Five for Hell film review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Review by Simon Gelten
In 1969, when spaghetti western directors were looking for ideas to breathe new life into the genre, Lee Van Cleef was offered a role in a production called Sabata that seemed to make fun of the genre. Van Cleef had no real experience with the more light-hearted approach to the genre and was therefore rather sceptic. The director, Gianfranco Parolini, took him to a showing of a war adventure movie he had recently completed. Lee didn’t understand a word of it, but the cinema was full of young Italians who apparently had the time of their life. Lee thought it was time for a career move ...
The movie shown to him, was Five For Hell. Like most Italian war movies, it's a low budget affair, offering a spicy mix of story elements taken from Hollywood blockbusters like The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare and The Magnificent Seven. When the war hostilities in Italy have come to a stalemate, a bunch of misfits is selected for a special mission behind enemy lines. There are rumors about a large German offensive known as Plan K that could change the course of history. Documents with detailed information about the German movements, are kept in a safe in castle in the Italian countryside. It's up to the five to steal the plans, but SS Colonel Müller (Klaus Kinski) has turned the castle into an impregnable stronghold, so the mission seems a one-way ticket to hell ...
Unlike most other Italian war movies from the period, Five For Hell is rather whimsical, often feeling more like an oddball comedy than a real war movie. The leader of the mission (Gianni Garko, Mr. Sartana himself) was a professional pitcher in times of peace and now uses baseballs filled with explosives to break through enemy lines. There's a man from the high trapeze, or rather: the mighty trampoline, so a portable, fold-away trampoline is part of the equipment the commandos carry along. And of course one of them is a master burglar, able to open any safe.
The screenplay (co-written by Parolini) was based on an original story by Sergio Garrone, best known for his work on a series of rather dark spaghetti westerns (including the semi-classic Django the Bastard); reportedly Garrone had a much darker movie in mind, and some of the original bleakness is still palpable: there are a couple of grim execution scenes and a sub-plot involving hazel-eyed British beauty Margaret Lee is rather morbid: she is double-agent working within the German headquarters and supposed to give the five some assistance, but she has attracted the attention of this SS officer Müller.
Five For Hell is very entertaining and occasionally also quite exciting, but it might be a bit hard to stomach for viewers accustomed to the 'dirty' style of most Macaroni Combat adventures; it's no doubt camp, but fans of Parolini's Komissar X movies and his circus westerns (he also directed the first Sartana movie, If you meet Sartana, pray for your Death), will no doubt tell you it's great campy fun.
- The man from the mighty trampoline is played by Aldo Canti, a former circus acrobat turned professional stuntman; he was a Parolini regular and played a similar athletic role in two Sabata movies
- The upbeat, slightly silly theme song reminded me of the theme song of the TV-series The A Team. Five for hell was a rather popular production that was released worldwide; is it by any chance possible that it served as a source of inspiration for the TV series?
(1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana
Cast: Gianni Garko (Lt. Glenn Hoffmann), Margaret Lee (Helga), Klaus Kinski (SS Standartenführer Hans Müller), Aldo Canti (Nick Amadori), Sal Borgese (Al Siracusa), Luciano Rossi (Johnny 'Chicken' White), Samson Burke (Sgt. Sam McCarthy), Irio Fantini (General Gerbordstadt), Bagio Gambini (Helga’s lover)