Saturday, 21 May 2011

Rolf: The Last Mercenary

There's nothing like another chapter in the long history of Italian exploitation, and Rolf is one of the muddier and the grittier ones; coming out in 1983 as fast as possibly can in the wake of First Blood, this revenge tale (of course) borrows heavily from the Stallone vehicle, while the speed of its production really shows in the overall product. Written and directed by Mario Siciliano, a man better known for his prior pornos, that surely says a lot about what we're in for.

Opening to a flashback (which you'd only ever learn later), a group of soldiers violently gun down fleeing villagers as everything burns, they are the former mercenary buddies of our titular hero, Rolf. Rolf now lives a peaceful life as a commercial pilot while seeing his girlfriend Joanna (he says something to the extent of "if I knew you were coming I would have showered" when we first meet her!). When a dead body turns up in Rolf's (mostly unnamed Middle Eastern town), the police blame Rolf for it, seemingly they don't like his past as a mercenary; is the film presenting a nationalistic friction between a caucasian ex-soldier and the people of a race he may have previously killed as some sort of social critique? Or is it just playing the police up to be assholes? They let him off, but not after they've stuck his hand into an unflushed toilet!

When one of Rolf's old war buddies, John (one of the slimiest looking guys since before Clarence Boddicker... woops, just spoiled who the villain is), turns up, he offers him a chance to make $50,000 exporting hard drugs. Rolf declines, but when John makes a crack about his dead mother he has none of it and bashes John's head against a wall before kicking him out! When Joanna hears about him passing up such a sum, he tells her a painful memory of how his prostitute mother was given a drug overdose in front of him by her pimp, along with a bit of expository dialogue on how he was the most athletic in college, but yeah, Rolf's a good clean guy. After spending a good time with his girlfriend, Rolf is caught by his the entire group of his former friends, and they're a colourful bunch of horrid-looking bastards; they beat him up, dislocate his knee and leave him for dead in a bush full of leeches (even after he's reset his own knee!). Police bias prevents them from putting a search out for Rolf, leaving Joanna to look for him on her own, the police do end up being nice enough to stop two rapists following her though! After she finds him, Rolf learns he has been fired from his job, so he gets together with a friend and hijacks a plane loaded with John's drugs, only to piss all over them and hurl them out!

For this, John and his boys break into Joanna's home, and in one of the most uncomfortable sequences ever filmed for a low-budget piece of cash-in trash, take turns raping her; nothing new for this sort of crap, but the ugliness of the men and the incredibly inappropriate porn-like theme in the background blur the line between it being unintentionally hilarious and accidentally offensive. Put it this way, if you imagine someone got off to this scene back when the film came out, that's where it gets worrying, but that can really be said about a lot of things. After discovering the love of his life violated and murdered, Rolf goes to visit his friend Pedro, the survivor of a village massacre committed by the mercenaries, to retrieve some hidden weapons. Rolf invites his new enemies to a forest where the filmmakers can finally rip off First Blood as Rolf devises traps to pick off each of them. He doesn't get to have all the pickings to himself though, as the mercenaries are so horrible they even end up backstabbing each other! When only John and another mecenary are left remaining, John escapes, while the other nameless bastard gets his moment of glory and riddles Rolf's hands with bullets! Rolf, not ready to be defeated by the emotional weight of his girlfriend's death and now his hands being made useless, batters his opponent to death! Hands bloodied and holed, Rolf raises his arms to the sky and proclaims "god help me!"!

From here on out, things get very personal as the police put on an all-out search to find Rolf, Pedro distracts them with a tale that illustrates just how awful his mercenary friends were and how heroic he was in comparison and in his final conquest of revenge Rolf shows that he can still do some amazing things with useless hands! The ending is bleak though, but if it has anything to say, it's that clearly Rolf is the caucasian Jesus incarnate who pays for our sins.

This is a dirty, dirty movie, one that would no doubt be praised higher if its appallingly low production values did not render it such a sigh instead of the bang it's trying to be, but whose to say exploitation movies exactly tried? It has to be said though, some genuine attempts are made at characterization (I say that loosely, Rolf and Joana tell themselves things longtime lovers should probably already know, oh poorly-done exposition), and the villains truly are the biggest bunch of hideous, unlikable sonsuvbitches ever, even if they're presented as having pretty much no reason to be. One of them is so scummy he even steals his fallen comrade's watch and wallet, and then uses his blood as make-up to play dead! Heck, their canteens are even loaded up with cocaine instead of water! If a bit more time was spent on them, it would have been fun seeing their social degradation during the forest in which they all hate each other. The antics of the particularly venomous-looking John are interesting to say the least, he randomly beats up a woman in the street, then randomly forces a bottle down the mouth of another without anyone batting an eye, and then shoves away a woman trying to kiss him! She and her friend bizarrely don't stop though, and seem to pamper him in fondles. Hell, he's just a lonely, tortured soul, just listen to the pain in his voice when the police ask him about friends and he responds with "what friends? I don't know what you're talking about".

Don't misunderstand though and think that these villains are the type to make the acid in your stomach boil at how atrocious they are, the presentation is so bad they just come off as being bluntly bad. In fact, brutality is delivered in spades, but the lack of polish means the effect is never fully illustrated, making many scenes come off as just badly directed with goofy sound effects, no one suffering from the injuries they're receiving and just generally looking very stiffly-done. It doesn't help that there's no subtlety either, and that the violence just keeps on coming. If you want to go by the ideas at play alone, this film is as violent as 2008's Rambo, but without any of the 'oomph'.

Worming out probably unintended symbolism in some of the scenes is very amusing, such as the aforementioned arms-raised-to-heaven scene and how after all his killings Rolf is shown cleaning himself under a waterfall, cleaning himself of all his sons of course. 95% of the scenes have no background foley, making them feel very hollow and taking away and naturalism they could have, it's a definite sign of rushed filmmaking. Admittedly, it is bad that a repeat viewing is what it took to make me like this film (in my defence I was falling asleep when I first watched it), the acting is pretty unnoticeable but it has to be said the dubbing is lifeless and at times incoherent, mainly because the actors barely open their mouths more than a little. At times, it seems they don't even twitch their lips, and in one only other instance, Rolf opens his mouth fully to yell and the dubber's dialogue hilariously doesn't match up.

That said, the music by the great Fabio Frizzi also isn't very up to scratch, with only a  few notable background themes lingering in your head after, the most notable piece of music is however, Rolf's theme song! Yes, Rolf gets this soothing synth-rock melody play at some of the wrong times in the film, but the lyrics are irresistable, and it's the only thing credited in the end titles! As a bit of trivia, some poster art for the film shows Rolf holding a gun he never uses in the film, along with a blonde-haired Joanna clinging to his leg in that objectifying way to make the men seem more manly like posters did back then, but that's not it, the drawing of the woman has been stolen from the poster for Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet!

This is probably one of the earliest examples of Italy ripping off First Blood, and while it completely blows the likes of Fireback out of the water yet doesn't hold a candle to later Italian movies like Blastfighter, it's watchable in its own right, but only when you've had quite a bit of experience with these films. It's like a grimier prototype for The Intruder. Totally shameless and lacking any serious amount of punch in today's world, Rolf: The Last Mercenary is a rare curiosity, it's definitely in need of a remastered DVD release that bigs up its ridiculous and violent content. In the immortal words of Rolf's theme song... Rolf, your vengeance can't die! The fire in your eyes, says it all!  
  • Action: 3/5
  • Brutality: The outline of it all is there
  • Natural lighting: 5/5 (Godfather it ain't though)
-James, 14 November 2010 (original date)

Title information

  • Production company: Metheus Film
  • Year of release: 1983
Alternate titles:
  • Der Tag des Söldners, "The Day of the Mercenary" (West Germany)
  • Viimeinen taistelija, "The Last Fighter" (Finland)
  • Rolf: ワイルド・アウトサイダー (Rolf: wairudo autosaidaa) "Rolf: Wild Outsider" (Japan)
Review source: Japanese VHS
Screenshot source: Japanese VHS 

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