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The Hell With Heroes (1968)

Rod Taylor plays Brynie MacKay, a war hero turned cynical pilot-of-fortune in this action-romance based in North Africa just after WWII.

Brynie and his partner, Mike Brewer (Peter Deuel), are former ace flyboys adventuring in an Africa that's in its last throes of anti-colonialist turmoil. The idealistic Mike and the cynical Brynie live an uncomplicated life, running an air-freight company in North Africa. They spend long days on the beach, and their nights are filled with nightclubs and belly dancers.

Trouble starts after they accept an ill-advised job to transport goods for black-marketeer Lee Harris (Harry Guardino).

After being framed by Harris for transporting drugs, Brynie's plane is impounded. He cuts a deal with Harris to get the plane back, but it involves flying more crooked missions. On one of the missions, Harris kills Mike, bringing violence and emotion to a head. Kevin McCarthy, a repeated co-star of Rod's, plays an Army intelligence officer.

Amid the danger, Brynie begins an affair with Elana (Claudia Cardinale), the bad guy's mistress. The bond between Brynie and Elana goes well beyond their physical attraction -- even though there's plenty of that.

Brynie and Elena are both damaged souls, courtesy of the war. The scenes between Cardinale and Taylor are beautifully crafted and well-acted, conveying the complicated nature of their relationship.

The movie was directed by Joseph Sargent, whose distinguished career featured extensive work in television (he won four Emmys). Prior to "The Hell with Heroes," his movie directing experience had involved two films that grew out of  episodes of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Later, Sargent would earn acclaim on the big screen with "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" and disdain because of "Jaws: The Revenge" (aka "Jaws 4").

Also notable is that the film score was composed by Quincy Jones, along with the song "Where There is Love" that closes the movie.

"The Hell with Heroes" garnered lukewarm reviews and very little money at the box office.

A reviewer in the Fort Lauderdale News captured its positive qualities (Sept. 19, 1968):

"The Hell With Heroes" starts out as an ordinary little adventure piece, but picks up interest as it moves rather rapidly into the sterner drama of a man's inner conflict. ... It combines a very personal story with some suspenseful action, and Rod Taylor proves once again that he is superior to his material.

The plot is pulp-fiction good guys and bad guys material, but Taylor is a much more sensitive and feeling actor than his scripts usually foretell. ... Few actors today can match Taylor's virility and talent.

The movie has never had a release on any form of home video. Here's a recording from a long-ago TV broadcast:

BEHIND THE SCENES

In her book "Have Belly, Will Travel," actress and belly dancer Tanya Lemani has a chapter about her experiences on the set of "The Hell With Heroes."

She writes of one amusing tale of filming her beach scene with Rod Taylor. She also writes about her disturbing treatment by actor Harry Guardino -- a tale in which Rod Taylor is the hero.

First, the beach scene:

Rod and Tanya had an early morning shoot on the beach in Ventura County (standing in for North Africa). It's a sexy scene, but was challenging because the ocean was cold and rough.

Tanya wrote:

As I was seemingly enjoying the water, Rod Taylor was to come up and join me and we were to start our dialogue. The scene started with me splashing in the water as Rod Taylor was standing and looking down at me. Every time I would start my dialogue, a wave would break and I would get drenched. It was okay for Rod Taylor because he could avoid the waves by standing in this scene. I was cold and wet and my teeth were chattering so loudly that I couldnít even pronounce the words that I was to speak.

Tanya was getting mad, so she decided to get even.

I started to pull Rod Taylor down to me in the scene. He fell for it and came right into the water with me. The scene was perfect. But from the corner of my eye, I saw a big wave approaching. I waited to the last second before the wave broke, still luring Rod Taylor closer to me, and then without warning I jumped, leaving him to get swallowed by the wave.

The plan worked. The crew pulled Rod out of the water to warm him up. "They didnít care if I was freezing to death all this time," Tanya explained. "But, if they had to warm Rod, then they were forced to get me warm as well!"

Later that day, Tanya was enjoying a chat with Rod and other members of the cast when Harry Guardino showed up. All during the shoot, he had been a constant source of harassment, heaping abuse on her at every turn.

This time, he started hurling vulgarities and then tried to force her to go to his trailer.

Tanya described what happened next:

He was yelling [obscene things] at the top of his lungs and even started to push me. Out of nowhere, Rod Taylor stepped in and grabbed him by his collar and spoke almost in a whisper.

"Listen to me, buddy! And listen good 'cause I'm not going to repeat myself! You leave her alone! And if you don't, you'll have to answer to me! Do you hear me?" Rod Taylor kept looking right into Harry's eyes. He looked so powerful that Harry backed away and like a little mouse walked away saying, "I hear you man, I hear you."

Rod Taylor, my hero! ... Later, everyone kept saying how great it was that someone was able to stand up to this obnoxious man.

Relieved, Tanya went to her hotel room to go over her lines for the next day. She intended to order dinner in, but her phone rang. An actor wanted her to go to dinner. She declined. Then Peter Deuel called. He invited her to dinner. She said no.

Then the director of photography called. "He kept telling me how he enjoys viewing me through the lens and how much I looked like Sophia Loren," Tanya wrote. He invited her to dinner. She declined.

When the phone rang again, the caller said...

"I hope he's not going to bother you again, but if he does, let me know." It was my hero's voice, Rod Taylor. I was excited that he took time to call me. I was wondering if he too would invite me for dinner. He did not. We talked for a little while and that was all.

The next call was from the director, Joseph Sargent. He asked her to dinner. She went, but I get the feeling she wish she hadn't.

 

 

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LINKS

IMDb // Wikipedia

Pressbook items (PDF)

Two reviews (PDF)

Turner Classic Movies

The Hell with Heroes, in narrative form (Screen Stories, September 1968) at the Alias Smith & Jones Collection

Tanya Lemani site

 

VIEWER'S GUIDE

Never released on VHS or DVD. Recordings of it are from TV airings decades ago.

Entire movie at:

Rod Taylor Site's Vimeo

Pete Duel Memorial Site

         
   

www.rodtaylorsite.com