DVD Review: The Five Man Army

A young Dario Argento co-wrote this western, recently reissued by the Warner Archive Collection as a M.O.D. title.

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The Warner Archive Collection has been rescuing obscure titles by making them available as M.O.D. (manufacture-on-demand) titles. A given movie is burned to DVD-R and packaged with original artwork only when one is ordered. That saves considerably on costly production runs for movies that appeal to a limited demographic. One such recent title is The Five Man Army (1969), a spaghetti western produced by Italo Zingarelli, co-scripted by Dario Argento, and allegedly directed by Don Taylor. The film is set in Mexico. The year is 1914, a time when the country was embroiled in a revolution that eventually resulted in the Constitution of Mexico in 1917.

Some sources claim Taylor, a highly prolific director who helmed dozens of film and television projects from the 1950s right up until his death in 1988, directed very little of the picture. As a result, Zingarelli is often credited as co-director. The film stars Peter Graves, then popular as Jim Phelps on TV’s Mission: Impossible, as the Dutchman. After putting together the “army” referred to by the title, the Dutchman leads a high-stakes adventure that culminates in the robbing of a train packed with half a million dollars in gold.

Not any ordinary heist that’s motivated solely by self-gain, the gold is intended for freedom fighters at the forefront of the Mexican Revolution. Again, the key word is “intended,” as the film keeps the audience guessing as to who will actually end up with it. This kind of story has been done many times, notable recent examples include The Expendables (2010). The Dutchman’s crew is a rag tag bunch of aging guns-for-hire, sharing a mission that could very well get them all killed. Mesito (Bud Spencer) provides the brawn, while the Samurai (Tetsurô Tanba) offers a more lithe, stealth approach. Nicolas Augustus (James Daly) handles the explosives and Luis Dominguez (Nino Castelnuovo) is a slingshot-wielding acrobat.

The visual style is decidedly unflashy. The story proceeds in a logical, generally unsurprising fashion. Damsels in distress abound, including the stunning Daniela Giordano (Miss Italia 1966) as Maria. The actual train robbery accounts for more than one-third of the movie. It plays out with minimal dialogue, letting the lean action speak for itself. The acting is nothing more than serviceable across the board, including Mr. Graves’ stolid performance. Ennio Morricone’s score creates an evocative atmosphere.

The film’s trailer is the only extra. Don’t expect a pristine restoration, but Warner Bros. has done a perfectly adequate job in the audio/visual department. Spaghetti western fans will likely be very pleased to add The Five Man Army to their collections.

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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