Saturday, April 9, 2022

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


In 2015, Quentin Tarantino put together a list of his 20 favorite Spaghetti Westerns. There were some obvious titles; Tarantino has always been a big fan of Sergio Leone, and the legendary director has three movies in his 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. Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse got a nod, as did They Call Me Trinity and its sequel, Trinity Is Still My Name.

Another title that made this addendum was Don Taylor’s The 5-Man Army, which is notable (in part) because its screenplay was co-written by 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, which is carrying half a million in gold. Hired by revolutionaries who will use that gold to finance their rebellion, The Dutchman enlists the help of three old comrades: munitions expert Augustus (James Daly); 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 foiling the military execution of revolutionary leader Esteban (Caludio Gora), the five outlaws get down to business, putting a plan together while steering clear of the Mexican army, which would like nothing more than to squash the revolution before it picks up any steam.

But if The Dutchman's ragtag group does manage to pull off what seems like an impossible heist, will he and the others turn over the gold 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 discover why each member of the Dutchman’s crew is 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 that results from Esteban’s rescue (as his colleagues hurry the wounded revolutionary into hiding, Mesito beats the hell out of a few soldiers). Augustus is also 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 intelligence as well as action.

Along with its characters, there's plenty of excitement throughout The 5-Man Army, to the point that we’re not sure if the final act, when the Dutchman and the others put their plan into motion, will seem anticlimactic in comparison. Fortunately, it doesn’t. In fact, this entire end sequence, which features tension, intrigue, and thrills aplenty, is amazing. It is one of the most ingenious heists I’ve seen in quite a while, and had me on the edge of my seat.

It may not seem as big an honor to be one of 21 movies Tarantino included as an afterthought, but The 5-Man Army is, indeed, a worthy addition to that list, not to mention one hell of a fantastic Spaghetti Western.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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