Before he started to make his mark on the world of cinema as the director of numerous horror films and thrillers, Italian filmmaker Dario Argento lent his imagination to several stories of the war and western genres. One such item happens to be Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West — which also happens to be one of the greatest damn western movies ever. Another example is nowhere near as popular as the aforementioned movie: the 1969 feature The Five Man Army (Un Esercito di 5 Uomini) starring the late, great Peter Graves.
The film is best described as Mission: Impossible — Spaghetti Western style. And, seeing as how that now-legendary TV series was at the height of its popularity when The Five Man Army was made, it’s easy to see why. Here, Peter Graves has a similar role as someone everybody calls “The Dutchman” — who recruits four men of assorted traits (explosives, muscleman, etc.) to help him rob a train transporting a shitload of gold. Of course, said locomotive happens to be run by and armed to the hilt by the Mexican army — and is operational at all times in order to prevent anyone from, well, robbing it.
Impossible? Well, it’s more improbable, kids — but highly likely with Jim Phelps–er, The Dutchman’s experience and guidance. Assisting Graves in his improbable heist are the talents of James Daly as an explosives expert (who was made to resemble Lee Van Cleef on the film’s artwork, which is reprinted on the DVD’s cover), Trinity legend Bud Spencer as the brute strength guy (this is one of the few films he speaks English in his actual voice), Tetsurô Tanba as the master of blades (and token Asian guy), and Nino Castelnuovo as an annoying Mexican outlaw. Don Taylor directs this enjoyable matinee fodder, which generously borrows elements from other great “guys on a suicide mission” movies.
The Warner Archive Collection once again gives us a treat to savor, presenting The Five Man Army in a more-than-adequate anamorphic widescreen transfer with an Dolby Digital English mono soundtrack accompanying that really brings out the best Ennio Morricone’s music score has to offer. A campy theatrical trailer from the original US release (1970) as the manufactured-on-demand disc’s only bonus feature. But I’m okay with just that: the fact that I am able to add this item in my ever-expanding Spaghetti Western category is worth it for that alone.
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