Archive for June 2, 2020

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

There are amazing Byzantine treasures up the hill in the monastery of Mt. Athena…and a Nazi communications center. A ragtag team of an archeologist, corrupt Austrian art dealers currently in uniform, hookers, a stripper/low-rent Esther Williams, a comedian, a former monk turned Resistance leader, a magician, an Italian chef and other motley fools conspire to drive the really bad Nazis (the SS) into their graves on a unnamed Greek island ahead of a proposed Allied landing. I think that covers all the plot you’ll ever need for this war action movie with a cast that is ordinarily too great for this abject silliness.

The Archeologist (David Niven) has somehow fallen into the hands of the Nazis who even at this late date, 1944, are still trying to hoover up any and all valuable artifacts from everywhere in Occupied Europe. He leads an archeological scam job digging up items on Monday only to rebury them to dig them up again on Tuesday, while also acting as a low-rent Steve McQueen the Cooler King (The Great Escape would have been a better use of my time, except this movie is unintentionally funnier) escaping every chance he gets. FYI, the priapic (big penis) statue on hand for this scene was not lost on me.

The Austrian Commandant/Corrupt Art Dealer (Roger Moore) just wants to rob the really best antiquities from the Nazis leave them in the care of his sister in Switzerland. Oh, and get a leg over with the Stripper. He never gives the Roman derived, scary Nazi salute favoring the traditional military salute.

The Comedian (Elliot Gould) just wants to look after the Stripper, get rich and do his song and dance act. He wears the New York Yankees cap that those bastards wore in the Seventies when they stole the World Series twice from the Dodgers (look for the green cap liner), but I digress. Except for being the only person shiftier than either the Commandant or the Stripper, he has no actual skills the Nazis need in this Greek antiquities-theft camp. Oh, and he’s Jewish, which really doesn’t come into play because somehow the evil German SS commandant drops the ball, but I digress.

The Stripper (Stephanie Powers) is the perfect girl to get caught between the Commandant and the Comedian. She strips for the troops at USO shows and has at some point in the past been in at least one Esther Williams style synchronized swimming movie. When brought to the seaside camp, there is dialogue about this explaining that they will need her to dig up any objects currently below the waterline. And she’s exactly the kind of woman to sleep with the Commandant to stay in his good graces.

The Resistance Leader (Telly Savalas) earnestly desires to win the war in his unnamed Greek village by driving out the Nazis. He’ll promise any amount of the treasure reputed to being kept up the hill in the Mt. Athena monastery to the many reprobates making up his team, while also piously asserting said swag “belongs the Greek people.” Make up your mind, Sir. He also loves the local hooker whose brothel he uses to collect intelligence.

And that leaves the Magician (Richard Roundtree), the Chef (Sonny Bono) and the Hooker (Claudia Cardinale) to fill out this cast. Let’s face it, all these characters are caricatures played by actors who must’ve thought they were robbing the production for the tickets to the Greek Aegean. Well, except for Mr. Niven, whose son produced the movie.

Anyway, the movie plays out at the height of silliness. The really bad Nazis shoot local citizens as SS squads tended to do in the real war. They also throw various escaping prisoners into hot boxes demonstrating that someone has seen both The Great Escape and The Bridge Over the River Kwai with extra helpings of Hogan’s Heroes. However, they don’t make very much trouble for the Jewish Comedian despite threats to do so.

As for physical geography slash things the good guys need to blow up to liberate the island, we have the town, we have a submarine base, we have the monastery which serves as a rocket base. And I’m still getting confused even several days later.

As a whole the movie never comes together juxtaposing the on-paper silliness with a seesaw of even sillier performances, a couple really interesting moments and some innovations in the film grammar of the Star-Studded-Action-Packed-War-Movie.

Silly. Roger Moore as a corrupt Not So Bad Nazi. Really? If you really need to go for a buffoonish, greedy, lecherous German commandant wouldn’t you hire Werner Klemperer? Oh, sorry, the actor famous for playing Colonel Klink had a rider in his Hogan’s Heroes contract that Klink’s plans and schemes always fail. Forget I came up with that bit of pretend casting because this commandant gets both the girl and a stash of previously looted valuables. Still…silly with a Capital S.

Innovative. The monastery up further up Mt. Athena (hence the title that really doesn’t fly) is protected by electrified fencing laid down on the hill above the dome and bell tower. Proving that someone had watched all those other (and better) war movies about when you have a target high up on the hill that the good guys making the attack climb down on them from above. At least, I had never seen this before.

Really interesting. Elliot Gould’s stuntman chases down the stuntman playing the Really Bad SS Commander through the narrow streets and alleys of Downtown Rhodes on motorcycles. Proof that location scouting is a film trade that should never be overlooked; picking the right places helps make a scene. What results is a chase to join the rarified air of Steve McQueen failing to jump the barbed wire in The Great Escape or Steve McQueen, again, grinding gears you didn’t know Mustangs even had in Bullitt. Because the scenery makes the scene, I’ll also point you to the helicopter-crop duster chase in Capricorn One as an example of what I mean.

Weird bordering on silly. Stephanie Powers’ Stripper being established as a low-rent Esther Williams-type swimming star is something that has Pay Attention Important Plot Point tattooed across the moment’s forehead. As the story progresses, a swimmer must go into the water near the submarine base to turn valves and place homemade limpet mines in the best places where things go boom. 

She snorkels and runs afoul of a team of, what are later revealed as, Nazi combat swimmers in SCUBA tanks patrolling the bay and the approaches to the submarine base. Even with the throwaway line about the swimming when she’s not stripping, this whole moment is forced with a Capital F. Certainly, the Nazi SEALs should’ve lasted a little longer before Script Immunity kicks in.

Given how silly this movie is all around, I’m going to engage in direct spoilers. The submarine base blows up. The monastery with the hidden rocket base that no one knew about blows up. The greedy characters don’t get the monastery’s priceless treasures promised by the Resistance Leader, because he hid them in the back closet of the local bordello (a fact revealed in a cut to the Present where the village uses this history as an excuse to welcome tourists). The town is freed from the yoke of Nazi Oppression.

What helps is that the abjectly bad is also unintentionally funny. If you’re not the sort to grab a beer and spend a couple hours hooting at a bad movie, then you’re not going to like this one. This is also the kind of movie that must be seen as part of a streaming service’s basic lineup where the cost of seeing this movie is covered by a monthly fee that gives you much better movies. Don’t ever rent this one from iTunes…Please. Nuff said!