During the Second World War a stalemate has been reached on the Italian front and the Germans are planning to launch a major offensive known as Plan K. The Allies send in an elite force under Lieutenant Glenn Hoffmann (Gianni Garko) to proceed undercover as German soldiers to Villa Verde where the plans are being kept and to bring them back for analysis. They are supposed to meet up with a double-agent called Helga (Margaret Lee), but she has attracted the close attention of slimy SS Colonel Hans Mueller (Klaus Kinski) and so without their help the group of five proceed to the villa on their own...
Written by Sergio Garrone (who would go on to helm the very different wartime film SS Lager 5: L'inferno delle donne (1977)), the storyline like most of the Macaroni Combat films of the late 1960s, takes its inspiration from Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967), even down to including the number of men involved in its title. In true exploitation style, Garrone strips down the scripts from these films, removing all of the unnecessary chrome around the training and the planning of the operation, summarising them both in the first ten minutes before taking us straight to the mission and using every opportunity on the journey to the villa to provide gunfights and tension.
Fortunately the script is able to effectively balance the frequent action scenes with storyline and there is sufficient characterisation of the five to make them distinctive and make us care about their fates, while the scenes between Helga and the SS Colonel provide a twisted alternative to the usual romantic sub-plot. The villa raid that might have been nothing more than a large gunfight in some films actually takes up a full half of the running time, showing the operation in great detail and building up palpable tension - the unexpected death of a major character quite early on in this sequence makes it impossible to predict just who will survive the raid and it builds up to a superb climax with a neat coda ending.
Director Gianfranco Parolini comes to the project straight from his similarly action packed Western Ehi amico... c'è Sabata, hai chiuso! (1969) and he even brings that film's acrobatic trampolinist character into the plot (which is so well integrated into the storyline that the idea of American commandos carrying a trampoline on a mission seems to be completely acceptable). Experienced at directing gunfights from the Euro-spy Kommissar-X series, Parolini directs the film ably throughout and adds enough variation that even the extended gunfighting scene at the end never becomes repetitive. Despite an annoyingly bouncy opening theme that is re-used too often, the soundtrack from Vasco Mancuso (Django il bastardo (1969)) is generally solid and in fact many of the most tense scenes during the raid play out in silence with just the ambient rural sounds, really helping to boost the tension.
Looking a lot younger than his Sartana character, a clean-shaven Gianni Garko really suits the part of the softball playing, all-American Hoffmann and gives a typically strong performance. Notorious German actor Klaus Kinski is ideally cast as the slimy SS Colonel (although perhaps the only actor to have to tone himself down to play an SS Officer...). A solid supporting cast, including beautiful British actress Margaret Lee, provide a good backing to the film.
The best known of the Macaroni Combat films is undoubtedly the explosively over-the-top action-fest Inglorious Bastards (1978) but unfortunately for fans it is not particularly representative of a genre that usually tried to emphasise budget friendly dialogue scenes over action. Five for Hell is probably the best rival to Castellari's production with a plenty of daft action scenes backed up by a well written plot and solid direction, along with great acting from the ever reliable Garko and Kinski. If you liked Bastards, you will certainly enjoy this one and it comes recommended to all fans of the more action focused war films.
|Anyone famous in it?||
Gianni Garko - a Spaghetti Western regular, he is best known for appearing in the light hearted Sartana films.
Klaus Kinski - the notorious German actor famous for his collaborations with Werner Herzog.
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Gianfranco Parolini - an Italian director who made the thoroughly entertaining Sabata trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns and several Euro-spy films including Kommissar X - Jagd auf Unbekannt (1966)|
|Any gore or violence ?||A lot of gunplay but nothing particularly bloody.|
|Any sex or nudity?||None|
|Who is it for?||A must see for fans of the Macaroni Combat films and generally recommended to all action movie fans.
|Visuals||Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The original print is very strong, with good colours and almost no damage, but the digital transfer seems rather poor with a lack of detail and quite a bit of blurring in some scenes.
|Audio||English, German and Italian - all sound strong.|
|Subtitles||German - translate the Italian track.|
|Extras||The disc includes:
|Region||Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL|
|Availability||German DVD release - title Todeskommando Panthersprung.|
|Other regions?||Various "public domain" releases in the US, usually full screen and low quality prints. Spanish DVD release, English and Spanish audio, but may be cropped to 1.85:1.|
|Cuts?||Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is English language.