JUST A DAMNED SOLDIER (1988) AND AFGHANISTAN – THE LAST WAR BUS (1989)

just a damned soldierJUST A DAMNED SOLDIER aka One Damned Soldier (1988) – Balladeer’s Blog concludes its look at all ten films of Italian cult action icon Mark Gregory, real name Marco De Gregorio. I know IMDb states that he also appeared in the made for tv movie Rainbow, but I watched that film and he’s not in it. The error seems to have been made by someone who saw the name MARY Gregory in the closing credits and, because the font for the credits is a bit stylish, mistook the y in Mary for a k.

Previously, I reviewed Mr. Gregory’s post-apocalypse movies 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape from the Bronx, plus his Thunder Warrior trilogy of Rambo imitations, his quasi-peplum Adam and Eve vs the Cannibals, and his pair of outings as an action villain in Delta Force Commando and Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission.

mark in his j hatI’ll wrap up everything by examining Mark’s final two films before he walked away from the business at age 25 in 1989, with no explanation and after having just made his highest amount of money from a movie role.

The public fascination with Mark Gregory continues due to the mystery of his following years and the sometimes contradictory information about his life. Supposedly he raised horses for a time, then became a street artist in Rome, possibly spent all his film earnings or was conned out of them, and died in 2013 from an overdose. Some sources say it was a suicide, others an accidental overdose.

mark with dead meatJust a Damned Soldier features Mark in an ensemble cast as one member of a trio of badass international mercenaries who take on any dangerous, high-paying job that comes along. Our hero, whose character is also named Mark, serves alongside Cisco (Romano Kristoff) and their boss Bert Ernst (Peter Hooten).

Those three, plus their fourth, soon-to-die comrade that I’ll call Dead Meat for a Hot Shots joke, kick off the movie in style with a guns-blazing raid on an industrial compound in Cambodia. The quartet shoots and explodes their way to victory, overcoming dozens of armed soldiers in scenes that live up to the standard joke about 1980s action flicks – “Page One of the script says ‘The good guys open fire’ and Page Two says ‘The End.'”

Mark and his colleagues look typically badass while killing bad guys, stealing tons of gold from the facility, then escaping to a nearby hideout to have the booty flown out of the country. After high fives and similar gestures all around, our main characters escape in a ground vehicle.

We viewers are now shown a sprawling yacht on which the mercenary leader, Bert (Hooten), meets with the client who paid for the gold caper. That client is a wealthy, elderly Muslim man who identifies himself as part of the Afghani government in exile following the Soviet invasion of several years earlier. The gold will help pay for arms against the Russians.

j a d sThe Afghani pays Bert, affectionately nicknamed “the Kraut” and we see that Hooten’s character gives most of the money to his comrades, Mark, Cisco and Dead Meat. Bert is largely in the business just to strike as often as possible at the global interests of international tycoon Andrew Teitelman (Benito Stefanelli), the owner of the complex from which the gold was stolen.

Teitelman lives secretly in Cambodia, from where he runs his global arms and drug empire. Bert Ernst’s wife was living in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union invaded, and she was killed in the first few days by weapons & military hardware provided to the Russians by Teitelman. Since then, our mercenaries have been making the tycoon play E.H. Harriman to their Hole in the Wall Gang.

As for Andrew Teitelman himself, he recognizes the handiwork of our bold quartet and resolves to kill them after recovering the gold. For starters, he has his goons bump off some of our heroes’ support staff of pilots, drivers, etc.

Elsewhere, in the Asian hotspots, Mark, Cisco and Dead Meat party with booze and ladies while their leader Bert enjoys domestic bliss with his new Vietnamese wife. Teitelman pays a sexy woman to lure Dead Meat away from his buddies, then has him killed slowly while interrogating him about the stolen bullion.

Dead Meat refuses to talk and his corpse is left for Mark and Cisco to find, bloodied and wrapped in a banner that reads “Where is the gold?” Mark and Cisco race to Bert’s isolated and unassuming home to warn him that Teitelman is closing in.

mark with a gun dThey arrive just as more of Teitelman’s thugs are attacking Bert’s place. In another well-rendered firefight, Mark, Cisco and their leader kill all the bad guys, but Bert’s wife was slain during the battle.

After appropriate memorial and burial ceremonies for Dead Meat and the slain wife our heroic trio launch their counterattack on Andrew Teitelman and his virtual army. Amid much shooting, bombing and punching, they eventually abduct their foe’s trophy babe, played by Christine Leigh.

SPOILERS: Teitelman refuses to bargain for her life and tells Mark & company to keep her. The infuriated woman joins forces with our mercenaries and helps them the rest of the way. She and the mourning Bert develop feelings for each other, despite the tendency of his women to get killed off.

just a damned soldier fightEverything culminates in a wild, balls to the wall assault on Teitelman’s fortress, featuring all the firearms, tanks, bombs and flamethrowers you could ever want. Seriously, this climactic action sequence takes up a lot of time and dwarfs even those from Cannon films with Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson.

Teitelman is killed, as are about a hundred of his soldiers, Peter Hooten and Christine Leigh become a couple, and Mark & Cisco bask manfully in their merry little band’s victory.

Most of the dramatic burden in Just a Damned Soldier is on Peter Hooten’s character Bert Ernst, so Mark Gregory gets to steal scenes and shine like a visiting uncle as a thoroughly cool fighting man who loves his dangerous work.

afghanistan the last war busAFGHANISTAN – THE LAST WAR BUS aka War Bus Commando (1989) – This film is also known under titles like War Bus II and, my personal favorite, Afghanistan Connection. But I feel that Mission: Afghanistan would have been even more appropriate.

It was the last go-’round for our pal Mark Gregory as he left the industry at his highest pay level and arguably his best overall film role, but not necessarily film. Mark IS Johnny Hondo, a former Green Beret who is now one of those fictional one-man army types that action cinema is always full of. He’s the man the army calls in for the jobs that can’t be done, etc. You know the cliches.

mark g picThe movie starts with Johnny Hondo rappelling down a mountain in Afghanistan to attack a Soviet stronghold. Our hero’s mission is to rescue a CIA man who has been captured and tortured to try forcing him into a confession that the U.S. is more active in the anti-Soviet resistance than the world suspects.

We get several well-done scenes of Johnny shooting and exploding his way through this daring venture and coordinating with a helicopter to extricate himself and the CIA man. All of this boasted very good production values and put me in mind of Will Jordan’s Ryan Drake novels.   

john vernon as ken rossNext, we join Johnny Hondo riding horses on his ranch back in the U.S. – accompanied by cartoonish banjo music. John Vernon himself plays General Ken Ross, who has come to visit our hero. Both Mark AND John are dubbed into English by different people, so we don’t get to hear either of their real voices in this flick.

Ross informs Johnny that his father is on his deathbed in the hospital. Hondo dons his uniform and pays a visit to his father, who begs Johnny to accept the mission that Ross is about to offer him. It will mean certain death, but just undertaking the mission will somehow restore Papa Hondo’s military honor. (Thanks, Dad!)

Naturally, Johnny takes the assignment and gets briefed by the general. After the fall of the Shah of Iran’s government long ago, our hero’s father was assigned to get several hundred pounds of top-secret documents out of the country so that they would not fall into the hands of America’s enemies.

afganistan the last war bus titlePapa Hondo commandeered and converted a school bus for the purpose and drove it into northern Afghanistan. The cover worked and the seemingly normal bus surreptitiously traveled hundreds of miles but then caught the attention of hostile Afghanis and the Soviets.

The elder Hondo and his men successfully hid the bus away and tried to flee the country. Hondo made it, but his three subordinates were captured and have been held prisoner by an Afghani warlord for years. The failure of Johnny’s father to get the documents AND his men back to America has been a stain on his “military honor” ever since.     

After years of trying to locate the bus, U.S. spy satellites have finally detected it in a particularly war-torn section of Afghanistan. Hondo’s job will be to covertly enter Afghanistan, free the three men who were captured while his father escaped, and repair the bus in question well enough to get it and the documents secreted in its frame across the Pakistan border and safety (sort of).

saviAt a covert safe house in Pakistan, Johnny and Ross rendezvous with the rest of Ross’ team, including the sultry Savina Gersak as Linda Cain. Needless to say, Linda is smitten with Johnny and will fret over his safety in the days ahead.

Hondo parachutes into Afghanistan, carrying a virtual arsenal in a suitcase. He fights his way through Soviet soldiers, tanks and aircraft in the usual fun but unrealistic way of movies like this. Our hero eventually links up with a pair of Afghani Muslim children – a teenage sister and brother who know where the three soldiers who served under Johnny’s father are being held captive.

mark in afghaThe trio are in the custody of a mad Afghani hill chief who makes war on both the Soviets AND his fellow Afghanis. Hondo frees them, including Captain Bowie (Mario Novelli) and a black mechanic (Bobby Rhodes). Our heroes locate the bus and proceed to overhaul it, including armored plating inside, and military-issue run flat tires, all scavenged from damaged vehicles in the war-torn region.

SPOILERS: When ready, the group sets off for the border with Pakistan. In a series of action set pieces which range from impressive to silly, Johnny and company fight their way to Pakistan through the Soviet army while periodically raiding Russian installations for gasoline and other supplies.

Hondo faces treachery from the men he saved when they reveal that the bus NEVER contained vital documents, but a large share of the fallen Shah’s gold. Ross is running this operation without U.S. government approval, just to get the gold. At the border, the latest units of Soviet troops attack the War Bus.

last war busThe treacherous trio die, but Johnny and the Afghani teen boy are saved by the arrival of Ross and Linda. (The boy’s sister was killed earlier in the film.) The gold gets blown to bits in the final battle with the Russian army, but Ross stoically accepts it and flees with our heroes as Johnny and Linda are clearly going to oink and boink. 

And so ended the film career of the enigmatic Mark Gregory aka Marco De Gregorio. He was no up and coming superstar or anything, but he had a certain screen presence, which, combined with his tragic, mysterious fate earned him an undying fan following.

mark gregory face shotI often wonder how this young man would have done as the Apache Kid in an ultra-violent revival of the old Spaghetti Western format, or as Conan the Barbarian in Red Nails. In the 90s, studios might have even used his exotic look and chiseled physique to try casting him as Sinbad.

I could even picture unlikely scenarios in which the eccentric Mr. Gregory, after leaving behind Italian films, wound up accepting a token fee to play the hero in the first El Mariachi movie in 1992. And from there? How about if that low-budget film’s success landed him the lead in 1993’s The Crow?

All of that may sound nearly impossible, but so does the tale of a 17-year-old kid in Rome starring in ten action flicks by age 25 and then leaving it all behind.     

FOR MORE BAD AND WEIRD MOVIES CLICK HERE.

Advertisement

6 Comments

Filed under Bad and weird movies

6 responses to “JUST A DAMNED SOLDIER (1988) AND AFGHANISTAN – THE LAST WAR BUS (1989)

  1. a great movie I really like it

  2. Sound like good movies. I’m always on the hunt for those.

  3. Takes me back to the video rental days. Has no one made a documentary about this guy, his personal story is the best of all?

    • They have not made one as yet, I’m afraid. Hell, some sites have reviews of his movies that still ask the question whatever happened to him, because it was years before his death was even known.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s