COMMANDOS. 20th Century Fox, UK, 1968. Lee Van Cleef, Jack Kelly, Giampiero Albertini, Marino Masé, Götz George. Director: Armando Crispino.

   You probably know Jack Kelly best as James Garner’s co-star in Maverick, in which he portrayed Bart Maverick, brother to Bret (Garner). Outside of television, Kelly also appeared in numerous films throughout the 1950s, including a leading man role in the enjoyable, if somewhat clumsy, thriller The Night Holds Terror (1955) (reviewed here).

   In 1968, he would co-star with Lee Van Cleef, also best known for his work in the Western genre, in the Italian war film, Commandos. Based on a short story penned by Menachem Golan, who later co-owned Cannon Films with his cousin Yoram Globus, this macaroni combat film is better than you might expect. With a tight script, the movie doesn’t waste too much time with the requisite preliminary introductions. Indeed, within fifteen minutes or so, we are behind enemy lines in a daring raid.

   The plot follows Italian-American commandos who, under the leadership of Sgt. Sullivan (Van Cleef), are assigned the task of capturing oil wells in North Africa. But for this particular mission, they have a new leader, the greenhorn Captain Valli (Kelly). Sullivan, a hardened and shell-shocked combat veteran who lost men at Bataan, is wary of Valli. He knows the type. Too eager to prove himself. Too eager to send men to their deaths in pursuit of career advancement. This conflict between the two men gets to the heart of the film.

   There are other important elements as well. An Italian prostitute who finds herself caught between the Americans and the Italians. A Goethe-appreciating German officer who thinks he has struck up a real friendship with Valli. And a subplot involving an Italian fascist officer who leads a prison break. There are plenty of action scenes, of course. There are also the obligatory shots of desert tank warfare. All told, the war sequences are captured with verve and gusto.

   While it may not be nearly in the same league of many of the major studio war films released in the 1960s, Commandos has its own gritty charm. One final note. The screenplay is credited to four different writers. Among them, future giallo maestro Dario Argento.