seen in anything other than the biggest-budget Hollywood fare. The only one that looks even a bit dodgy is the plane that blows up at around the 1-hour mark, as its angle and speed look completely unnatural; but everything else is superb. The dam at the beginning and the oil refinery at the end are really well done – apparently, something like half the movie’s budget went on those effects, and it shows. There’s also some underwater explosions, and it’s such a cool visual that it makes you realise how rarely you see it done in this sort of cinema.
If, for instance, your friend James brings round all three 80s Lewis Collins macaroni combat DVDs and insists you watch one, I’d go for this.
Rating: thumbs up