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Salt In The Wound
(a.k.a. The Liberators)
(1969)

Director: Tonino Ricci
Cast:
Klaus Kinski, George Hilton, Ray Saunders


A long time ago, when I reviewed the Italian war movie Inglorious Bastards, I discussed the armed forces and what it would be like to me if I joined one of the three main branches (army, air force, and navy) either as a volunteer or if I was drafted. I came to the conclusion that I would be pretty miserable in any of those branches, especially when considering the shape of the Canadian armed forces.... Since I wrote that review, I have done a lot of thinking about the possibility of finding myself in the armed forces. Well, there's no way I would ever join the armed forces as a volunteer. I think I'm too old, for one thing, and even if I was younger I couldn't see myself volunteering for all that stress and back-breaking work. But what about if I was drafted? Well, I would first have to forget the obvious fact that Canada has no draft and it wouldn't happen. But what if there was the threat of a draft? Well, if there was, and there was a war brewing, I would prepare. Before getting my draft notice, I would grab some books on wilderness survival, flee into the woods, and poke my head out occasionally until I saw a signal from my father (a ribbon tied around the old pine tree in his yard) that meant the war was over. If the powers that be accused me of evading the draft, I could say, "Hey, I was away when the draft notice was sent - I never got it." But what if I was caught, processed, and placed in the armed forces? Well, the answer seems pretty logical: Deliberately flunk basic training. I don't think the powers that be would want to put an incompetent solider in the field, one who could screw things up for other soldiers.

I'm sure that the above confessions have offended some of you. Some of you are probably saying right now, "Where's your sense of duty? Where are your unselfish thoughts concerning your fellow man?" Well, as I said in my review of Inglorious Bastards, I've come to the conclusion that I would be a pretty lousy member of the armed forces even if I worked my tail off to be the best that I could be. So I would be doing the armed forces a favor. As for thinking about my fellow man, I have done plenty of that during my life. Take this web site, for one thing. I don't know if you know just how much work it has made me do in order to inform my fellow man on good movies to see and bad movies to avoid. I have to slog through watching more bad movies than good, and when the movie being reviewed is bad, I have to relive it when writing the review. If my telling you of that is not enough, I will now tell you of other ways I am courageous in this strict society of ours. For example, whenever I go to a restaurant and service seems to be slow, I am not afraid to pound on my table with my fist and yell for a waitress. And later, once I get the check from the waitress, I defy the unwritten law and I don't leave a tip, no matter how good the service might have been. Another way I defy unwritten laws is whenever I take a bus. If I am sitting in a seat while an elderly pregnant woman is uncomfortably standing next to me, I don't care what anyone thinks about the fact that I don't give her my seat. And when I go to a movie theater, and the crowd leaving the theater is slowly walking out, I am not afraid to yell "fire!" in order to speed things up. So you see, I am to be admired for my courage.

Probably by this point you have some idea of what the movie being reviewed here, Salt In The Wound, concerns itself about. It is a movie that concerns the military, in this case a movie that takes place during World War Two. And it's also a movie that in part deals with the subjects of doing Salt In The Woundyour duty and also the possibility of committing self-sacrifice for the welfare of others. It's a movie that I have wanted to review for this web site for a long time, but various obstacles got in the way. Let me explain. I first saw this movie years ago when I was teaching English in Korea. My roommate and I had a VCR, and while I was into movies from PM Entertainment and various other exploitation movies, he was into movies concerning World War Two. (He once rented Ilsa: She-Wolf Of The SS without knowing anything about it, and I was amused by his reaction when he watched it.) One day he rented Salt In The Wound from its box art promising World War Two action. I sat down to watch it with him, and I remember at the time we were very impressed with what we saw. When I got back home, I tried to find the movie in video stores here, but I could not find it. Eventually I forgot the title of the movie, and it was only recently when I came across a review of the North American DVD release of the movie that I knew the title again. I wanted to see if the movie held up, so I ordered a DVD of the movie. As I said, this is a World War two movie, taking place in Italy not long after the Allied forces landed and started their campaign north. In the opening scenes, we meet Corporal Brian Haskins (Kinski), who has been condemned to death for killing a civilian. We also meet John Grayson (Saunders), a black private who has also been given the death penalty sentence for killing his commanding officer.

The assignment to carry out the executions is given to Lieutenant Michael Sheppard (Hilton), a fresh-faced solider who's just come from West Point. When he takes his soliders and the prisoners out into the Italian countryside to carry out the sentences, they are jumped by a German squad, who start to attack. In the battle, Haskins and Grayson escape, followed closely by Sheppard. The three men quickly make an unspoken agreement to stick together to escape from the German threat... even though Haskins and Grayson have no desire to make their way back to Allied command, while Sheppard is determined to bring the two escaped prisoners back. None of them know that soon that their secret desires will be put on hold due to unforseen circumstances... I had remembered this basic plot from my first viewing of the movie years earlier, but I had forgotten just about everything else except that I enjoyed the movie. Did the movie hold up? Overall, yes, it did, though I must admit that in this viewing I found some problems that I don't think I had the first time I saw the movie. But first, I'll get into some of the good things about the movie. I thought the actors that were chosen for this movie were very well chosen. I know what you are probably thinking - you are thinking, "Come on - the German Klaus Kinski playing an American solidier?" In another movie, this might be the source for a good deal of unintended laughs, but in this movie it works. For starters, Kinski's voice is dubbed in this movie, so we don't hear his real life thick German accent that might have ruined the idea that his character is American.

Although Kinski is dubbed, he is still able to show the inner workings of his character's mind by his facial expressions. His character is slightly mad, and you probably know by now that few people can show a twisted mind like Kinski did. When he bums a cigarette from a solider holiding him captive, or later makes out with a woman who is somewhat reluctant, you wonder if he's going to snap and break these people's necks - these and other moments are tense. Saunders plays a somewhat mad character as well, though less pronounced. His facial expressions are often haunting, and suggest someone shell-shocked from experiences in the past. Hilton shows panic and confusion on his face on the battlefield, appropriate for someone who has not been in combat before. So the acting is good, but what about the other parts of the movie? I'll now move into the direction. This was the first directing effort by director Tonino Ricci, better known for later hack efforts such as A Man Called Rage and Thor The Conqueror. You may not be expecting much knowing those other movies and this being his first directorial experience, but there's actually a lot to admire about his direction here. He knows how to use the widescreen photography to great effect, composing shots that fill up the screen very well. The Italian locations are well chosen, looking unlike locations I've seen in other Italian movies. They may not be spectacular, but they feel real and unpretentious. Where he really shines is in the action sequences. There is a feeling of true chaos and not slick choreography in these scenes, especially in the climatic scene when the trio turn into pure animals.

The screenplay (co-written by Ricci) has some engaging touches to it as well. Kinski has a colorful conversation with a woman late in the movie. Also, some people may consider the action the two prisoners make at that climax as one of redemption for their sins. Though when I thought about all of what happened before the climax, I saw hints that maybe the two were still thinking of themselves and had the mind to do other sins later on. It's interesting to think about. But there are some other things about the screenplay that are, to put it kindly, lacking. The movie gets to a bizarre start with a narrator quoting from the Genesis portion of the Old Testament that seems to have no practical purpose - it could have been easily eliminated with no damage to the rest of the movie. Other flaws include one bit where the trio, who have stayed in one location for several hours to hole up, suddenly see in the near distance a large village. And there is the question as to why Saunders' character, at the beginning of the movie, is seen fighting with Caucasian soldiers when it's well known the American armed forces were segregated during this war. (And speaking of the American army, don't get me started on the fact that the uniforms in this movie don't always seem to be accurate representations.)  Indeed, I could take some time pointing out flaws with the script and other things about the movie. But the movie never makes one the biggest mistakes a movie can make, and that's by being boring.  Even during its weaker moments, the movie still moves well and keeps you interested. And during its stronger moments, the movie without doubt delivers the goods. I admit it made this pacifist movie reviewer want to sign up and get to kill some bad guys.

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See also: Delta Force One, Inglorious Bastards, The Mercenary

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