Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Writer & director Gianfranco Baldanello's "This Man Can't Die!” (**1/2 out of ****) with Guy Madison qualifies as an above-average spaghetti western. Baldanello penned the screenplay with “Three Dollars of Lead” writer Luigi Emmanuele and “Atlas against the Cyclops” scribe Gino Mangini. Actually, Baldanello, Emmanuele, and Mangini have written a rather formulaic but entertaining oater that relies on the literary use of foreshadowing to tell its tale of greed, redemption, and justice. Watch the box of guns & gun belts that are given to the hero in the first scene and you’ll see what I mean.

Baldanello, Emmanuele, and Mangini do a good job of establishing the action in the first scene at a cavalry fort. The army captain (Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia of “Kill and Pray”) tells our hero, Martin Benson (Guy Madison), “So far you’ve done a good job, Martin. But obviously you won’t be able to continue undercover any longer, their friends will be after you like a swarm of bees.” Benson gauges his payoff, “Instead of ten pieces of silver, I get paid in gold.” Martin Benson is a lean, mean, tall, unshaven, cigarette smoking specimen of humanity. In other words, he is a standard Spaghetti western protagonist.

Three felons that Benson brought in swing from the gallows outside the captain’s office. The captain complains, “Damnit, even with death staring them in the face, they won’t talk. The smuggling of firearms certainly won’t end with a rope around the necks of those devils outside. I don’t care how you do it but we’ve got to find out who’s in charge of this operation and where the new hide0ut is. Washington is never going to get off my back until rifles and rotgut are off the reservation. You know, Martin, I’m up for promotion.”

Benson refuses to take the assignment. “If I keep fooling around with those gun runners my hide isn’t going to be worth a damn.” The captain demands that Benson handle the job and he manages to convince him with more money that he --rather than Tony Guy (Steve Merrick) -- isn’t appropriate for the mission. “I’ve just been bought,” Benson agrees as he accepts the money. Before Benson leaves, an army sergeant enters headquarters with the guns and gun belts of the three outlaws that were hanged outside. Benson tells the captain to sent the hardware to his father and he rides out. No sooner does Benson hit the trail that two horsemen and a couple of riflemen lay an ambush for him in the sagebrush. Benson blows the two horsemen away while on horseback him wielding his Winchester repeating rifle with one hand. This doesn’t keep the bad guys from pursuing Benson. Meanwhile, at the Benson ranch, Martin’s father has disowned his oldest son because of his criminal record. This is one plot point that the scenarists never resolve. Earlier, the army captain told Martin that he could have his record wiped clean by discovering the identity of the man behind the contraband whiskey and rifle trade. Anyway, the same gang that are tracking Martin strike his parents ranch while his two brothers and oldest sister are gone to town. The gunslingers kill Martin’s mother and father; one outlaw rapes his youngest sister, Jenny (Rosalba Neri of “Lion of Thebes”), and traumatizes her so that she cannot talk.

When Daniel Benson (Pietro Martellanza), his older sister Susy (Lucienne Bridou of “Black Jack”) and their youngest brother arrive at the ranch, they find their horses have been stampeded and a wounded man is lying on their property. Initially, Daniel believes that the wounded man is one of the brigands that killed his parents. He takes the man to a cave and brings the doctor to attend to him. Meanwhile, Vic Graham (Rik Battaglia) lusts after Susy, even though she refuses to have anything to do with him. The action shifts back to Martin who discovers the rendezvous point between the Indians and the gun runners. He uses his skill with a Winchester to blow up two wagons filled with rifles. The bad guys wound him, a mere flesh wound, but he escapes and rides to the ranch to learn about the massacre of his family. The bad guys never give Martin a moment of respite. Eventually, they capture him as well as Daniel and trap them in their ranch house while they pile trees outside before they torch the structure. In the wagon that Susy drove to town to fetch the mail is the box of guns from the gun runners that were hanged at the fort in the first scene. Not only does Martin discover the ring leader of the rotgut and rifles outfit, but he also kills him during a fight in the upper story of a building.

Although this horse opera has been clearly dubbed, especially Guy Madison, the words do match the mouths even though the voices seem incongruous. The scenery isn’t as spectacular as the terrain in most Euro westerns. The dialogue isn’t as clever or catchy nor are the gunfights staged with the ostentation of those in either a Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci oater. On the other hand, “This Man Can’t Die!” is largely believable and pretty straightforward with its linear narrative and shuns the use of flashbacks. The performances, especially “Since You Went Away” actor Guy Madison, who earlier rode the range in 112 episodes of “The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok,” are credible. Rik Battaglia of “The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo” makes a suitable nemesis, while Pietro Martellanza of “Kill Them All and Come Back Alone” is good as Guy Madison’s younger brother. Composer Amedeo Tommasi contributes a good orchestral score and a James Bond style theme song, but often Baldanello borrows (or steals depending on your point of view) cues from Ennio Morricone’s “Fistful of Dollars.” The use of mixed soundtracks with a number of themes from other movies without the composer’s permission is standard operating procedure for most low-budget kung fu movies, but this is the first time that I’ve heard of this done in a Continental western. “This Man Can’t Die” draws its title not from its tough guy protagonist but from its second string hero, Tony Guy, who is mistaken for one of the marauders that murder Benson’s parents.


Warner Brothers encountered greater production problems on "Desperate Journey" director Raoul Walsh's "Objective, Burma" than any other battle front movie that the Burbank studio made during World War II. This lengthy--at 142 minutes--war film is grittier than usual and gets rather disillusioning near the end because our heroes are caught literally between a rock and a hard place.

Scenarist Alvah Bessie remembers the first time that producer Jerry Wald mentioned the idea for the film. According to Bessie, Wald called him into his office and said, "I was talking to some guys at my house last night, and they told me what a wonderful job the paratroops are doing in Burma." An hour after reading everything that the Warner Brothers Research Department had about combat in Burma, Bessie realized that it was "strictly a British operation." He told Wald, "Look, Jerry,
there are no American troops in Burma." Wald's response was, "So what? It's only a moving picture." Bessie argued that an American invasion of Burma would lay Warner Brothers open to ridicule of the worst kind. Dismissing Bessie's prediction, Wald said, "So, look, put in some British liaison officers and stop worrying." Everybody from the War Department, to the Production Code Administration, and the Office of War Information, warned the filmmakers about the controversy that they were causing, but the nonplussed Wald moved ahead with the production. Not surprisingly, Wald's cavalier treatment of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations discredited "Objective, Burma," in Britain. British reaction was so virulently negative that Warner Brothers withdrew it from circulation after a week.

Including British liaison officers as well as a Jewish American lieutenant, Bessie wrote the script for this "A" picture's in 19 days. He observed "it was a good story, if you don't mind the fact that Burma was a British show and was not commanded by Errol Flynn." After Bessie penned the original story, Jack Warner told Wald to assign two other scribes, Randal MacDougall and Lester Cole, because in Warner's words, "Bessie can't write all the pictures in the studio." The studio hired Raoul Walsh to direct and production commenced May 1, 1944. Shooting did not conclude until August 26, 1944, and all of the filming took place in and around Burbank and Los Angeles.

"Objective, Burma" dealt with American paratroopers spearheading the invasion of Burma after the Japanese had chased General Joseph W. Stilwell (Erville Alderson of "Parachute Battalion") out of the country. An older American war correspondent, Mark Williams (Henry Hull of "High Sierra"), accompanies Captain Nelson (Errol Flynn of "Captain Blood") and his young paratroopers who drop behind enemy lines and demolish a radar station. Nelson's native guides spot Japanese troops on the march, so our heroes have to wave off two U.S.A.A.F. C-46 transport planes winging in to retrieve them. Since usable airfield exists between Nelson and Allied lines where the U.S.A.A.F. can land, the paratroopers must march 150 miles through enemy infested jungle. During the long arduous journey, Nelson divides his men into two sections. Nelson leads one section with Williams while the Jewish-American Lieutenant, Sid Jacobs (William Prince of "The Gauntlet")commands the other group. Eventually, Nelson's men link up with two survivors from Jacobs' ill-fated group. Nelson learns, to his horror, that the Japanese have captured and tortured Jacobs and his men and left him almost dead. Jacobs begs Nelson to kill him, but Nelson cannot bring himself to shoot his friend. He gives him a gun instead and lets Jacobs commit suicide. The horrified war correspondent surveys the carnage and rants that the Japanese should be wiped off the earth. At one point during production, Bessie sent a memo to Wald about this controversial scene and asked that the studio reinsert a line of his dialogue. According to the original Bessie script, Nelson said, "There's nothing especially Japanese about this . . . You'll find it wherever you find fascists. There are even people who call themselves Americans who'd do it, too."

Neither Jerry Wald nor Jack Warner re-inserted the additional line in the film as released, that Bessie had written for Nelson, and the subject never came up again, despite his protest. Meanwhile, after the grisly discovery of the tortured paratroopers, Nelson receives surprising orders that direct him to march in the opposite direction from Allied headquarters. Reluctantly, the men follow their orders while the USAAF airdrops them supplies. The remnants of Nelson's force
reach a barren hillside, dig themselves into foxholes, repel a sneaky, vicious Japanese night attack, and awaken the following morning to see gliders and
thousands of paratroopers in the skies. They witness the beginning of the Allied invasion of Burma.

In March 1944, Warner Brothers sent the War Department a copy of the "Objective, Burma" screenplay, along with a request for a technical adviser who had served with the paratroops in the Pacific Theater. The studio emphasized in its correspondence with the War Department that "Objective, Burma" would stress "the important work of the paratroopers in the Pacific Theater." Warner Brothers' Location Manager, William
Guthrie, contacted Army Colonel Curtis Mitchell and explained, "Rest assured no political angle as discussed between you and me will be brought into this picture. It will be strictly an all American affair with American personnel only. We welcome any suggestions Army would like injected." On March 11, 1944, Mitchell briefed Major General Alexander Surles about "the story of about 48 paratroopers dropped 200 miles behind the Japanese lines for the purpose of wiping out a radar station and some supply dumps." He explained that the filmmakers were "prepared to make any changes you suggest in order to keep away from any subject that might be embarrassing." Eventually, the War Department assigned Burma combat veteran Captain Charles Galbreath as technical adviser for the film production.

Warner Brothers wanted "Objective, Burma," to look as realistic as possible, especially regarding the troops. The studio requested 5 compasses, 12 infantry demolition kits without explosives, 160 D rations, 80 K rations, 2 Lister bags, 6 hand axes with covers, 4 wire cutters with covers, 24 M-1 rifles with bayonets and scabbards and 4 carbines with folding stocks. As it turns out, the cast wound up eating the rations, apparently to evoke more realism in their performances. The Army located most of the equipment, except the folding stock type carbine.

"Objective, Burma" is a first-rate combat actioneer that will make you sweat.