Philippine War Week II: Commando Invasion (1986)

Gordon Mitchell: I thought I knew ye. Why are you here? Well, I know you did 2+5 Mission Hydra (1966), but a Rambo rip? Were times that tough?

Born Charles Allen Pendleton in Denver, Colorado, Gordon “The Bronze Giant” Mitchell became the requisite Italian-peplum actor by way of his bit parts in The Ten Commandments (1956) and Spartacus (1960). Then Steve Reeves made bank with Hercules (1958), and beefcakes like Pendleton — regardless of their lack in speaking Italian — headed off into the Neapolitan sunset, with films such as Atlas Against the Cyclops and The Giant of Metropolis (both 1961), Vulcan, Son of Jupiter and Caesar Against the Pirates (both 1962), and a bundle of spaghetti westerns, such as Three Graves for a Winchester (1966), along with Poliziotteschis and Giallos. Did he do Nazisploitation? He did: Achung! The Desert Tigers! (1977). Sexploitation? He did: Porno-Erotic Western (1979). Joe D’Amato even got Gordon Mitchell into the post-apoc game with Endgame (1983).

Then his career, like all careers do, cooled. So, along with fellow expatriate American actors Richard Harrision and Mike Monty, they headed off to the Philippines to work with John Gale, aka Jun Gallardo, the “star” of Silver Star Productions. Silver Star is a studio you’ve heard mentioned often during our first “Philippines War Week” in August and again, during this second week. All of these film rotate the same actors, either in new footage, or via old footage cut-in from other films; the recycling resulted in the likes of actors such as Mike Cohen, Jim Gaines, Romano Kristoff, Mike Monty, Nick Nicholson, Ronnie Patterson, Paul Vance (who scripts here), and Ken Watanabe (no, not that one; the Nine Deaths of the Ninja one) “starring” in movies they didn’t even sign up to appear in. In fact, the recycling into films of lesser and lesser production value ended up damaging the career of Richard Harrison; after a string of plagiarized Philippines hokum, no studios of note wanted to work with him.

And the same could be said for Gordon Mitchell, who started pumping out the Rambo-cum-Commandos (with touches of Raiders of the Lost Ark) for the Italians, the Turks, and Germans with the likes of Treasures of the Lost Desert, Diamond Connection, and White Fire (all 1984), and Operation Nam (1986). While Terror Force Commando, aka Three Men on Fire (1986), is plugged into the ’80s Philippines war cycle, it’s actually an Italian production; a final directing effort (of four) by Richard Harrison, it was his longtime pet-project, which he also wrote and produced. A hard-to-find film, Harrison stars with his longtime friends and fellow Philippine celluloid mainstays Romano Kristoff and Gordon Mitchell.

And cue Jun Gallardo, who hired Gordon — along with Jim Gaines, Paul Vance, and Ken Watanabe — to star in this Stallone-Arnie clone, along with SFX Retailiator.

Because you must use any and all forms of “Commando” as much as possible to evoke a little bit ‘o Arnie — even when your film was originally known as The Last American Solider.

Of course, with Silver Star Productions, the character flashbacks and/or story prologues are the thing, so all of that stock war footage from previous films — of their own or of others — can be cut-in to “up” the production values of their cash-strapped productions; for there is no way Silver Star can afford to rent out tanks. And if they did, they’re maximizing that one-shot tank footage whenever possible — which is all the time. You know, like Corman with his Star Wars droppings-recycling we speak of often around here. And like the Alfonso Brescia Pasta Wars droppings we speak of often around here.

So, in some of the half-dozen alternate theatrical one-sheets and VHS sleeves for Commando Invasions, you may see one with a big ol’ diamond on the cover. Well, our “Rambo” adventures begin with a French military convoy in 1950s-era Vietnam responsible for transporting retrieved jewels and art works: they’re ambushed, with the spoils stolen.

Flash forward to the height of the Vietnam war in 1965: The loot has been tracked down by Captain Brady (our “Rambo,” played by Michael James in his first starring role; the other was 1987’s Crossbone Territory; David Carradine fans seen James in P.O.W: The Escape) and his squad. The mission — with the usual “set up” behind the scenes — goes bad: the squad is dead and Brady survives — with a fistful of diamonds in his hands. But a court martial can’t be the end of the movie. Nope.

So — and only in the movies, or at least in the Philippines’ logic of movies — Brady is given a week to head back into the jungle, track down the real culprits (the Cong, natch), and prove his innocence. The betrayals and crosses, bullets (why do guns firing bullets sound like lasers all the time in these flicks) and exploding huts (from other films) ensues — with Gordon Mitchell’s General MacMoreland in cahoots with VC General Diap (Ken Watanabe). Or something like that.

Hey, we’re not here for the plot and thespin’: we’re here for the action. And for the Jun Gallardo the-cover-is-always-better-than-the-movie slop. If you need to complete the Jun Gallardo “war shelf,” his other early-to-mid-’80s not-Rambo flicks are Intrusion: Cambodia, Rescue Team, and The Firebird Conspiracy. (Damn straight! We reviewed all three this week, for we ain’t no lazy anák sa labás.)

There’s no trailer to share, but we found a copy of Commando Invasion on You Tube to enjoy. Oh, and don’t get burned as I did and confuse this one with Invasion Cambodia, aka Intrusion: Cambodia, okay? They are, in fact, two different films.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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