Soldier Of Fortune

Director: Pasquale Festa Campanile                                              
Bud Spencer, Franco Agostini, Enzo Cannavale

Since I have reviewed two of Terence Hill's solo vehicles in the past (Renegade and Mr. Billion), I think it's only fair that I review at least one of the solo vehicles of Hill's frequent partner, Bud Spencer. It's interesting to compare Spencer's solo career to Hill's. Though both of these actors achieved enough success that a number of their movies got released in not just Europe, but North America as well, it's a quite different story when you look at how successful their solo careers were. Hill was fortunate enough to have some of his Italian solo vehicles, like Man Of The East and Super Fuzz, get picked up by major American film distributors. Also, he managed to get hired a couple of times to get cast in American-financed movies, which were March Or Die and the aforementioned Mr. Billion.

Spencer, on the other hand, didn't have as much luck outside of Europe when he went solo. My research found that only one of his Italian movies - Flatfoot (a.k.a. The Knock Out Cop) - got any release in America, "I'm looking for a big smelly beast - and it's right on top of you!" and only got picked up by a small independent. (I don't count The Five Man Army, for that was an all-star vehicle) And he certainly didn't get hired to star in any American-financed films. Why didn't Spencer get stardom in America away from Terence Hill? I'm not sure, though there are several theories. Maybe with his bulk, beard, and ungroomed look, Spencer didn't seem like leading-man material to American executives. There is always the possibility that maybe Spencer was simply content to stay at home, like Jackie Chan was for many years. But after watching several of Spencer's solo vehicles, I think I can come up with a more plausible theory, one that also answers the question as to just why these Spencer movies are so hard to find in North America. After watching several of Spencer's solo movies, I think I can safely say that they just aren't very good. Undeniably, Spencer is blessed with comic talent, and of a kind that's more subtle than Terence Hill's. But even the most talented individuals can find it hard to rise to the occasion when they are immersed in poor material, and a good example of this can be found in the movie Soldier Of Fortune.

This particular Spencer outing differs from his others - and, for that matter, many of Hill's movies with or without Spencer - in that it obviously took great expense to create. For one thing, this isn't a slapstick comedy set in modern times, but taking place instead in the age of Leonardo DaVinci. Time has obviously been taken to construct the weapons, armor, and other everyday  aspects of the era the movie is taking place in so that these props at least suggest the era, if not actually being realistic enough to fool a well-versed historian. Shooting takes place at the actual locations where events like the ones depicted in the movie took place - it obviously took some moola as well as negotiations to shoot the movie in and around castles and other buildings obviously Bud the stud protected by the government. And just look at the gigantic battle sequence that takes place not long after we are introduced to Spencer's mercenary character. It's a battle between an invading French army trying to storm a Spanish castle, and much of the movie's budget was obviously blown here. We might not have hundreds of extras, but there are dozens of them seen fighting at any one time, and that's sufficient to suggest the scale of the battle. The attacking soldiers aren't just equipped with the usual armor and horses, but have brought some elaborate weapons with them. There's not just a battling ram, but gigantic shields that platoons of knights hide under as they approach the castle; gigantic ladders wide enough for two columns of soldiers to climb up at any one time; a multi-layered platform wheeled to the wall so that the soldiers can climb up it and go over the castle's walls; and an elaborate device that could be best described as a medieval steam shovel.

It's very impressive in how all this complex stuff was brought to the sequence - pity, however, that it all ends up being wasted by the movie's incompetence. Every possible way that this sequence - with all this stuff - could be screwed up is. The camera  never seems to be pulled back quite enough, so there is a feeling of tightness instead of widespread anarchy. Though there does seem to be some anarchy with the camera's tripod, because the image keeps shuddering ever so slightly. The editor also keeps darting from one piece of footage to another, so we never get a chance to stop to take a breath and enjoy the spectacle before us. But the biggest flaw that does the most ruin to the sequence is that the entire thing is intended to be funny. Well, I can't really object immediately to that idea, since theoretically any subject can be made to be funny. But it's sure hard to laugh when there Bud and his pals shield themselves from the critical onslaught are repeated attempts at humor coming from people having rocks flung at their heads, dragged by horses, or flung from great heights to the ground. Yeah, it theoretically could be funny, but it's hard to laugh when you realize that the movie is supposed to be taking place during an actual historical war (where people died), and that many of those previously mentioned stunts probably killed these anonymous characters. Death can be funny, but it takes care in its execution, and must be in a more  proper context, none of which this scene has. I don't think I need to mention that the scene's other attempts at humor - like the Spaniards dropping "pee-pee" instead of boiling oil on the invaders - are just as unfunny.

Now let me backtrack to the beginning so I can outline the plot, and reveal its utter lameness. Spencer plays Italian soldier of fortune Ettore, who is accompanied by four pals with the same aspiration. All I can tell you about these four guys is that one of them is named Beccelone, and that... uh... um... well, to tell the truth, I couldn't tell one apart from the other aside from Beccelone, who has the job of keeping the party's journal updated. Wait, one of the guys does get tired of being on yet another losing side and joins up with the French. Then... come to think of it, he seems to just disappear. Or maybe he was there among those bad guys, whom I'll describe in a minute.

Anyhoo, backtracking a bit again, Ettore and his four mercenary pals, hungry for glary as well as food, decide for once to join the winning side of the French/Spanish war happening in front of them, though they find (oh horrors!) the Frenchmen acting snotty and rude! Uniformly snotty and rude, I might add, and their indistinguishable behavior may explain why I couldn't seem to find Ettore's turncoat pal among them later. Well, this results in Ettore and his cronies engaging in some lame slapstick fighting out of the camp, fighting their way through the aforementioned battle, and joining up with the hard luck Spaniards. The movie then seems set up to have Ettore spend the rest of the movie defending the weak Spaniards until reinforcement arrive. That's indeed how it does proceed (with plenty of lame slapstick mixed in) Bud wrestles with the biggest trouser snake around until about the halfway point, until the movie runs out of gas on this idea. So adding to the plenty of weaknesses that the screenplay has shown us so far, the movie then decides to change track. When Ettore manages to capture the commanders of the French army, you might be elated from thinking that the movie may be over, but no such luck buddy. In a twist that I find unbelievable even in this age of chivalry, the bad guys are not only (apparently) freed, but an arrangement is made so that Ettore will round up a group of volunteers to fight a group of French knights so that Ettore can supposedly regain his honor. Though considering Ettore is pretty much a ruffian, I don't think he lost honor or anything else in the first place. (Oh, by the way, that subplot about the turncoat pal is never resolved.)

So what we subsequently get is yet another lame rip-off of the "underdogs vs. professional sport snots" formula made famous by The Bad News Bears, and.... hey, this movie was actually made a year before The Bad News Bears. How about that. Guess this movie gets one point for originality, though it doesn't really make any difference when I tell you about all the demerits it earns. But it still uses the tired device of the main character going from one prospect to another to ask his old Italian friends (who all happen to be in this part of war-torn Spain, for some reason) to join him in the tournament. Needless to say they all refuse at first, and this and the subsequent efforts to convince them are all cunning ways to stretch the movie's running length. And the length it takes feels even longer that it really is, because even though these guys have different occupations (a priest, an aspiring Muslim, a scientist, etc.), their core personalities are pretty much the same - they are happy where they are, they don't want to get involved at first etc. etc.

At first, Spencer seems to be trying his hardest to do a good job; When out of tent pegs, one of Bud's pals was happy to oblidgeyou see him smiling and acting more cheerful and good-spirited than the characters he usually plays. But he's soon weighed down by material that refuses to make him a character, such as with the subplot where he befriends a young boy who wants to  be a knight, which is dropped almost as soon as it's brought up. Later on, you can see that he's just going through the motions, since he can't exactly make a spark when he's paired up with lame material and vanilla-bland good guys and villains. After watching this movie, it becomes quite obvious as to why Spencer continued to make movies with Hill for about another decade; considering that Hill's solo vehicles were also pretty awful, Hill needed Spencer just as much as Spencer needed him.

UPDATE: "Patrick" sent this along:

"Regarding your review of Soldier of Fortune, the not-all-that-great Bud Spencer movie, I believe you may have been let down by a poorly cut and/or subtitled version. That is not, of course, to say that the movie is actually good.

"Firstly, the turncoat member of Ettore's (or Hector's) intrepid band of mercenaries is, in fact, killed by one of the French knights -- the really nasty one -- for his troubles, presumably proving that traitors won't prosper. Probably a scene that was cut from your copy of the movie.

"Secondly, and more importantly, the movie is supposed to be set in Italy. The town and fortress are in Italy, and the townsfolk are Italians, but the governor and the fortress garrison are Spanish, while the besiegers are French. Medieval Italy was a quilt of feuding kingdoms, principalities, republics, the Papal State, German holdings, French holdings, Spanish holdings, and so on and so forth, and the movie tries to use that to comedic effect."

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See also: Hearts And Armour, Mr. Billion, Renegade