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Desert Commandos Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

Review of Desert Commandos by Simon Gelten.

Desert Commandos review

Most Italian war movies are about a small group of commandos on a special mission behind enemy lines, and Desert Commandos is no exception. But the 'heroes' are Germans and it's also stated that the script was based on historic facts. The story is set in 1943, at the time of the Casablanca Conference (January 14 January 24). Five German commandos are dropped in the Sahara. Their mission: assassinate Roosevelt, Churchill and De Gaulle (or Stalin, there's some confusion about this in the movie too) who are in Casablanca to discuss their tactics in the war against the Axis powers. The Germans get some help from an Arab woman, and are chased by Allied soldiers (and in one scene by locals).

Being a co-production with France and Germany, the film boasted with a slightly bigger budget and could actually be shot in Morocco, where the action is supposed to take place. Some of the Germans are played by a Germans and the other actors (among them Italian based American Ken Clark and Italian actor Renato Rossini) look German enough for the job. French actress Jeanne Valérie, on the other hand, isn't very convincing as the Arab woman guiding them to Casablanca. The Germans are stereotyped and - as more often - presented as opposites (the loyal Nazi versus the intellectual who had Jewish friends before the war, etc.), but at least they're depicted as human beings looking forward to the end of the war.

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The first half of the movie is rather slow, with director Umberto Lenzi and his cinematographer taking too much time to show us that the film was actually shot in Morocco: we get virtually endless scenes of men marching through the desert, having conversations about the war and the mission. There are a few tension-filled scenes involving mines and nomads (resulting in a funny chase scene with dromedaries); some additional suspense is created by the suggestion that there's a traitor among them, but it all remains rather flat. The story picks up in the second half and the final twenty minutes are exciting, with a few unexpected plot twists and crisply edited action scenes. We know of course from the history books that the mission failed, but the finale is elegantly staged and quite amusing. I won't give it away.

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Overall this is a rather solid Macaroni Combat movie, some rank it among the director's best work. The historic background and Moroccans locations add a sense of realism to the movie, but we should take this historic background with a pinch of salt. Yes, there was a Casablanca Conference and yes, there might have been plans to assassinate the three or four 'greats', but the Germans wouldn't have ever dropped commandos in the desert and let them cross the distance to Casablanca largely on foot. Casablanca is situated in the North-West of Morocco, near the coast, and not surrounded by a desert: the Sahara is hundreds of miles away. The film makers also seem to have misjudged the meteorological circumstances: we're supposed to believe that the commandos suffer from great heat, but the Casablanca Conference was held in January, when the weather is relatively cool in North-West Morocco (average temperatures of 14-17°C/57-62°F)

Miscellaneous

  • I haven't been able to find out exactly when and where the movie was shot, but most probably the desert scenes were filmed in the South of Morocco, near Ouarzazate, the so-called 'Hollywood of Morocco'. The medieval town shown in the movie, looks like Kasbah Taourirt, situated near Ouarzate, and in various shots the Atlas mountain range is visible.

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Note:

  • The French title is: Les Chiens verts du Desert; the German title is: Fünf gegen Casablanca

Director: Umberto Lenzi - Cast: Ken Clark (Captain Fritz Schoeller), Horst Frank (Lt. Roland Wolf), Jeanne Valérie (Faddja Hassen), Carlo Hinterman (Sgt. Erich Huber), Renato Rossini , playing as Howard Ross (Willy Mainz), Franco Fantasia (Major Dalio), Hardy Reichelt (Corporal Hans Ludwig), Fabienne Dali (Simone), Tom Felleghy (Colonel Ross), John Stacy (Sir Bryan)

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