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Tuareg - The Desert Warrior
(1984)

Director: Enzo G. Castellari  
Cast:
Mark Harmon, Luis Prendes, Ritza Brown


There is so much variety to be found in this world. There are different climates, from the Arctic tundra to the jungles of Africa. And in each of these climates you'll find a variety of unique life, thanks to there being more than one million kinds of animals on this planet, one of those animals being man. And within the species of man, there is more variety to be found, thanks to the fact that there are more than seven billion people living on this planet. And there are countless groups you can divide all these people into, groups like religion, language, or political groups. This has caused a lot of disagreement among man ever since man first came onto this planet, with sometimes this disagreement leading to war. Despite all these disagreements, if you look at all people living right now on this earth, you will find that they all have the same basic desires, desires not only for their physical health, but for their mental well-being as well. Of course, two things that every person needs on a daily basis in order to survive is food and water, hopefully clean and plentiful enough to stay strong in both body and mind. But the mind of every person living on the earth needs more than this kind of nourishment. It needs mental reenforcement as well. Just about every person has, for example, a need of feeling wanted, part of some kind of group larger than themselves. That is where culture comes in. Being in some kind of established culture can help one feel that they are a part of something, and feel stronger as a result. Though it helps if the culture is attractive; I can tell you that since I live in a country that constantly makes movies that are not real movies, I often find it hard to feel a sense of pride for my culture.

Within a culture, there are many different things that can give someone a sense of pride. There are big accomplishments, for example; I am sure that many Chinese people have a sense of pride by their ancestors' building of the great wall of China. But another source of pride comes from people representing their country, who have accomplished great things - whether these people are real or fictional. As you have probably guessed, it's the fictional heroes of various countries that interest me the most, specifically fictional heroes from motion pictures. Since Canada hasn't been very successful in making admirable cinematic heroes, I look at other countries. Of course, the United States has churned out a ton of cinematic heroes admired there and in other countries, from singing cowboys to Rambo. But what about other countries? Well, I am sure in Hong Kong and China, they admire kick-ass cinema heroes played by Jackie Chan and Jet Li, among others. I wonder what cinematic heroes the Australians admire. Do they admire Crocodile Dundee? Maybe they did at one point, but after Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles, I'm sure they no longer do. But what about the Muslim world? Do they have their own cinematic heroes? Well, a long time ago I reviewed the Middle Eastern movie Treasure Of The Lost Desert, and that movie had modern-day warriors that might be considered heroes by its filmmakers, though the movie was so bad that I suspect that it was completely rejected by the filmmakers' fellow countrymen.

Since Treasure Of The Lost Desert, I have on occasion kept an eye open during my regular unknown movie huntings for any other movies with Muslim heroes, but I haven't been very successful. Domestic film distributors don't seem enthusiatic in picking up foreign movies with Muslim heroes, no doubt due to the fact of unquestionable tensions Tuareg - The Desert Warriorbetween the west and the Muslim world. Ultimately, I had to settle for a movie with a Muslim hero that was not only made by western filmmakers, but made way back in simpler times (1984). That movie was Tuareg - The Desert Warrior, a movie with a non-Muslim (Mark Harmon, Local Boys) in the lead role. I should add that even back then, despite the fact that Harmon was in the movie, Tuareg failed to immediately get a release on video in North America. In fact, it made its debut this side of the Atlantic on The CBS Late Night Movie, where I first saw it as a teenager. I remember liking it back then, which was another reason why I tracked it down in order to see it again. Harmon plays Gacel Sayah, a member of the Tuareg people, a group of desert nomads who make their home in the Sahara and live the same way their ancestors lived, even with the modern world surrounding them. One day, Gacel's people are interrupted by the visit of two people from the outside, who are almost dead after crossing the broiling desert. Gacel takes them in, even though he knows they are hiding something. Shortly afterwards, they are visited by more outsiders, this time members of the modern-day army of the country this group of Tuareg are in. Gacel is told the two men he has are murderers, but he refuses to turn them over, because they are his guests - and the Tuareg have a long tradition of being hospitable to guests. The army ends up shooting one of the two men, and forcibly taking away the other one. Gacel considers this a big insult, so shortly afterwards he gets on his camel and sets off on a journey to find and free his guest from the clutches of the army.

As you could probably tell from that brief description, Tuareg - The Desert Warrior is somewhat less formulaic than what you usually get from an action film, whether it be foreign (which this movie happens to be - it was an Italian/Spanish co-production) or American. The Sahara setting (the movie was actually filmed in Israel and Spain) is obviously one way the movie comes across as more original. The other obvious way the movie comes across as being more original is with the depiction of the protagonist. True, Gacel Sayah does have some of the attributes that you typically find in a hero - he is very crafty at strategy, being able to outwit all of his opponents at every turn. On the occasions when he is forced to directly confront them, he turns out to be especially skilled in battle, whether it be with a swordfight with another Tuareg member, or staying ahead in the empty desert from pursuing modern-day soldiers equipped with modern firepower. Those things are probably what you expect with a hero like that. But Gacel has been given some original and novel touches that help him stand out from other B movie heroes. For one thing, his character has a great regard for honor. He is proud of his people and his heritage, enough so that he would die for his beliefs and his people to continue in his world. When he sets off on his journey for vengeance, it's not really for personal reasons, it's to support the philosophy that his people believe in. It should come as no surprise that Gacel's culture has shaped him to think and express his feelings in a very colorful manner. Even when he's alone with his family, he will talk in this manner, making statements like, "I must be inflexible with you, because the desert is inflexible with us the Tuareg." As a result of this, Gacel is a character you keep close attention to, because you are curious as to what unexpected actions and statements he'll express.

The uniqueness of the character of Gacel makes up for a number of shortcomings to be found in Tuareg - The Desert Warrior, some of these flaws also being with the character. Although Harmon sports a beard and has a fairly dark tan all over his body, you still feel that he is kind of a impostor who is impersonating a foreigner, due to things like his western-sounding accent. Another problem I had with this character is that he is not given one specific villian to work against. A movie like this with a character like Gacel should have someone who's a real nasty piece of business. But the foes that Gacel ends up battling are those who act like henchmen (and are quickly killed off), or opponents who turn out to have some good attributes. While it was good to see some multi-dimensional opponents, which give the movie some welcome humanity that you often don't get in an action movie, all the same it felt a little empty to see these characters as well as Gacel not really having someone really bad and powerful to play against. Speaking of an empty feeling, much of the middle portion of the movie feels like it's lacking spark and is as dry as the desert sands Gacel journeys across. Although it never gets to the point where the movie would actually be called boring, several parts of this middle section of the movie get awfully slow at times, and may have you fidgeting in your seat. One part of the movie that will likely get you completely out of your seat is the climax. The climax is indeed surprising... but not in a good way. I won't mention what happens except to say that the great action that Gacel pulls off at this part of the movie didn't completely make sense to me as a teenager. Seeing the movie more than twenty years later, I think I have a better idea of what Gacel was doing, but I still can't be a hundred percent sure.

Still, while Tuareg - The Desert Warrior ends on a note that many will consider puzzling, the journey the movie takes in the ninety or so minutes before that climax has a good share of pleasing sights and moments along the way. The most obvious of these things is the backdrop of the movie. The desert locations of Spain and Israel that director Enzo G. Castellari (Sinbad Of The Seven Seas and The Inglorious Bastards) shot the movie on were stunning to this critic's eye, despite watching a substandard-looking full-frame print. Watching the movie, it's obvious that this movie had a budget substantially larger than the usual European actioner of the time, so we are given more than just good photography and locations. We get sights like caravans with dozens of camels, and crowd scenes with hundreds of extras. The ample budget also contributes greatly to the movie's action sequences. Now, I'll admit that there are fewer action sequences than you might expect (and want) from a movie like this. But the action that is there is full of variety, from sword fights to Gacel battling an entire garrison of modern-day soldiers at a desert fort, and all of these action scenes are pretty well done. (Though I admit the sight of obvious dummies being blown up do provide some unintended laughs.) And throughout the movie, music composer Riz Ortolani (The Hunting Party) provides a sweeping epic musical score, one of the best of his career. With stuff like this, as well as an unconventional character the focus of almost every scene, the movie always has something interesting to observe even during its lesser moments. It's a good movie to sit back and relax to, with a beer and pizza by your side. Though in respect to Gacel, make sure the beer you drink is a root beer, and that the meat on your pizza is beef or chicken.

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Check Amazon for source novel by Alberto Vazquez-Figueroa

See also: The Hunting Party, Survivor, Treasure Of The Lost Desert

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