What we have here is a classic example of the late 1960s Italian-Spanish co-production war film, in which a hand-picked group of misfit soldiers is assigned a near-impossible mission that only some of them will come back from.
Though inspired by The Dirty Dozen such films lacked their model’s budget and scope. This manifested in a number of ways. They tended to feature only about half the number of men – witness Commando Attack’s alternate title of Seven into Hell – and truncated the training sequences and build up to quickly get into the mission and keep the running time down to a concise hour and a half.
The nominal star of Commando Attack, or the one that the typical US moviegoer might remember from many years back, is Calum Rennie. He’s an odd choice for the Lee Marvin type role, not least because he looks too sensitive and old to be playing the action man. The filmmakers are astute enough to turn this apparent disadvantage into a virtue by commenting upon it via his recruits, who include Aldo Sambrell.
Just days before D-Day the seven men are dropped into Nazi-occupied Normandy, where they are to meet up with the resistance and destroy an enemy radio station that bombers have failed to take out. They reach their rendezvous point only to find their contacts dead, with the signs pointing to a traitor within the resistance...
Though the film delivers in terms of derring do and has some nicely drawn characters, it is a bit too mechanical and stretches credibility, with the Nazi stormtroopers showing all the tactical awareness and competence of their Star Wars counterparts.
Needless to say it also plays fast and loose with the historical details, with IMDB reviewers noting that the GI’s carry German and Italian guns amidst a host of other inaccuracies.
But all this is to be expected: You don’t go exactly into one of these films expecting realism.
As such, where the film failed for me was in replacing the anti-authoritarian cynicism of its model with something bordering on romanticism.
With the exception of an Archer Maggot inspired rapist, the recruits are volunteers rather than conscripts and, in the cases of the bored rich guy looking for excitement (“Why should a playboy like you volunteer for a mission like this?” “I find that my playing gets more and more monotonous”) and the young guy with a death wish (“For me to be killed is the goal of my life”) are basically there as audience-identification figures; predictably the latter is cured of his condition by the love of a good partisan woman.
We’re also asked to believe that D-Day is really up to these guys and that they aren’t just there as a diversion, misdirection or outright sacrifice.
Bruno Nicolai’s music is bold and striking, thought not necessarily the most appropriate.