We look back at the 1969 action caper featuring Peter Graves.
Editor's Note: Throughout the month of October, C&I is celebrating the golden westerns of 1969, a year that changed the game for the beloved film genre. Check the Entertainment tab each day to see a different film recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for the upcoming November/December 2019 print edition, which prominently features one of the 25 greatest films of 1969 on its cover.
During a hiatus from his popular Mission: Impossible TV series, Peter Graves saddled up to ramrod another handpicked group of uniquely talented professionals for a dangerous caper in The Five Man Army, a diverting Spaghetti Western-flavored action-adventure directed by Don Taylor (Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday) and co-scripted by Dario Argento (who also helped write Once Upon a Time in the West before going on to direct such grisly thrillers as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Suspiria).
As The Dutchman — the only name his character claims throughout the film — Graves commissions a wild bunch that includes a dynamite expert (James Daly, looking much scruffier than he ever did on TV’s Medical Center), a hearty strongman (Spaghetti Western mainstay Bud Spencer), an exiled samurai (Tetsuro Tamba of You Only Live Twice), and a circus performer turned slingshot-armed bandit (Nino Castelnuovo, whom movie buffs will always remember as the male lead opposite Catherine Deneuve in Jacques Demy’s 1964 musical drama The Umbrellas of Cherbourg).
Yet another 1969 western involving the Mexican Revolution, The Five Man Army follows The Dutchman and his motley crew as they attempt to steal $500,000 from a heavily guarded Mexican Army transport train for reasons only gradually revealed. Daly has a standout scene in which he fatalistically explains why he’s not worried about the odds against them. (“We’re already dead. Have been for a long time.”) Spencer clearly enjoys being a swaggering badass, especially when his character throws a bayonet-equipped rifle like a javelin to deliver the coup de grace to a troublesome soldier. And best of all ...
Watch The Five Man Army on YouTube below.
Warning: Major spoiler ahead.
In sharp contrast to many if not most other westerns obviously inspired by The Magnificent Seven, all of the protagonists here manage to remain alive until the closing credits.
By the way: Even though it’s billed as The 5-Man Army in advertising and DVD package art, it’s The Five Man Army on screen in this MGM release. No, seriously.