Philippine War Week: Tuareg: The Desert Warrior (1984)

Editor’s Note: We unpacked this war flick as part of Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties 50-Film box set back in February 2021. We’re bringing it back as part of our “Philippines War Week” of films. Yeah, the Italians made this — and not down in the South Seas — but wow, this plays as good as any Philippine Namsploitation rip. Maybe even a little bit better than a Cirio H. Santiago flick. Maybe.

Okay, ye purveyor of B-Trash, let’s unpack the caveats:

  1. While that looks like a rendering of Michael Sopkiw on the one-sheet, this isn’t a repack of Blastfighter made to look like a First Blood/Rambo sequel — although that film was inspired by the adventures of Rambo.
  2. While it looks like it’s a Mark Gregory War movie — of which he made four, plus three Thunder movies — themselves each inspired by Rambo — this isn’t a repack of any of those movies. (We break those flicks down as part of our “Mark Gregory Week” tribute.
  3. Do not do what I did and confuse this Jim Goldman, aka John Gale, aka Filipina Jun Gallardo’s Mad Max apoc-poo Desert Warrior starring Lou Ferrigno.
  4. No, this isn’t a Stallone Rambo foreign repack with bad art work.
  5. Yes, as incredible as it may seem, the Mark Harmon in the credits — in lieu of Michael Sopkiw or Mark Gregory (!) that should be starring — is the same Mark Harmon you’re now watching in reruns from CBS-TV’s NCIS.
  6. This is, in fact, a Enzo G. Castellari’s production, aka The Desert Warrior, aka Tuareg: The Desert Warrior, aka Rambo of the Desert Warrior, which makes no sense. Why not Rambo, the Desert Warrior or Rambo: Desert Blood?

Now, when you see the dependable name of Enzo G. Castellari — the man who gave us Inglorious Bastards, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape from the Bronx, and Warriors of the Wasteland, you know you’re getting intriguing action, and a bag o’ chips.

In a desolate section of the Libyan-Algerian Sahara once ruled by the French, Gacel Sayah (Mark Harmon), a Tuareg tribal leader (in tanning make-up and blue contacts), offers refuge to two government fugitives. When soldiers from the newly-installed Arab regime demand the “war criminals” be turned over to them, our desert Rambo refuses, based on the region’s ancient, scared laws. When the soldiers murder one and kidnap the other war criminal, Sayah mounts a bloody campaign to rescue his charge, for so says “the law.”

If you’ve watched any of Enzo’s westerns — A Few Dollars for Django and One Dollar Too Many — then you’ll know that Enzo was into desert-based mayhem long before Stallone came on the scene, so what you get with this much HBO-aired ditty is a war-modernized Spaghetti Western. And be it western, poliziotteschi, or post-apocalypse, Castellari never disappoints, non-A-List Hollywood budgets be damned.

By the time Harmon went all spaghetti-Rambo in the joint, he got his start with guest shots as cops on Adam-12 and its ’70s sister show, Emergency (which I’ve seen these past months as Antenna TV reruns). Harmon also starred in two, failed one-season series with the cop procedural-dramas Sam (1977) and (the one I remember watching first-run) 240-Robert (1979). He was one season deep into his breakthrough role as Dr. Robert Caldwell in the NBC-TV medical drama St. Elsewhere when Tuareg: The Desert Warrior was released. But I have a feeling Harmon probably film this Italian romp long before production on the series began — with Enzo holding back the film (due to creative or cash flow issues), then released he had a “star” on in his film. As for Harmon: when it came to crossing over to a theatrical career, he went for comedy instead of action, with the flops Summer School and Worth Winning.

When you think that Harmon is the guy from TV’s NCIS . . . made-up to look Middle Eastern . . . makes this spaghetti Rambo an even more fascinating watch.

And you can watch this Mill Creek box set public domain ditty on You Tube.

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