Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Blood and Gold (2023)


            I waited with high hopes for the premiere of “Sisu”.  I drove a half hour to see it in a theater on the opening weekend.  If you read my review, you know I was disappointed.  I knew it would be basically be a pissed off old man killing Nazis, but it was not the over the top mayhem that the trailer predicted.  I realize it did get good reviews from many, but to me it promised cartoonish violence and delivered nothing spectacular in quality or quantity.  When I first became aware of “Blood and Gold”, it arrived on Netflix with little buzz.  It looked to be a similar exercise in Nazi killing by an intrepid hero.  This would not make it unique and it seemingly had been done before, just this year by “Sisu”.  There was no reason to believe it would be better than its cousin.  And it didn’t even premiere in an American theater.

            “Blood and Gold” is a German film by director Peter Thorwath.  It is set in the waning days of Nazi Germany.  A private named Heinrich (Robert Maaser) has deserted to try to find his surviving daughter.  He is an Iron Cross recipient and a six-year veteran of several campaigns.  He has given a lot to Germany, but enough is enough.  Unfortunately, he is being hounded by an SS unit led by a creepy Lt. Col. von Starnfeld (Alexander Scheer).  Starnfeld is your obligatory evil Nazi that inhabits films like this.  In a nice touch, he wears a partial face mask like the Phantom of the Opera.  His second in command is a sergeant (Roy McCrerey).  The sergeant is an intelligent, but malevolent noncom.  He takes pleasure in hanging Heinrich and describes to him how he will linger before he dies twitching.  Naturally, the platoon does not stick around to see the whole process.  Good thing because otherwise we would have a very short and unfulfilling movie.  Heinrich is rescued by a young farm woman named Elsa (Maria Hacke).  She takes him home where she lives with her mentally challenged brother.  The next day, the sergeant shows up with a foraging detail and the movie takes off.  The confrontation between sarge and his men and Heinrich/Elsa is a great action scene.  It starts with the sergeant trying to rape Elsa and ends with a brutal brawl.  In the middle of the fight, Elsa throws burning hot coffee on his genitals.  It’s that kind of movie.  Round one goes to the duo, but the fight has just begun.  It will move venues to the local town where Starnfeld is searching for gold hidden by a Jewish family.  It turns out that some of the townspeople have the gold and we get a second group of villains.  And more heroes like the priest and a widow.  This all builds to a shootout in the church where the three arcs intercept with combat porn results.

            I had the opposite feeling to when I watched “Sisu”.  This movie rocks from start to finish.  The acting is much better than one would expect from a kill-fest.  I was not familiar with any of the actors.  Perhaps they are well known in Germany.  All of the main roles are strong characters and well-played.  The villains are not mustache twirlers.  Starnfeld is a not a caricature of the evil Nazi in the leather coat.  The sergeant is a thug, but a challenging foe for Heinrich.  Masser is outstanding as the Clint Eastwoodesque Heinrich.  In fact, the movie goes out of its way to pay homage to Westerns.  The music is clearly used to evoke that vibe.  You’d think it was a spaghetti western if you just heard the music.  Interestingly, besides the western motifs, the film makes use of popular German songs of the period which are thrown in mid-action scene.  This movie has some panache.

            What sets the movie apart from films like “Sisu” are the female characters.  Elsa is feisty and can defend herself.  She saves Heinrich’s life more than once.  We are given little background, so we have to assume she is just a survivor, not a trained killer like the men.  She is balanced by the local Cruella de Ville, Sonya.  Here is another character you seldom see in war movies.  Sonya is in the group that has stolen the Jewish family’s gold and she ends up having brassier balls than her partners.  A flashback to the town taking care of its local Jewish “problem” allows the film to remind its German audiences of Kristallnacht. 

            Besides Westerns, the movie seems to be influenced by Tarantino films.  The strong female characters and the outside the box action are clues to this. Tarantino has a way of depicting violence where you see things you haven’t seen in any other movies.  For instance, in “Blood and Gold” the death of Starnfeld (do I really need a spoiler alert here?) is one I have not seen in the hundreds of movies I have reviewed.  I love it when I get to see something I have never seen before.  I don’t think I’ve seen a heroine fire a panzerfaust at a church either.  Since I have brought up Tarantino, I have to say that nothing happens in this movie as outrageous as the theater scene in “Inglourious Basterds”.  That’s a compliment. There are many war movie buffs that will probably prefer this movie to IB.

            If you are in the mood for an entertaining little movie with great characters and some nicely done action set pieces, you could do a lot worse than “Blood and Gold”.  I’m not saying your significant other will like it, but it does have strong females. And although the violence is R-rated, the production did not use buckets of blood.  The body count is high, but you don’t get piles of bodies.  The movie is not afraid of killing off heroes and heroines.  Don’t bet on any of the SS surviving.  And it wraps up with a feel-good ending.  (Did I need a spoiler alert for that, too?)


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