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Desert Battle film review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

Desert Battle

Review of Desert Assault aka Desert Battle (La Battaglia del Deserto - 1969, Mino Loy)

Review by Simon Gelten

1942, North-Africa. British Captain Bradbury is the leader of a small team assigned to lay a minefield in the desert to slow down the advance of Rommel's Afrika Korps. They accomplish their mission, but are spotted by a German reconnaissance team; they manage to shake off the Germans, but end up with not enough patrol left in the tank to return and not enough water and supplies to survive a trek through the desert. The Germans got stuck in the sand and were forced to leave their vehicle behind, but have what the allied team needs most: food and water. The enemies will have to co-operate in order to survive ...

Italian war movies were usually modeled after Hollywood blockbusters, but in this case the model was rather a French movie from 1960, Denys de la Patellière's Un Taxi pour Tobrouk (1960) that told a similar story of survival in the North-African desert on the eve of El Alamein. Tensions soon rise within the mixed group; one of the British soldiers was hurt during the persecution and starts having feverish dreams. Should they give this man - who's marked for death - the water he's asking for (and therefore reduce their own chances to survive) or should they give him a coup de grace to end his sufferings ? Things lead to a climax when the team's sapper (the explosives expert), a Canadian ex-con with little sense of right and wrong - runs off with the last gallon of water ...

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The film is basically one long trek across the desert, resulting in a movie that is more concerned with psychological warfare than battlefield action; but the trek is bookended by two large-scale battle scenes that were made with the help of the Italian army. Those battle scenes were shot on Sardinia while the rest of the movie was filmed in Libya (the Italian army wasn't allowed to enter the country); the battle scenes are spectacular, but feel a bit detached from the rest of the movie, which works best in its more intimate moments, when the script - by Ernesto Gastaldi - becomes a sort parable on the human condition (*1).

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The casting is pretty odd - Uruguayan actor George Hilton plays a Brit, French actor Robert Hossein a German and the Canadian madman is played by American Frank Wolff - but this is Italian genre cinema, where nationalities were quite flexible. Hilton and Hossein are both quite good but it's Wolff who steals the show as the explosives expert who freaks out because of the heat and thirst. Mino Loy (better known as a producer) keeps his direction tight, never dwelling on things. The biggest - or better: only real - drawback are a series of flashbacks, introduced to give the characters some background story; they look superfluous and simply don't work. Desert Battle was largely overlooked when first released but today some fans of the genre think it's one of the best Macaroni Combat movies made in the Sixties.

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Director: Mino Loy - Cast: Robert Hossein (Cpt. Kurt Heinz), George Hilton (Cpt. George Bradbury, Frank Wolff (Wiley), Rik Battaglia (Bob), Ivano Staccioli (Salter), Fabrizio Moroni (Charlie), Goffredo Unger (Spencer), Ida Galli (Jane), Laura Belli (Barbara) - Music: Bruno Nicolai

Note: (1) Those battle scenes were probably leftovers from another movie, La Battaglia di El Alamein, co-produced by the director of this movie, Mino Loy. Footage shot with the help of the Italian army was used in a couple of other Macaroni Combat movies as well.

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