2 October 2006 | jimm-8
The Horse Soldiers do War and Peace
Little seen outside Italy until its recent DVD release, this is an unusual little war film and well worth a look. The story concerns those lucky Italians who were sent to help Germany invade the Soviet Union in 1941. This seems to have been done mainly on horseback, so the resulting film is a bit like an Italian version of The Horse Soldiers, only set in Russia. The cast is excellent, and predictably we see a lot of clowning around between battles, with squeaky-voiced Gigi Reger doing a passable Chaplin, and Domenico Modugno (who later had a hit with Volare) entertaining on the guitar. Some of the Russian snow looks a bit powdery, which is understandable since the film was shot entirely at the Titanus studios in Rome. The plot is interesting and sometimes moving, even if a little implausible in the way the Russian villagers make friends with their Italian invaders. Kalina, played by the striking Tania Weber, begins by trying to machine-gun Captain Valli from the top of a bell tower, but minutes later she can hardly stay away from his sleeping quarters. Then there's a singalong where the guests perform Song of the Volga Boatmen in Italian followed by the hosts returning the favour with O Sole Mio in Russian. Everyone's buddy-buddy until those nasty Nazis come along to remind the Italians whose side they're supposed to be on. The final "heroic charge" of the title, which took place at Isbuschensky on 24 August 1942, is quite impressively staged, though clever editing is needed to disguise the budget limitations. It's touching to read in the credits that the horse Albino, who survived the charge but was blinded, was later honoured with a pension for life and looked after at a home for blind war veterans. The dedicated staff at Istitute Luce have obviously provided the best print available, and it's a fair copy save for a few wobbles on the music track. This is unfortunate since Enzo Masetti, as we now expect, has turned in another impeccable score, nicely mixing in Italian and Russian folk melodies with spectacular battle music and marches. Previously known only for Attila and Hercules, this composer's scores are gradually becoming more available, and evidence is mounting that he was very probably the best Italian film composer of them all.