Saturday, August 27, 2011

Battle Forced: "Battle Force" (1978)

Umberto Lenzi used a more American sounding alias for this video version of a film also known by at least half a dozen other names. If ever there was a prime candidate for a really good DVD transfer and deleted scenes restoration, this might be it.

The big name cast meet at Berlin in 1936 after the Olympics. British correspondent John Huston, German officer Stacy Keach, and American general Henry Fonda exchange pleasantries and small tokens of friendship, denying that the three countries would ever be at war. We know better. Eventually, but indirectly, the paths of the three men cross in North Africa. Fonda's ne'er-do-well son is heroic there, Huston wanders around there, and Keach dies there. Trying to follow all of these paths, plus those of characters who really have nothing to do with the main plot, gets to be a chore.

Samantha Eggar is Keach's half Jewish wife. The main characters are set, but then the film begins jumping forward in time to major European battles without much characterization or set up. We see Fonda's son get through the war, and Fonda himself spends the rest of his scenes in an office waiting for word about him. Sadly, someone forgot to tell Huston he was playing a Brit, since he makes no attempt at an accent. It is funny to hear him call his protege "Yank" in a completely Midwestern American accent.

Orson Welles provides ominous narration to try to keep the proceedings moving along, but characters are introduced, play their little scene, and are dropped immediately. The vignettes eventually get in the way of some very spectacular war footage, not much of it being stock. There is a tank battle that probably looked fabulous on the big screen. The English speaking actors are alright, but much of the Italian cast is badly dubbed.

Despite some top flight talent, "Battle Force" feels like a miniseries sliced into a ninety minute film. Lenzi seems more interested in action than dialogue, and it shows. I do not recommend this, except for the action scenes. (* *) out of five stars.