Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bridge to Hell

There is no denying that every cult movie fan has seen at least one crazy Italian exploitation movie in their lifetime. These tend to usually stem from a small group of directors working with various genres depending on the current craze at the time; whether it be the notorious zombie and cannibal genres to the downright outlandish action and war movies, Italy always have a crazy low-budget spectacle up their sleeve ready to pounce on an unsuspecting audience and secure a cult following regardless of the overall quality. One of the most famous exploitation directors throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s was undoubtedly Umberto Lenzi.

Throughout his career, Lenzi has created a humongous following through specific movies depending on the genre. He is primarily responsible for the birth of the cannibal genre with 1972's Deep River Savages leading to a bloody, viscera spewing crescendo with 1981's Cannibal Ferox (with music by Flipper). Despite this, Lenzi also contributed several films to the 'Polizia' (Police drama) genre including Violent Naples (1976) and Brothers Till We Die (1978); earlier than that Lenzi dabbled with the bullet spewing war dramas culminating in Battle of the Commandos (1969) and The Biggest Battle (1978). Bridge To Hell is one of the last of his war tales made when his career started to falter, as late as 1986. This particular film is often considered to be arguably Lenzi's worst project as well as one of the downright worst war dramas ever released. Being a fan of war movies, I took it upon myself to uncover this oddity and judge it for myself; this being my first Lenzi film I certainly hope his other films are an improvement but I will let the film speak for itself.

Now normally I would not mention the title sequence of a film but Bridge To Hell certainly has one of the weirdest theme tunes of any film in terms of its context. This is mainly due to the fact that despite the movie taking place during the middle of WWII, the music is entirely synthesized which comes off as largely inappropriate making certain dramatic scenes cheesier than they already are. Now you maybe thinking that the music must be pretty awesome because it's 80s synth, well too bad there is only around THREE whole tracks repeated verbatim throughout the 87 minute running time. God bless z-grade budgets.

The film begins much like how it progresses with a scene of our partisan heroes evading Nazi capture after escaping from a camp in Sarajevo. After encountering a genderly challenged child named Igor, they stumble upon a group of resistance fighters offering to help. We are introduced to our main characters: Bill Rogers an American pilot, Mario Espozi an Italian infantryman and Blinz a deserter from the Whermacht. To round off this 'manly' proceeding is our lone female partisan Vanya who naturally is hit on (in the most unerotic conversation ever) by Mario which results in their relationship progressing......nowhere. The leader of the rag tag group who remains nameless (along with 95% of the other cast members) offers our heroes the chance at some payback by flying a few planes to fend off German patrols as well as an armoured train carrying supplies. Shortly after a scene of schizophrenic bullet spraying and toy bomb chucking, the leader of the partisans celebrates this epic stock footage battle with the simple cry of 'YAY!' Powerful stuff indeed.

After a brief tangent in the plot about Blinz possibly sabotaging aircraft because he is Austrian (subtle), we learn that the partisans had only those two aircraft in their arsenal. Continuity decides to off itself however, as another mission is sent out to blow a bridge allowing Nazis to cross over involving a FULL squad of fighter planes, which apparently according to the dialogue belong to the partisans. I will leave you to decide how large that plot hole is for a second. When their fighter plane crashes, Bill and Mario assault a patrol of soldiers with Bill according to the camera angle sticking a knife up the unlucky guy's ass. Trying not to be immature here, but from here it looks like sodomy.

Through the magic of jump cuts, partisan passes (?), near death by firing range and even more stock footage (cutting corners for the win) our merry band of uncharismatic dullards stumble upon a nunnery which Vanya used to belong to (Lenzi's great idea for character development right here). According to the nuns, the Germans have been attempting to raid their monastery purely to steal gold from orders of a 'General Hitler'. Naturally our heroes decide to take after their enemy and take it themselves, because hey we have to make our protagonists seem dirty right? These scenes also feature political incorrectness that would make the BBC wince in terror including how the nuns believe that 'all Americans and Russians are the same, they worship Satan'.

More godawful romantic tension between Mario and Vanya ensues as she strips off at a lake for a bath; no boobies for you mister, it's a PG movie by the way. Moving on, a few Nazi officers prepare to defend the titular bridge to HELL. This conversation involves a lot of saluting and eevviilll synth music so everybody knows these guys are bad to the bone. The partisans, disguised as German soldiers infiltrate the bridge through a truck that through the power of editing once again keeps changing from grey to green and back again. After a misplaced shootout occurs in a communications block (including epic milk bottle abuse), our heroes come under attack from a German battalion in what is quite possibly one of the most poorly edited shootouts in movie history. The camera specifically during tracking and close up shots moves at a frenetic pace meaning everything becomes an impossible whirlwind of cuts and just plain awkward continuity mistakes. For example it will show some stock footage of German soldiers firing in the direction of a character, cut to said character running towards the screen with no effects or sounds indicating he is under attack. Moreover, there is a brief shot of German soldiers lobbing grenades which immediately cuts to an explosion near a machinegun nest indicating that they were aiming for their own soldiers.

Blinz while setting explosives to destroy the bridge is shot and falls through manner of floppy mannequin to his death. Emotional resonance at this scene = nil. The bridge is successfully destroyed and the rest of our team escape. Vanya stays with the resistance leaving Mario and Bill while taking the nun's gold back to the monastery, this mildly irks them so they steal a nearby fighter plane. Because that plan worked so well before; predictably they get shot down and surprisingly (sarcasm) meet up with Vanya and the resistance fighters again after literally 5 minutes. They tag along and the movie...ends. No I am not exaggerating when I say the movie's narrative has literally gone in a circle. Well at least it had a moderate body count I guess.

I won't beat around the bush, Bridge To Hell is one hell of a terrible movie. The characterisations are bland, dull and overall carry no significance towards the story; the plot carries no tension or emotional weight whatsoever, almost like Lenzi made up the plot as he went along adding whatever he could find from the big book of war cliches. Certain stretches of scenes can be edited in any order and it would not make a little bit of difference to the film's structure; continuity, as stated before, is glaringly obvious in how poor it is not just with props, but also with the editing and in particular the dialogue. Action scenes suffer from being filmed with amateur camerawork consisting of dodgy close-ups, jittery tracking shots and liberal use of washed out stock footage. Acting is largely lifeless, with few really standout ironic phrases meaning chuckles are few and far between.

All this is made sadly obvious by the budget which is extremely low even by exploitation standards, which nearly cripples this movie of a sense of atmosphere leaving it a hollow and downright frustrating mess. Is it the worst war movie ever? Not quite, but it hangs on by the skin of its teeth narrowly avoiding garbage like The Last Drop. Unless you are a really hardcore fan of Umberto Lenzi's work and WWII films in general, this one should be given a miss. No wonder it is so obscure, this truly is Third Reich forgotten junk.
  • Inappropriate synth music? Gnarly.
  • Liberal use of stock footage: 4/5
  • Worst ending in movie history? It's up there. 
-Oli, 13 October 2009 (original date)

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