Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Operation Commandos in Furs

Last year I realized that there are still a good many American International releases from the 1950s that I've never seen. I'd like very much to see them all - so I was delighted when I recently discovered that Shout! Factory TV (viewable directly on their website or via Amazon Prime app) is featuring a number of their rarely-seen war pictures this month.

Last night, I watched Burt Topper's TANK COMMANDOS, which takes place in Italy toward the end of WWII and features a surprisingly strong performance by Wally Campo, who I'd known only for being one of the striped-shirted workers aboard Vincent Price's Albatross in AIP's MASTER OF THE WORLD (1963). I have a feeling that not all the film was shot on location, but it's also quite possible none of it was, which made me more curious about Topper as a resourceful, overlooked low-budget filmmaker. To make it even more interesting, it's very well photographed by future OUTER LIMITS DP John Nickolaus, who makes use of some clever glass matte shots, and credited with the sound effects is... you guessed it... Josef von Sternberg.

Tonight, I continued my little film festival with TANK COMMANDOS' original co-feature, Louis Clyde Stoumen's OPERATION DAMES - which is set in Korea 1950, where a small squad of US soldiers acquires the unwanted task of helping a group of USO showgirls out of enemy territory. It's kind of a stinker, but it has moments, not to mention one of Eve Meyer's only two feature film performances. You haven't lived till you've seen her try to camouflage herself by rubbing mud all over her face and then walk furtively through California foliage sporting some of the biggest blonde hair you'e ever seen. Earlier in the picture, there's a scene of several characters talking around a campfire that makes one's jaw drop when one of them casually mentions that it's the middle of the night - it's also broad daylight.

Afterwards, I happened to notice that Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS was on Amazon Prime. It felt like serendipity because my copy of the new color edition of Stephen Thrower's MURDEROUS PASSIONS: THE DELIRIOUS CINEMA OF JÉSUS FRANCO had arrived today and I spent an hour or so very happily paging through it from cover to cover. It's beautiful. I checked the quality of VENUS IN FURS, which turned out to be very nice, and ended up watching the whole thing. It's still a spellbinder; it's Maria Rohm's masterpiece, even though this version does not represent Franco's original cut. As Mr. Thrower points out, there is actually no evidence that his original cut ever saw the light of day anywhere, or indeed that he ever finished the picture. Everything after the cop shows up is a good deal messier than I remembered, and if the two available cuts - the other being PAROXYSMUS, from Italian TV - tell us anything, it's that no one has yet been able to assemble a serviceable third act - nor an explanation for why Maria Rohm's hairstyle and color changes three times during the movie. The US cut comes closer to achieving a satisfying ending (though it is presaged in the hipster narration at least a couple of times), but the Italian version feels more like a Franco movie and it has a jazz soundtrack that I can actually believe was written by Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg. 

Maria Rohm in VENUS IN FURS.
When the end credits were rolling, I noticed that the post-production work on the picture was credited to Robert S. Eisin and Harry Eisen. By checking their IMDb credits, I see that Robert was the editorial guy and Harry was primarily a music supervisor, so Robert must have cut this US version together for Commonwealth United while Harry embellished the original soundtrack with library music by Stu Phillips and others.

I was startled to discover that Robert was not only the editor of Don Siegel's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS but was in charge of its post-production work, so he was the guy who changed the ending to please Allied Artists! He also supervised the US version of RODAN, which was similarly reworked with flashbacks and voice-over narration - and edited Albert Zugsmith's CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER, which is just as trippy as the US cut of VENUS IN FURS. Bringing us back to where I started, Robert also turns out to have been the editor on a few of AIP's war pictures - SUICIDE BATTALION, JET ATTACK, and PARATROOP COMMAND. The IMDb also lists him as having done post-production work on Franco's 99 WOMEN, so it's likely that Franco's original cut of that has never been seen here. 

Eisen's career dates back almost 65 years, so it's almost certain he's no longer with us. Too bad - I'll bet he could have given a great interview.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.