Saturday, April 9, 2022

#2,736. The 5-Man Army (1969) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


It was, I believe, back in 2015 when Quentin Tarantino put together a list of his 20 favorite Spaghetti Westerns. There were some obvious titles on there; Tarantino has always been a big proponent of Sergio Leone, and the legendary director has three movies in the top 5 (Once Upon a Time in the West came in 5th, For a Few Dollars More was second, and Tarantino’s numero uno favorite Spaghetti Western is The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly). Also making the cut were Django (at #3), Navajo Joe (#9), The Great Silence (#14) and Giulio Petroni’s very underrated 1968 film Tepepa (#17).

But he didn’t stop at 20. In fact, Tarantino added a whole bunch of honorable mentions as well. Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse got a nod, as did They Call Me Trinity and its sequel, Trinity Is Still My Name. Another of the titles that made this addendum was Don Taylor’s 1969 western The 5-Man Army, which is notable (in part) because its screenplay was co-written by none other than Dario Argento, a year before he directed his breakout Giallo The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.

Mexico, 1914. The Dutchman (Peter Graves), a former officer in the United States Army and a well-known bandit, is putting together a team to rob a train carrying a half million in gold. Hired by revolutionaries who intend to use that gold to finance their rebellion, The Dutchman enlists the help of three old comrades: Augustus (James Daly), a munitions expert; Mesito (Bud Spencer), whose brute strength is second to none; and Samurai (Tetsuro Tamba), who speaks softly and carries a lethal sword. Also joining the team is young Luis (Nino Castelnuova), a petty crook.

After preventing the military execution of revolutionary leader Esteban (Caludio Gora), the five get down to business, putting their plan together while also steering clear of the Mexican army, which would like nothing more than to squash the revolution before it picks up steam.

But if they do manage to pull off what seems like an impossible heist, will The Dutchman and the others turn the gold over as promised, or will they keep it for themselves?

The first half of The 5-Man Army is dedicated (for the most part) to building its main characters, and we the audience discover why each member of the Dutchman’s posse is absolutely vital to the mission at hand. Bud Spencer’s Mesito is a tower of strength, and loves to mix it up, taking on anyone foolhardy enough to challenge him. He gleefully kicks some ass during the chaos resulting from Esteban’s rescue as his colleagues hurry the wounded revolutionary into hiding. Augustus is given ample opportunity to put his dynamite skills to practice, and a scene in which The Samurai bursts in on some Mexican soldiers, swinging his sword wildly, is cool as hell, and gives the film a temporary martial arts vibe (Tetsuro Tamba’s skills are beyond impressive). The glue that holds the team together is The Dutchman, played to perfection by Peter Graves, a man of action as well as intelligence.

That said, there is plenty of excitement throughout The 5-Man Army as well, to the point that we’re not sure if the final act, where the Dutchman and the others put their plan into motion, will feel anticlimactic in comparison. Fortunately, it doesn’t. In fact, this entire end sequence is amazing, with tension, intrigue, and plenty of thrills. It’s also one of the most ingenious heists I’ve seen in a while (I was on the edge of my seat throughout).

While it may not seem as big an honor to be one of 21 movies Tarantino included as an afterthought, I can tell you that The 5-Man Army is, indeed, a worthy addition to any list, not to mention one hell of a great Spaghetti Western.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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