Partizani / Hell River
Rod Taylor plays Marko, a leader in the partisan forces (Partizani) that
opposed the Nazis in Yugoslavia during WWII.
There are several versions and
titles for this project. The director, Stole Jankovic, started it as "Partizani," a
three-hour production for Yugoslavian television. It was later
condensed to a feature-length version known as "Tactical Guerilla"
and "The Last Guerilla." The U.S. home video edition is titled "Hell
The movie was shot on location in Yugoslavia with a significant
amount of editing and post-production happening in Rod Taylor's
garage in Beverly Hills.
It's based on a true story, and history reveals that it's a story
worth telling: In April 1941, Yugoslavia was overwhelmed by the
German blitz, and the army surrendered. But the Yugoslavian
partisans -- a formidable guerilla force -- fought on. Hitler's rage
against the partisans resulted in Operation Punishment, a brutal
campaign that targeted Yugoslav civilians. The German army
took plenty of punishment in return, from the stalwart partisans.
The film doesn't tell the story all that well, but it
does give a sense of the overwhelming odds the partisans faced. Explosions,
guns and tanks abound amid bleak conditions.
Marko, the character that Rod plays, is a Yugoslav-born, U.S.-educated man
who graduates from the University of California and returns to his homeland
only to learn of the horrors being perpetrated by a man named Hitler. Marko
decides to stay and fight alongside the guerillas against the Nazis. (Rod was 44
at the time of the filming -- much older than the character he played.)
Also in the cast is:
Adam West, the 1960s TV "Batman." He plays Kurt Kohler,
an Austrian man who is a reluctant German soldier. He becomes
Marko's rival in love and war as they face each other in battle
and vie for the affections of the lovely Anna Kleitz (played by Xenia Gratsos, who is also known as Brioni Farrell).
Peter Carsten, who co-starred with Rod in "Dark
of the Sun." He plays a Nazi again, Colonel Henke.
The film also had "the whole Yugoslavian army" at its
disposal, according to Rod, plus 10,000
"extras" from the towns and villages where filming was
"Most of the time we were billeted in army barracks high in the
mountains, sometimes in weather 30 below zero." Rod said about the
location shooting. "Our nightlife was being invited to dinner by the
farmers who would roast us a pig in a brick oven and share their
bread and booze with us."
TENNIS AND TRAGEDY
Rod's biographer, Stephen Vagg, has an excellent account of the
film in "Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood." The three pages
devoted to "Partizani" are packed with colorful details about the production,
the politics, the people, and the personal tragedy that occurred
during filming. (Go read it!)
Director Stole Jankovic originally intended to make "Partizani" for
Yugoslavia television. Jankovic actually had joined the partisans in
1941 and later became a member of the Communist Party under the Tito
The idea to make it into a feature film came from Ika Panajotovic, a one-time Yugoslavian
tennis champion who had moved to the U.S. and worked in law and film production. Panajotovic, in turn had a connection to Rod -- the
two men played tennis together. He
got Rod to come aboard the project, giving the project a lead actor
who was still a "saleable commodity."
Filming started November 1973 and continued much longer than
scheduled. Tragedy struck on March 5, 1974. Fred Hakim, one of Rod's
closest friends and associates, crashed his car while driving en
route to a mountainous night-time shooting location. Rod was deeply affected by the death of
a man who was very much like a brother.
Rod dove even harder to work on the project. He called in
Michael Economou, film editor from "The Deadly Trackers," to supervise
post-production. Rod converted his
garage into an editing room and poured in more of his own money to fund it.
Rod even wrote an additional scene for the film, which was shot on
a ranch outside Los Angeles. It's a romantic interlude in which
Marko assures Anna that the fighting can't last forever and that
"Hitler will run out of Germans sooner or later."
Much has been made of Quentin Tarantino helping to elevate "Dark
of the Sun" to cult status.
"Partizani" can bask in that glow as well.
The two movies made up a double feature during Quentin Tarantino's
March Madness event in 2011. They were screened on Rod Taylor Night
at Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.
The blog site
Schofizzy.com has an extensive overview of the double
feature and notes that Tarantino's personal print of "Partizani" was
"The film really is a lengthy showcase of Taylor," the blogger
wrote. "Fans of him are sure to be satisfied with his hunky
performance as the Partisan soldier, but those seeking an
action-packed war thriller could walk away a bit disappointed."
The writer summed up the film as "a thoughtful take on the
Yugoslavian plight during WWII mixed with a love story."
Fred Hakim with Rod
March Madness, 2011