TORNADO (1983) Corrupt Captain and well liked Sgt. Maggio struggle for control of a platoon in 'Nam.

tornado_betaboxTheme Song:

“Holdin’ On” by Unknown. I couldn’t get a songwriting credit on this one. Regardless, it’s totally out of place.

Interesting Dated References: Vietnam, actual wars that had actual fighting instead of just button pushing.

Best Line: “You do your job and I’ll do mine. That way we’re all clean when payday rolls around.”

Social Context: Somewhere in the first drafts of this script there was a loosely formed anti-war movie, which they then padded with action sequences. As a result, the scenes and speeches in the movie that give it the anti-war slant really seem crowbarred in. Every time a character goes into an anti-war speech, all the action stops.

Summary: Tornado opens like all Vietnam War movies: With a bunch of dudes in a helicopter. Only these dudes are all pretty clean-shaven and their clothes look really new. The only three people of note in the helicopter are Sgt. Maggio (the guy all the soldiers like), the Captain (the power hungry guy in charge who is trying to look good to the brass), and Tom (the soon-to-be-wounded soldier who was about to become a gymnastics champion). They land, Maggio and Captain argue about sending the men in to a dangerous situation, Captain wins, so they proceed to torch some type of village where Tom the Injured Soldier consequently gets injured. Captain orders him left behind and they all run off to get “choppered out.” Maggio stays behind to pick up Tom the Injured Soldier, while Captain orders the chopper to take off, thereby leaving Maggio and Tom the Injured Soldier stranded.

The single greatest cinematic innovation since the 70s is cameras that can film in low light. Say what you want about computers, but the absence of day-for-night shots in film has greatly increased the enjoyment of films for me. I hate it when you can tell it’s daylight out and they just put a dark filter over the camera. So when they did that for 10 minutes in Tornado, I was upset. I need not even mention that the shitty Betamax tape doesn’t really hold onto any detail either, so you just wind up staring at a black screen for 10 minutes. But if I had to guess what I was watching, I would say it was Maggio escaping with Tom the Injured Soldier, killing a few people, and then hijacking a raft. Maggio rafts right back up to the army base and is upheld as a hero. This army base seems to have pretty low security. In fact, all that happened when Maggio first came into the sight line of the guard is him saying, “There’s two people in a raft,” and then they stood there until said raft was within 5 feet so they could see who it was. That’s real safe.

Meanwhile, the other subplot about a roving reporter starts. The reporter is convinced the Captain is a power hungry megalomaniac sending soldiers to their death in the name of his good image. Maggio doesn’t want to seem like a bitch, so he avoids the reporter, even though he shares the same sentiments. This is made clear when he argues with the Captain. Luckily they are taking the time to make all this stuff really clear so anyone can follow along.

Okay, so the action continues as Maggio goes and gathers a bunch of super drunken army dudes up at the bar. He tells them poor Tom the Injured Soldier will never become the gymnastics champion he wanted to be because they cut off his leg. All the dudes are bummed out so they buy a really obvious booby trap from a small Vietnamese boy. They are also sure to hold it really close to their face so when it blows up it hurts one of them. Then they all go to the hospital so they can act non-drunk all of a sudden. Peppered in here is more of the reporter asking other top brass if the Captain is insane.

For some reason, the next scene is another action sequence. Not only that, but the sound editor just kept using the exact same swooping helicopter noise over and over. I think they even kept repeating the same footage. This movie was directed by Italian powerhouse Antonio Margheriti. Margheriti was one of those directors who churned out a million fucking Italian movies in the 80s. Through some strange distribution deal, almost all of these films were released worldwide under several different titles. A good look at his track record reveals that almost every movie he did had a minimum of two different titles. Margheriti made several Vietnam flicks and Tornado was the last. I’ve read that many of the explosions and stuff were all leftover footage from the superior The Last Hunter, which I will probably get around to reviewing in eight years.

The fight ends and the reporter talks with Tom the Injured Soldier who just drones on and on about how he will never be in the gymnastics again. When Maggio lands, the reporter abandons the obviously distraught Tom the Injured Soldier. Sure enough, Tom the Injured Soldier kills himself. This enrages Maggio so he gets in a fistfight with the Captain and is court martialed. During his ride in the court martial jeep, a firefight occurs and Maggio escapes, runs into the jungle, and removes a piece of shrapnel from his arm, which is both hilariously graphic and poorly edited. Then the Viet Cong takes him prisoner where he gets rats thrown on him, is burned with cigarettes, and has to float in pig shit. Eventually he escapes. But it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for our hero Sgt. Maggio, as the Captain decides to launch an all-out manhunt for him. All the while the reporter meddles and asks questions. It is worth pointing out at one point the reporter and the Captain are talking and a radio is playing what is clearly some shitty stock new wave song made in 1982.

This chase goes on for awhile, people are killed, and eventually, at the Vietnam/Cambodia border, there is a big showdown. Maggio and the Captain have a fistfight and then the Captain gets tied to the front of an army jeep to act as a human shield, since Maggio figures no one wants to shoot the Captain. Apparently all the soldiers are sympathetic and let Maggio through so he can get to Cambodia. Once there, Maggio stops the car, gives the injured Captain an extremely banal lecture about freedom and war and stuff, and then grabs the nearest Cambodian woman and walks into the sunset. Half way into the sunset Maggio is shot and killed. They don’t really pin it on anyone, which probably would piss most people off, but actually made the movie a little better. Any points it gained by this fatalistic ending were eliminated when out of nowhere a bad 80s movie song started.

Poster and Box Art: I think everyone clearly understands how important First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part 2 were to the movie industry. The first movie is an intimate psychological portrait whereas the sequel is mindless action schlock, but it’s relevant to note both of these films spawned a whole genre of mindless action schlock, most of it relegated to foreign markets. I don’t know exact figures, but I would bet there were at least a dozen First Blood imitators coming out of Italy alone, and they all had the same poster: Muscular dude, large gun that didn’t actually appear in movie, some type of spotlight in background. I swear to you they all looked exactly like this (see above). They’re all awesome. At one point Tornado was marketed under the name Last Blood. I searched and searched but couldn’t find any art for that title, though.

Availability: I didn’t even see any used VHS on eBay, but searching for a movie with a name like Tornado is going to be hard anyway.

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