Friday, 6 January 2017

Churchill's Leopards (1970)

You've got to admit it, Churchill's Leopards is a great title.

You've also got to admit that that poster depicting Klaus Kinski as a chain smoking Nazi is really great too.

And unfortunately, you have to admit that the movie itself is far from great.

Churchill's Leopards (also known as Commando Attack) is a routine portion of Macaroni Combat from writer/director Maurizio Pradeaux. In essence it follows the usual traditional wartime men on a mission format, featuring as it does a crack squad of British commandos sent on the orders of Churchill himself to Nazi occupied France where their objective is to destroy a dam that will flood the Germans strategic, vital supply roads to the coast before the allies make their D-Day strike.

So far, so similar.

However Pradeaux brings something new and pretty harebrained to the table too; the commandos are aided in their mission by an undercover agent, Lt. Benson played by Richard Harrison. You see, Benson's estranged twin brother just happened to be the Nazi officer, Lt. Müller! When the Resistance assassinate Müller in a honey trap (played out with the beautiful Pilar Velázquez as Resistance fighter Elise) at the start of the film, Benson conveniently goes on to take his place. Yes it's the kind of twist that one would expect to feature in some Jean Claude Van Damme '80s blockbuster (as the review in the collection of critical essays, Klaus Kinski: Beast of Cinema, points out)  except Pradeaux has got there first, here in 1970. Unfortunately, Pradeaux muffs it at every turn because Benson all too easily slips into the jackboots of his late brother, convincing virtually everyone in sight  with his surprisingly insightful knowledge of his estranged siblings life and his uncannily adept imitation of his personality and character (including Müller's girlfriend, played by Helga Liné, whilst in bed!), ensuring the film is robbed of any tension from what is essentially its only unique selling point.

Kinski appears as Captain Holtz, a colleague and friend of Müller's who, we are to presume from Pradeaux's many sudden zoomcuts to Kinski and Harrison's eyes, smells a rat. It's the usual SS Officer character, requiring very little of Kinski other than a cold smile and a taste for the finer things in life, but it might have worked if Kinski hadn't been dubbed - like everyone else - by some British actor. He may be hamstrung by this, and he may be coasting, but he still remains arguably the most interesting thing in the movie, especially as Pradeaux's script fails to invest any personality in his commando characters. Combined with the aforementioned lack of tension and the slow, mundane way in which the story is told I'm left thinking that the only person who would really enjoy this is Tarantino.

No one expects a masterpiece from Macaroni Combat, but the should at least be enjoyable in that kind of brash, larger than life manner that so many other examples are.

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