Sunday, July 17, 2016
DVR Diary: BENGAZI (1955)
They didn't add the h (for Hillary?) until later, but this is the Libyan city of 21st century infamy, back in the early days after World War II when the former Italian colony was under Anglo-French occupation. But John Brahm's adventure film from the last days of RKO could have been set in any colonial place for all the attention it pays to natives. It's a slightly noirish treasure hunt as some disreputable veterans and a seedy saloon owner head into the desert, where a ruined mosque hides the gold one of the gang stole from local tribesmen. Our hero, if only by default, is John Gilmore, a refugee from small town America, where it's a big event when the local movie theater changes its program once a week. His ball and chain is the bar owner, Donovan (an elderly Victor McLageln), who seems incapable of backing up whatever bluster he can still manage. He wants in on the treasure so he can take care of his daughter back on the Emerald Isle, but unbeknownst to him she (Mala Powers) has come to Bengazi looking for him. They haven't seen each other for so long that they blow right past each other in their first encounter, and it's not until Gilmore finds out her name that he arranges a proper reintroduction. Once the three-man gang goes into the desert, the daughter joins a Scots officer (Richard Carlson with a wobbly accent) in pursuit by plane. In the mosque, the third partner is almost immediately killed by virtually invisible tribesmen, while Gilmore and Donovan hunker down for a siege. Reinforcements are actually the last thing they need, especially since Donovan's daughter and the officer promptly get their plane blown up after they've landed. The intruders are picked off one by one -- there are expendable people I haven't mentioned, and McLageln is mercifully eliminated relatively early -- until Gilmore learns some moral lesson and decides to sacrifice the treasure, if not himself, in order to save the final girl and the wounded officer. Apart from some creative use of the ruined mosque set and the plane landing in the desert Brahm doesn't take much advantage of the Superscope wide screen and Bengazi overall seems much like the sort of programmer that might have been made ten or fifteen years earlier. Conte's a good actor who always managed to retain some dignity throughout his career, but McLageln is embarrassing if not pitiful, clearly having nothing left at this late point in his career. The picture's too-good-to-be-true ending is a final insult to the viewer, but I suppose we could wish everyone's problems in Libya could be solved so easily.