Monday 12 August 2019

Movie Review: Bengazi (1955)

A clunky treasure hunt for buried gold combined with a romantic triangle all set in a desert milieu, Bengazi is derivative bottom-of-the-barrel adventurism.

In the Libyan town of Bengazi, surrounded by desert, Inspector Levering (Richard Carlson) represents law and order. He starts to investigate the mysterious theft of a heavy duty transport lorry equipped with a machine gun from a British Army compound, and his suspicions rest on John Gillmore (Richard Conte), a shady businessman and the partner of the jovial Robert Donovan (Victor McLaglan) in running the local canteena.

Gillmore intends to join forces with hardhead ex-convict Selby (Richard Erdman), who claims to know the whereabouts of a gold treasure buried in the desert. Donovan gets in on the deal, but the treasure hunt plans are threatened by the sudden arrival of Donovan's estranged daughter Aileen (Mala Powers), looking to reconnect with her Dad. Both Levering and Gillmore are quickly entranced by the new arrival and make advances to win her heart.

Driven by greed, Gillmore, Selby and Donovan use the stolen lorry and make their way into the desert towards the ruins of a mosque where the treasure may be buried, but then find themselves besieged by hostile tribesmen.

A no-budget remix of Casablanca and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre directed by John Brahm for RKO Radio Pictures, Bengazi is beset by bargain basement production values and fails at everything it tries to do. Any ambitions to combine a plot about greed with a sweaty romantic triangle are quickly thwarted by derivative and unimaginative scripting and barely enough ideas to occupy the paltry 79 minutes of running time.

Most of the ponderous action takes place in the desert ruins with the main characters surrounded by unseen enemies. This makeshift compound is undefended on three sides, and all that needs to be said about the dreadful script is that the hostile forces only ever choose to attack from the fourth side which happens to be fortified with a machine gun.

Meanwhile, Richard Conte and Richard Carlson, in addition to looking too similar, struggle mightily on four fronts: crummy material, limited acting talent, undefined characters and unexplained accents. Bengazi never decides on a central character to park its loyalties with, and so Aileen appears to fall in love with both men for no reason and in next to no time, creating a most unconvincing love triangle.

The dead are buried under the stars and love flourishes amidst the corpses, but nothing saves Bengazi from being hopelessly swallowed by the shifting sand dunes.

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