The Quick and the Dead
Cast & Crew
Larry D. Mann
In the last days of the German occupation of Italy during World War II, an American patrol led by Lieutenant Rogers receives orders to destroy a hidden Nazi ammunition dump in northern Italy. After suffering many casualties, the men are captured by the Germans. Maria and Teresa, two Italian partisans, join the Americans, and during an air raid the group escapes. Two of the Americans locate the Nazi ammunition supply and destroy it before they are killed, while the women lead the rest of the group to a partisan hideout. Only two Americans and one of the women survive the trip back to American lines.
Larry D. Mann
The Quick and the Dead
The Quick and the Dead, made in 1963, was made on a limited budget by writer and director Robert Totten, who worked in television and wanted to do his own war movie but didn't have major studio backing to get the job done. He doubled up on duties (subbing as the art director under the credit "O.R.C. Totten," a credit never seen again outside of this movie) and had the editor Marvin Walowitz cut the movie off the union grid as "Welles Ford" (mistakenly listed as "Weber Ford" on IMDB). Three guesses how he came up with that pseudonym. Sadly, the rest of the credits isn't filled with such names as "Keaton Chaplin," "Fellini Hitchcock," or "Bergman Kurosawa." Still, you've got to give Totten credit (no pun intended), he put together a war movie on an extremely limited budget that, in the end, comes off as more realistic and grittier than almost every big budget war movie of the period.
For starters, the soldiers in The Quick and the Dead look dirty, worn out, and battered. Their landscapes are monotonous yet filled with danger. When two of them step on mines and blow themselves up, the Lieutenant quickly assesses the situation, noting they're only about ten feet in, and tells his men to turn around in the footprints they made, secure their helmets, strap their guns over their shoulders, and beginning searching for mines. How they do that is to slide their knives into the ground horizontally, so that if they hit a mine, it will be on its side, not top, and won't explode. They have to do this for several feet to make sure their path is clear and the entire scene is tense, unnerving, and remarkably effective. One of the soldiers finds a mine and panics. He doesn't die but does break down crying and two other soldiers have to come get him. The men don't treat him any differently for this and comfort him as much as they can. It's a movie that recognizes the humanity of its soldiers and dispenses with any John Wayne hero tropes.
Two of the leads, Larry Mann and Jon Cedar, had long and successful careers on television for several decades. Neither became a star but both would be recognizable to anyone familiar with the television shows of the time. The third lead, Victor French, became quite famous on television, especially in the seventies as one of the cast members of the popular show Little House on the Prairie. He would work with that show's star, Michael Landon, again on another hit show, Highway to Heaven. And even though he wasn't listed among the regulars, he managed to play different roles over twenty times on Gunsmoke. His father, Ted French, was a longtime Hollywood stuntman and has a small role in The Quick and the Dead with his son.
Playing one of a pair of Italian sisters the patrol picks up is Majel Barrett who would become famous to science fiction fans the world over as one of Star Trek's most important cast members. First, she was cast in the pilot for the show as the First Officer before a second pilot was shot replacing her with Leonard Nimoy's Spock. However, she stayed on as Nurse Chapel with the original crew and as the voice of the computer through every incarnation of the show and its movies from that point forward. She also appeared as Lwaxana Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation. She was married to Gene Roddenberry, who had created the Trek universe, and remained with the show's extended series after Roddenberry's death.
The Quick and the Dead is the kind of movie that receives no fanfare upon release but looks a lot better in retrospect. Its low-budget production gives the movie a far more realistic, less dated look than many of its war movie counterparts in the surrounding years. With just a little bit more to work with, this could have been something really great. As it is, it's still pretty damn good.
Director: Robert Totten
Producer: Sam Altonian
Writers: Sheila Lynch, Robert Totten
Music: Jaime Mendoza-Nava
Director of Photography: John Arthur Morrill
Film Editor: Welles Ford, aka Marvin Walowitz
Art Director: O.R.C. Totten
Cast: Larry D. Mann (Parker), Victor French (Milo Riley), Jon Cedar (Lt. Rogers), James Almanzar (Giorgio), Louis Massad (Donatelli), Majel Barrett (Teresa), Sandy Donigan (Maria)
By Greg Ferrara