11 November, 2006

Jack Palance Goes To War: HELL'S BRIGADE

In the wake of the passing of Jack Palance, I thought I would take a look at some of his European films. A good place to start is the Italian-Spanish coproduction L'URLO DE GIGANTI (HELL' S BRIGADE: THE FINAL ASSAULT, the onscreen title of the old MPI video). This 1969 film was directed by Leon Klimovsky, whom Jess Franco worked with in the 1950s as a screenwriter and assistant director (MIEDO; AMA ROSA). My friend Carlos Aguilar, the noted Spanish critic and film historian, recently wrote to me that Klimovsky was, along with Joaquin Romero Marchent, one of the prime movers in Franco's early film career, one of his spiritual father figures in the history of Spanish genre cinema.

Klimovsky was a dependable journeyman and not a director noted for unhinged experimentation. HELL'S BRIGADE is not as dull as some of his Spanish westerns (A FEW DOLLARS FOR DJANGO), in fact it adequately holds attention with a series of well-staged, large scale action sequences. Although not as big-budgeted as US produced war fims of that era (THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE, PATTON: both of which the screenwriters here borrow heavily from), this seems like one of Klimovsky's most well resourced projects, with lots of extras and military hardware on display. I

Palance stars as Major Heston, the no-nonsense leader of a commando raid into Germany. He isn't saddled with a Scottish accent like his other Eurowar film of the same year, Umberto Lenzi's BATTLE OF THE COMMANDOS and he clearly enunciates every curse which he shouts at his men and the Nazis. He dominates the excellent supporting cast (which includes Alberto De Mendoza, Andrea Bosic and Giuseppe Addobbati) through sheer intensity and volume.

The cast also includes a number of players familiar from Jess Franco films such as Antonio Pica (ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS), Jesus Puente (EL CONDE DRACULA), Gerard Tichy (LA MUERTE SILBA DE BLUES) and Palance had just acted in Franco's MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE, although his performance here is nowhere near as far out as he is there. But even playing a dedicated antihero he's as explosive and ominous as one of his classic villains.

The MPI video crops off up to half of the compositions at times, leaving characters speaking dialogue offscreen and giving each and every image a totally unbalanced look. I think this was originally lensed in a 2.35:1 scope ratio. It should be noted that Klimovsky's career would be totally transformed in the next year, 1970, when he embarked on an entirely new career, directing a series of important and successful Spanish horror films in a delirious, atmospheric style quite unlike anything he had done before.


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