Overrun is a 1969 film directed by Mario Siciliano, part of the short live trend for Italian made second world war movies that came in the wake of The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare. Many of these films had a desert setting, unsurprising given the Italian involvement in the North African part of the conflict. Of course, it was also suited shooting in Almeria or Egypt, both of which were cheap and welcoming locations which had – in the case of the former at least – already been well exploited by the Spaghetti Westerns.
After a battle with the Germans, courageous Lt. Crossland (Ivan Rassimov), mechanical expert Sgt. Kerr (Giuseppe Castellano) and ex-Olympian Cprl. MacGregor (Kirk Morris) manage to escape into the desert, aiming to reach allied lines and safety. Along the way they pick up a handful of other stragglers (a professor of philosophy who is not a Captain in the logistics division, Captain Leighton (Aldo Bufi Landi), three attractive ladies marooned after being caught in a sandstorm, a German prisoner (Jessy Maxwell)), but the whole area is riddled with German troops. everything comes to a climax with the characters holed up in a deserted fort, running out of supplies and under attack from (yet) another tank battalion.
This is a slightly peculiar film, with a similar scenario to other Italian desert war films (Desert Battle, Heroes without Glory) but it has a curiously dreamlike ambiance. The plot is rather aimless: Crossland and the other wander through the desert, encountering various dangers and curious characters, some of which border on the surreal (a land rover covered by sand with the ladies trapped inside, a posse of Bedouin), some of which are simply rather silly. The Germans appear occasionally, busying things along whenever there’s a lull in the action, and there are frequent references to half-forgotten memories (everyone is constantly trying to remember why they recognise MacGregor, one of the ladies is an ex-singer who is wrongly convinced everyone knows who she is). It shouldn’t really work, but somehow I found myself being drawn in by it, carried along by it’s mixture of Ice Cold in Alex and El Topo.
It also benefits from decent cinematography from regular Siciliano collaborator Gino Santini and surprisingly good characterization, quite unexpected in the context. Crossland is far from a standard war film hero, a career soldier whose inflexible follow-the-rules approach constantly puts his colleagues at risk; Leighton, who starts out as a privileged coward, gradually becomes the most sympathetic character, and even standard victims like Kerr and MacGregor are given a bit more colour than usual.
Siciliano was one of the most fascinating characters working in Italian cinema during the sixties and seventies. A producer turned director, his career followed a similar trajectory to Aristide Massaccesi (aka Joe D’Amato), ending up as one of the pioneers of hardcore cinema in the country. He had a lot more talent than Massaccesi, though, and even if his films aren’t classics of their types they’re generally well-constructed and interesting (until the pornographic stage, where things went rapidly downhill). He made another war film, Seven Red Berets, at much the same time and with many of the same cast members.