Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Macaroni Combat, 80s Style

Anthony M Dawson was the alias of the prolific Italian film maker Antonio Margheriti (1930-2002) a man who had worked on everything from sword and sandal B movies like The Fall Of Rome to the spaghetti westerns such as Leone's Fistful Of Dynamite before branching out to Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and Andy Warhol's DraculaCannibal Apocalypse and two Treasure Island adaptations - the first starring Orson Welles, the second being the more loose adaptation, Treasure Island In Outer Space with Anthony Quinn.

By the mid 80s, stirred by box office Hollywood hits like the Rambo series and greatly influenced by the success of the British actioneers from Euan Lloyd like The Wild Geese and Who Dares Wins, Margheriti (who had by now taken the Dawson moniker after realising the translation of his real name into English was 'Anthony Daises', something he decreed to effeminate!) decided to produce a trilogy of Italian films, similar in their mercenary/soldier for hire theme but unrelated on the whole, that would become classed as part of the 'Macaroni Combat' series, a pleasing tongue in cheek mirroring of the Italianisation of that other movie staple, the western, being termed spaghetti western. These films were 1984's Codename: Wild Geese, 1985's Commando Leopard and The Commander from 1988.

Each of these films would be headlined by Lewis Collins, the star of TV's The Professionals and the aforementioned Who Dares Wins who had reputedly - though pinches of salt may be required - turned down Bond and had aimed to join the SAS in real life (he did serve as part of the TA Parachute Regiment I believe) He would be joined in each film by a wealth of fading Hollywood stars, many familiar with spaghetti westerns, such as Lee Van Cleef, Ernest  Borgnine, Donald Pleasance and Klaus Kinski, as well as old hands in the Euro pudding game such as Manfred Lehmann and the English actor and now Hollywood estate agent, John Steiner. 

It is perhaps the first film, Codename: Wild Geese, that is the best remembered of the trio, cannily cashing in on the title of its more illustrious and quality predecessor, Euan Lloyd's 1978 film The Wild Geese and its  dreadful sequel, 1982's The Wild Geese 2 (indeed as a child in the 80s, roaming my local video store, I actually thought this was in fact a second sequel) whilst cheekily pinching Lloyd's star from Who Dares Wins and indeed, many themes from the original Wild Geese film; like that, the plot of this concerns itself with drug cartels, double crossing and, as the survivors of the mission drop in number, the inevitable revenge theme.

Perhaps the success of this first movie can be summed up by the number of poster and art work available on the net. Examples two and three displayed here especially put one in mind of the art work for Lloyd's Wild's no wonder the schoolboy me got confused!

Just for comparison, here's the posters for Lloyd's two official Wild Geese movies - though obviously we'd all like to forget the second one!

See what I mean?

One year later and Collins, Kinski and Lehmann were back for Commando Leopard. With an estimated budget of 15 million in Swiss francs, this was for the time, the most expensive Swiss budgeted film. Approximately half of the budget went on the miniature special effects. This time, Collins, who had previously played the distinctively British mercenary Robin Wesley, was now cast as the enigmatic Latin Robin Hood gun for hire Enrique Carrasco (though like Connery, he never changes his accent!) whilst Kinski chewed the scenery as the villain of the piece; Col Silvera, the head of police for a despotic corrupt Latin American dictator.

Commando Leopard is the one film of the trilogy that is still routinely available on DVD here in the UK. I picked it up about ten years ago for less than a fiver before passing it on to Cex for trade. I am now staggered to see a copy change hands on Ebay for around twenty quid! Wha?! Haha

The loose trilogy wrapped some three years after with The Commander, a film more in keeping with the format of the first in that it gives Collins, as Major Colby, the role of a former British soldier turned mercenary again as opposed to  that of Commando's good hearted outlaw, and brings Van Cleef back into the fold as his former superior officer and mentor. The film sends Collins on the drug trail once again, this time deep in the Cambodian jungle with a hand picked bunch of mercenaries including a duplicitous Manfred Lehmann, overseen in Berlin by Donald Pleasance, playing for laughs.

Margheriti died in 2002 of a heart attack, but his huge body of work lives on. Indeed, that self confessed lover of cult, Tarantino, paid tribute to him when he loosely remade the 70s Macaroni Combat outing Inglorious Bastards as 2009's dubiously but deliberately misspelt Inglorious Basterds by naming Eli Roth's character in the film after him.

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