Hell in Normandy (1968)

a.k.a. - Testa di sbarco per otto implacabili (ITA)

Guy Madison and Peter Lee Lawrence star in Alfonso Brescia's by-the-numbers Macaroni Combat film. UK Elstree R0 DVD.

The Film

In the days before D-Day, two American spies are sent into occupied France to take the place of German officers who are inspecting the Atlantic Wall fortifications. They are able to fool the German soldiers and are shown the power of the bunkers, including a deadly installation that pumps blazing fuel into the water near the potential landing beaches, however they are soon found out and only Lieutenant Strobel (Peter Lee Lawrence) is able to escape, meeting up with his resistance contact Denise (Erika Blanc). Meanwhile, fearing the failure of the undercover mission, an American team lead by Captain Jack Murphy (Guy Madison) is parachuted into France to destroy the control bunker, but their mission is called off at the last moment as D-Day is postponed for 24 hours and Murphy is left with just the few men who had already jumped and no equipment to complete his mission...

The vast majority of productions eminating from the short lived Macaroni Combat boom of the late 1960s were inspired by The Dirty Dozen (1967) or When Eagles Dare (1968) and duly featured commando units or undercover officers operating behind German lines to eliminate specific targets - for good measure the script for Hell in Normandy, from experienced Spaghetti writer Lorenzo Gicca Palli (La strada per Forte Alamo (1964)), contains both. The plot for the first half is very basic, we never see any of the planning for the operation and all it seems far too easy, with only a slightly contrived scene (a student of one of the impersonated German officers is now working at the bunker) adding any tension. There is brief mention of the fact that Strobel is actually an actor rather than a trained soldier but this seems to play no real part in the storyline and he acts and shoots like a military veteran thoughout.

The briskly paced second half is generally better, with the American unit having to remain hidden from the German patrols and engaging in two large gunfights. Unfortunately a lot of the tension is lost here by a simple lack of characterisation among the commando group - there are a couple of brief scenes showing tension between some of the soldiers, but this seems rather token and the frequency at which they (literally) draw knives on each other seems rather implausible for what is supposed to be an elite unit - the result is an indistinguishable mix of characters whose deaths cannot achieve any real interest.

Although best remembered today for his micro-budgeted Star Wars rip-offs, director Alfonso Brescia made his start in the industry in the 1960s helming a series of sold, if generally unremarkable, Pepla and Spaghetti Westerns and Hell in Normandy falls firmly into that category. The usual mix of German transport vehicles that seem to appear in every Macaroni Combat film as well as a decent mix of weapons provide some authenticity, although the patterned American paratroop camouflage looks too modern and the stock footage plane that they jump from is a post-war C-119 (despite hours of stock footage of C-47s surely being available for use). The D-Day landing itself is represented by some randomly inserted black and white stock footage with no explanation given for the jump to monochrome. A typical war movie soundtrack is provided and suits the film just fine.

Baby faced young German actor Peter Lee Lawrence is perfect casting as an American chosen to play a German officer while American Guy Madison, who had a short spell in Euro-Westerns in the late 1960s, makes for a believable American officer. The beautiful Erika Blanc is always welcome, but does not get much to do as a resistance agent.

A minor and unassuming Italian war film, Hell in Normandy has a servicable storyline and direction but both lack flair, fortunately some good acting keeps this watchable and it will be of interest to fans of the genre.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Peter Lee Lawrence - a German actor who starred in several Italian Westerns including Killer, adios (1968).
Guy Madison - an American actor who starred in a number of Macaroni Combat films in the late 1960s.
Erika Blanc - beautiful Italian actress who played the title role in Io, Emmanuelle (1969).
Directed by anyone interesting? Alfonso Brescia - best remembered today for low budget sci-fi films like Beast in Space (1980) he made a large number of films from Pepla (Magnificent Gladiator (1964)) to Westerns (Days of Violence (1967)).
Any gore or violence ? Lots of killings but nothing particularly vivd.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Who is it for? One for Macaroni Combat film collectors.
Visuals Cropped (pan and scan) 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour
The print is VHS sourced and while watchable in the day-time scenes, the night time shots (including the two main combat scenes) are very dark making the action all but impossible to make out.
The original aspect ratio would seem to be 1.85:1 and although the cropping is noticable, there is active pan and scanning. The opening titles are squeezed to avoid them being cut off the edges.
Audio English mono (only plays out of the right channel) - crackly but dialogue is generally audible.
Subtitles None.
Extras None
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Other regions? Numerous "public domain" releases in the USA, both on single disc and in various multi-film packs. Quality is likely to be identical in all of these. No known better release.
Cuts? Cut status unknown, no apparent cuts - includes an opening shot of a ticker-tape with instructions for the mission in Italian, the opening credits and title are English but the closing credits are Italian.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 5th February 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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