The Fifth Day of Peace
Starring: Franco Nero (Bruno Grauber), Richard Johnson (Capt. John Miller), Helmuth Schneider (Col. von Bleicher), Bud Spencer (Jelineck)
Director: Giuliano Montaldo
Music: Ennio Morricone
Transfer Quality: Horrible, VHS to digital
A transfer so bad only Franco Nero could save it? That was my only hope when I turned on this miserably low-quality VHS to digital conversion. I’m already not a big fan of war movies, well at least not poorly transferred bad ones. Of course, I love Catch-22, Apocalypse Now, Where Eagles Dare, etc. …but cropped for TV war schlock is a tough sell. I can sit through the lowest budget paper plate UFO sci-fi flick or 5th generation VHS copy of a ketchup splatter slasher and still feel like I’ve used my time productively, but bad war movies I cannot abide. Case in in point? …see my Combat Shock review, haha. Anyway, Nero’s involvement practically required me to check this one out, but honestly I wasn’t expecting to get more than 10 minutes in before switching flicks.
To my surprise—horrendous transfer aside—this turned out to be a pretty brilliant take on the war film genre that hooked me in from start to finish. Sure, there are a few vertigo inducing nighttime scenes that the VHS to digital conversion renders absolutely unwatchable, but those only kept me constantly wondering how great it would be to experience a clean 35mm print screening of this.
The film opens at the end of WWII in a Dutch concentration camp converted to house German POWs by Canadian Allies led by Captain Miller (Richard Johnson). If that weren’t ironic enough, the whole story takes place after the combat has ended. I mean, it’s a war movie with no war. Only the participants’ vestigial tension remains as they struggle to make sense of their roles in what happened and what will happen next. What’s revealed in the end is not only a commentary on the futility of war, but also on futility of the human condition: man’s eternal struggle between freedom and control.
We find Captain Miller, already ambivalent about his return to civilian life and the loss of status that will entail, simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by Nazi top officer Col. von Bleicher, masterfully portrayed by Helmut Schneider. Col. von Bleicher is obsessed with maintaining military order and continues to discipline his troops as though the stukas were still wreaking havoc over Poland. Captain Miller desperately wants to claim the moral high ground of the Allies, but is ultimately torn as he struggles to fill his role as commander and to control the camp. In contrast, we have Nero’s character, Bruno Grauber, and his fellow deserter Corp. Reiner Schultz (Larry Aubrey). Two deserters who, despite almost starving to death on their journey, enjoy a relatively blissful few days as kitchen assistants in the camp before their cover is blown and they are dragged into the POW barracks with their countrymen. The Colonel, of course, wants them executed and made an example of. Grauber, having tasted freedom, struggles to expose the absurdity of the troops still playing war as his and Schultz’s lives dangle in the balance.
Of course, Nero steals the show with his classic everyman, pushed to the brink by the injustice of it all ranting and pontificating. But, effectively, he spends most of the film relegated off screen or yelling something or other from his solitary confinement cell while the Captain and the Colonel decide his fate. In the end it’s the battle of wits between the two commanders that really drives the narrative. So meta!
Top-notch Morricone soundtrack and great performance by Bud Spencer as the kitchen supervisor, Jelineck, really rounded out the package here. Check this out!