After directing a string of accomplished but mostly anonymous spaghetti westerns, action specialist Enzo G. Castellari leaped forward with one of his most ambitious, large-scale efforts, a sprawling World War II adventure designed to compete with the likes of popcorn films like The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape. Obviously the star power and effects budget are considerably more modest here, but Castellari pulls off a string of impressively massive scenes involving vast military maneuvers and ambitious split screen effects. Most of the actors walk through their paces professionally enough (only accomplished pros Rabal and Pistlli really get a few moments to shine), but war film fans will enjoy the twisting plot and many combat scenes involving jeeps and dogfighting planes. Much of the last reel is hampered by reliance on some pretty awful scratchy stock footage, but otherwise it's a solid, efficient, enjoyable film that lays the groundwork for Castellari's more famous '70s spin on WWII, The Inglorious Bastards, which also features a militaristic score by Francesco De Masi whose origins can also be found here.
Released in Italy as La battaglia d'Inghliterra, this was one of numerous films made with assistance from United Artists who had made a cottage industry of bringing Italian genre films to English-speaking audiences, such as Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. For various reasons this film broke very widely outside of Europe, eventually getting dumped in the U.S. by Cineglobe and receiving only a few sparse TV airings. Severin's release on both DVD and Blu-Ray offers the first chance many viewers will ever have to see the film outside of a repertory screening, and a fine presentation it is once you take in account the patchwork methods used in its creation. Various scenes involving opticals (the main and closing titles, the split screens, some rear projection) look ragged and a bit grainy, of course, but the vast majority of the film looks just fine and is thankfully accurately presented in its original scope aspect ratio, which is absolutely essential to understanding what's going on in almost every scene. The only option is the original English audio track, which is fine considering that's the only one featuring the real voices of many of the main leads. Of course, the added clarity of the Blu-Ray will also drive WWII purists made as the often incongrous Italian locations, extras and costumes are only more obvious, but for pasta cinema fans, that just adds to the fun. Extras here include the second half of an impassioned discussion between Castellari and a very caffeinated Quentin Tarantino (part one can be found on Severin's Inglorious Bastards release), while both men also appear for an in-person screening at the New Beverly in Los Angeles following a screening of the film. The original theatrical trailer and a short deleted scene from the German print (with subtitles) are also included and, on the Blu-Ray, are also retained in full HD. Certainly one of the more surprising titles to debut on the format to date, this should be enough to convert fans of Euro cinema who haven't made the leap to BD to do so now.