Wow, what a mess!
An intermittently entertaining one, to be sure, but a mess nonetheless.
For this post- Dirty Dozen WWII action / caper crossover can't seem to decide what it wants to be, the tone it wants to take, and generally outlives its welcome somewhat thanks to a resulting lack of focus and a near two-hour running time.
We begin with the escape of two Chicago gangsters, Joe Mortimer (Frederick Stafford) and Randall (Howard Ross) from a Nazi POW camp, aided by one of the guards, Sergeant Rudolph Petrowsky; Petrowsky just happens to also be from the Windy City, having had to leave the US in a hurry and take advantage of his dual nationality sometime before the war.
The three men are intent on steal some diamonds and plans for the V1 and V2 rockets from the Nazis. To accompany these goals they need the assistance of three people.
The first person is local resistance leader, Luc Rollman (Adolfo Celi). He unfortunately expects that the diamonds should be returned to the Dutch people from whom the Nazi's appropriated them...
Students of geography and military history will at this point note that the Ardennes, as referred to the in film's Italian title, is in Belgium rather than Holland; suffice to say that this proves an early indicator of the film's somewhat slapdash approach to such matters.
The second person is Kristina von Keist (Daniela Bianchi). She's the wife of the local Wermacht commander, General von Keist (Curd Jurgens). She's also Jewish, her real name being Hannah Goldschmitt.
Needless to say it would be very bad for her and her husband if recently arrived SS commander General Hassler (Helmuth Schneider) were to find out.
Being intent on pursuing what his army counterpart Keist feels to be a lost cause, Hassler's has brought about an end to the uneasy truce that had existed between Rollman's partisans and Keist's men by a series of punitive SS actions.
The third person - finally we get there - is another of the men's old Chicago crime colleagues, O'Connor (John Ireland) who's now a Colonel in the advancing US army. They need him to create a diversion by launching an attack on the German positions at the right time. The complication here is that O'Connor doesn't really have the authority to make such an attack...
In sum, what we have is an convoluted and co-incidence based story that alternates awkwardly between war as hell and war as caper approaches, with few clichés left unexplored - the good German and the bad Nazi, the Jewish woman passing as 'Aryan' - and some dubious treatments of the partisan struggle and the Holocaust where attempts at pathos tend instead to come off as bathos.
Alberto De Martino's direction is a mixed bag, some effective compositions and set pieces - most notably the underwater sequence in which our (anti-)heroes enter the Nazi compound through the canal system - being offset by a lack of imagination in the battle scenes, some poorly integrated stock footage and, most laughably, a moment when a reconnaissance plane commandeered by O'Connor transforms into a bomber, delivers its payload, and metamorphoses back again.
Bruno Nicolai and Ennio Morricone contribute some suitably stirring martial music.
The leading men acquit themselves well enough in the derring-do stakes - Howard Ross looking as though he'd been working out particularly hard - whilst Bianchi makes for a suitably attractive love interest and sympathy figure.
The cast are nicely rounded out by some of those always welcome Eurocult faces, including, in two rather unimaginative pieces of casting John Bartha as an SS officer and Tom Felleghy as one of his allied counterparts.