Jan 9, 2011

Codename: Wildgeese (1984)

For a quick timeline as to what subgenres were popular in European exploitation cinema at a given time during 1960 to 1990, one would do well to check the filmography of director Antonio Margheriti (whose name was often Anglicized on the credits as "Anthony M. Dawson"). Whenever such fare as spaghetti westerns, science fiction, Gothic horror, secret agents, mondo, peplum or gialli were fashionable, one could expect to see at least one such movie helmed by this workmanlike filmmaker. (Curiously, one of the few genres he missed out on was the boom of WW2-themed actioners of the late 1960's.) Unlike, say, Umberto Lenzi or Enzo Castellari, who also dabbled in many kinds of films during this period, Margheriti never truly specialized in a genre (however, his Gothic horror movies are generally considered to be his best). And to be certain, during the mid-1980s when producers on both sides of the Atlantic were making low-budget commando-type movies, following the success of Rambo or Missing In Action, Margheriti contributed several films to the fold.

Code Name: Wildgeese is perhaps better remembered today, due to its bigger-than-usual cast of veterans who had second careers in European genre films. 25 years later, it still holds up rather well, less for its actors than for the fair bit of excitement onscreen. In this tale, Lewis Collins whips together a band of commandos to knock out an opium compound in southeast Asia. Lee Van Cleef appears as Travis, who is sprung from prison to pilot the helicopter. His old co-star from For a Few Dollars More, Klaus Kinski (with a British dubbed accent!) appears as Charlton, who spearheads the operation. Also in the interesting cast is strawberry-blonde American expatriate Mimsy Farmer as a drug slave(!) who gets rescued along the way. Familiar Euro-genre actor Alan Collins also appears as a priest (his crucifixion is one of the film's several bizarre stop points). But despite all of this star power, the acting is rather tired (or perhaps due to inspired dubbing). Only Ernest Borgnine seems to get into it.

Still, this flick moves along at a good pace for its 105-minute running time, bringing in some good action setpieces. (We'll ignore the hilariously edited sequence where a car drives along the side of a tunnel.) Plus, what's an Italian genre picture without a double-cross or two? It's a workmanlike action movie that is rather exciting, and is also interesting in that characters spend as much time in business suits as army fatigues, reminding one that the bloodshed in the jungles is controlled by so-called civilized men.

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