A Yank in Libya (1942)
Continuing my recent series on obscure American war movies, today I will be reviewing 1942's A Yank in Libya. This film, set in WWII North Africa and staring a bunch of low-rent actors, is fairly typical of the patriotic B-movies churned out by the hundreds during the war years.
A Yank In Libya hit screens in America on July 24, 1942, and was released on DVD by Platinum Disc Corporation about 60 years later. It runs about 65 quick minutes long and is in glorious black and white. The film quality of my pan-and-scan copy, however, is rather bad, scratchy and blurry in many places. The sound is often terrible, with an annoying hum nearly drowning out the actors. I guess I can write this off to a fly-by-night company putting minimal effort into making DVDs.
A Yank in Libya was directed by Albert Herman. In the 1920s and 30s, Herman was frequently helming westerns and numerous Micky series installments, and would have an undistinguished directorial career after this movie. In our day and age where a director might make one film a year at most, Albert Herman and his contemporaries were movie factories. Between 1922 and 1942, Herman directed a whopping 150 movies! That's 7.5 movies a year for 20 years. None of the other production credits for A Yank in Libya are interesting enough to write about.
And now on to our show...
A note to start: Keep in mind the historical timeframe here. In early 1942, when this movie was filmed, the Germans were all over North Africa, battling with the British for several years. The American invasion was just being planned at the time.
The opening credits are quick and concise. The pan-and-scan here is most obvious, with half of some people's names being cropped off either side. We get our first indication here that the music director has been raiding the studio's recording library for "Middle Eastern" sounding clips. The only other thing of note is that H.B. Warner gets top billing, despite the fact that he's only on screen for a few minutes. I guess it pays to be an ageing famous star past his prime in a low-budget B-movie...
From the opening scene of Arab horsemen on a sandy ridge, we're reminded of the joys and perils of stock footage. Nearly every shot of horsemen on the move, or general city street shots, or any battle scenes, are all lifted from prior movies. While the producers made a noble effort to blend prop costumes and sets with the stock footage, it's still blatantly obvious. The stock footage is mostly 1920s quality, very grainy and often running at a slightly higher fps. The 1944 footage is much crisper and cleaner, making the transitions from new to old often distracting. I suspect that A Yank in Libya was made in about 14 days tops, with a piddly budget, so I guess I can't smack them too hard.
We quickly meet our hero, intrepid American reporter Mike Malone, running for his life. Mike Malone is played by 43-year old Walter Woolf King. An undistinguished actor, despite his large role in this film, his career credits lack any other notable roles. He's mostly known as a singer, with opera skills, no less. He's a handsome 6-foot tall man who's always well-dressed with hair greased back and mustache trimmed. As you watch this movie, you will be struck by just how much of an arrogant bastard Malone is. He barges in everywhere, throws his weight around and generally makes an ass out himself. I guess this was what leading men were supposed to act like in 1940s movies, but to me he just seems like a jerk.
Malone is running from a group of local Arab men who are intent on catching the "thief". Malone dashes into a largish desert city with the Arab horsemen in hot pursuit. Leading them are two Sheiks.
The first Sheik is well-dressed and clean shaven, clearly a very powerful and influential man. Indeed, this will prove to be Sheik David, the leader of the Arab tribe in this area. Sheik David is played by 38-year old Spanish-born actor Duncan Renaldo, best known for his work in the TV series The Cisco Kid, directed by A Yank in Libya's director, Albert Herman.
The other Arab is the evil slimy Sheik Ibrahim, with swarthy looks and black hair and a goatee. [Editor Pam: No stereotyping here, of course. None at all.]
The sheiks and their henchmen are chasing Malone because Malone apparently snuck into their desert camp and found a stash of rifles that they were hiding. Malone had the cojones to swipe one of the rifles and flee with it. We never learn what he was doing out there in the first place, but it's really not that important to the plot.
In the city, Malone randomly enters a door in a house. He finds a young American woman alone in the room, who pulls a small automatic pistol out of a drawer and demands that Malone leave. This will be our movie's heroine, Nancy Brooks, played by 27-year old Joan Woodbury. Woodbury had a fairly busy movie career, but nothing special, and is probably most notable for playing Gadra in 1964's The Time Travelers and the title role in 1945's Brenda Starr, Reporter.
She's a fairly pretty woman, I guess, but there's something about the shape of her cheeks and chin that's mannish. I know this sounds weird, but she looks a bit like Cher. She does have a nice chest, however, and several of her outfits do a good job of showing that off. In this scene, for example, she has a blouse that has a deep V down the front.
Malone tells her to hide the rifle while he escapes, he will be back for it later. Malone jumps out the window as there is a knock at the door. Nancy hides the rifle before opening the door. Hmm...awfully nice of Malone to do this. Wasn't he worried that the girl might be killed or something by the Arabs if they searched her place and found the gun? What a gentleman.
Sheiks David and Ibrahim come to Nancy's door, thinking that the thief is in there. Here we see that Sheik David "knows" Nancy. Indeed, we will later see that they are lovers. Nancy has hidden the rifle under the couch and she lies to Sheik David, telling him that no thief has come in here. The sheiks then depart.
Once they're gone, Nancy checks out the rifle. It has a metal plate on it that says it's made in Germany. Hmmm...that doesn't look like a Mauser 1898 to me, the barrel and bolt arrangement are all wrong. It looks like a civilian hunting rifle, maybe a Winchester, with a German-language plate glued on it.
I love a girl with a gun...
Sheik David heads back to the tribal lands, while Sheik Ibrahim says he will stay in the city and keep looking for the thief. Sheik Ibrahim then goes to a business in the city. This is the office of a Eastern European businessman who Ibrahim has a secret working relationship with.
The European businessman is Yussof Streyer, who, for the rest of this review, I will call him the "Czech", as he is a capitalist from Czechoslovakia. Keep in mind that in 1944, Czechoslovakia was still occupied by the German empire, so the Czech here can be thought of as a Nazi middleman. The actor plays the Czech so totally over the top German that it's often laughable. He's a terrible actor, reading his lines flatly and emphasizing words with hokey hand gestures. He's also always slipping little German sayings in like "dumkopf" and "Gott in himmel". He also wears a monocle!!!! I haven't seen that since Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes!
Here we learn that Sheik Ibrahim is second-in-command of the local Arab tribe, the same tribe that had the hidden stash of rifles. Apparently, Sheik Ibrahim is quite power-hungry and is just biding his time until he can stage a coup and take over the tribe. He's convinced that Sheik David has lost his authority by banging the white girl Nancy and by cozying up to the British. Ibrahim seems genuinely devout to the Muslim faith and seeks only to "kill the infidels", but we will have to see if that's just a cover for his own ambitions.
The Czech was the one who supplied the Mauser rifles to the Arabs. At one time, Sheik David was all for the rebellion, but since he fell in love with Nancy, he has been rather distracted. This has annoyed the Czech, who apparently has orders from Germany to incite a rebellion as soon as possible. The Czech tries to get Ibrahim to stage the coup now, before the British get wind of the rifles and strengthen their defenses. Ibrahim leaves agreeing that the time is right to take his place on top.
Back to Malone. Having given the Arabs the slip, he then heads for the British Consulate to report the news of the well-armed tribesmen. The problem is that he doesn't know where it is, so he goes out into the street to ask directions. The first person he runs into is an American living in Libya. This will turn out to be our film's odious comedy relief, Benny Sykes, played by 38-year old Harry Parke. Parke was an insanely popular radio personality, going under the cool name of "Parkyarkarkus" (try it slowly, "Park-Your-Carcass"). He's morbidly remembered for dying of a heart attack in Milton Berle's lap during a celebrity roast for Lucille Ball in 1958. His sons are the great actor Albert "Marlin in Nemo" Brooks and FREAKIN' SUPER DAVE OSBOURNE!!!!
Parkyarkarkus is playing himself, as dialogue here clearly shows that Malone knows of him. This is a neat little plot cookie, it would have been just as easy to have him play a character, but to have him play himself is indeed inventive. It reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld the standup comic playing Jerry Seinfeld the standup comic on Seinfeld. Parkyarkarkus gives Malone directions to the consulate and they agree to meet up later.
Malone finds the British consulate and has a comical bit with the secretary. The secretary is played 1,000% screaming Agador Spartacus-from-The Bird Cage-gay. I should state right here that all the British characters in this film are played quite obviously flaming gay. Why this is the case is beyond me, unless it shows a not-so-subtle homophobia and national prejudice on the part of the filmmakers.
Malone barges past the secretary and into the main office. Here he meets British Consul Herbert Forbes, a character that is played very effeminate, seriously gay and even a little senile. This weak-willed man would never have this important position in a city this close to the front line.
We learn that Malone's passport is out of date. Malone explains that he was on a ship bound for Dakar when it was sunk by a U-Boat. He says he hitched a ride on a camel and ended up in Libya. Wow, that was some long freakin' camel ride all the way across the Sahara Desert from Senegal to Libya! And yet, Malone doesn't look all that tanned and his hair sure is perfect.
The British Consul seems rather unconcerned about the rifle story. He doesn't believe Malone's story and even calls him "crazy". It's unclear if he knows already and just doesn't want Malone to know, or if he just really is clueless and doesn't care. Malone also wants to find a man named Philip Graham, but the Consul doesn't know where he is.
Malone presses him, and they both go to see Nancy. Nancy, most strangely, claims to have never seen Malone before, and to certainly not have any rifle. Malone is flustered and angered, but leaves after actually threatening to "punch her in the nose if she were a man". As he leaves, he steals the Consul's hat, which is played comically, but I'm sure would get him thrown in jail.
Hmmm...now why would Nancy have done that? She clearly is in good with the Arabs (or at least Sheik David), but then again she didn't rat out Malone when he first barged into her room and left the rifle. What's going on here?
Back in the streets, an angry Malone reconnects with Parkyarkarkus. He asks where the local info bar is and Parkyarkarkus agrees to meet him there later. Malone wants to find someplace where he can hear all the local gossip and a low-rent watering hole is the place to get it.
So Malone goes to what is essentially a sleazy bar in the bad part of town, where he gets a table. The bar is filled with a mix of Arabs and westerners, mostly off-duty British soldiers. In the bar is also Sheik Ibrahim, who notices Malone. He doesn't know that Malone is the one who took the rifle, so he only pays him scant attention.
Parkyarkarkus arrives then and he and Malone chat a bit, bantering about wine and women. Then the Czech arrives, and goes to sit with Sheik Ibrahim. Malone watches them from a distance, and they also watch him. Parkyarkarkus tells Malone about the Czech and his relationship to Sheik Ibrahim. It seems it's no secret that the Czech is into shady business deals with the Arabs.
Ok, stop. Why is this Czech allowed to stay in business? Libya is a British-controlled sphere, and England is at war with Germany, so why don't they just close up his shop and arrest him? This is war, after all, and rules of commerce take a back seat to the war effort. The whole idea that the Czech should be allowed to conduct business in this way is simply silly.
Anyway, a young girl starts doing a belly dance for the bar crowd. Her name will prove to be Haditha, who, for a belly dancer, is not a very attractive woman. I know standards of beauty vary by culture and era, but this girl is pretty chubby to be doing a sensual belly dance. Haditha jiggles and swerves around the room, enticing the Arab men, including Sheik Ibrahim. She eventually works her way to Malone, and perhaps intrigued by his rugged American manliness, she starts to do a 1940s lap dance.
Avert your eyes, infidel!
This enrages Sheik Ibrahim, who charges Malone and draws a curved dagger. In the best bit in the movie, Ibrahim tells Malone that he is an "unbelieving dog, may your father never cease to bark!". Oh, I laughed and laughed at that, even tried it on one of my friends. He didn't laugh as much. A nasty barfight ensues, quickly drawing in the entire bar as the westerners and the local Arabs start pounding on each other with gusto. The fight is stock footage from some other movie, with close-ups of our principal cast fighting extras cut in every few seconds. Wow, this fight started fast, the tension in this city between the British and the Libyans must already be thick as fog. [Editor Pam: A quick search of Wikipedia shows that the Libyans were supporting the British in return for being given their freedom once the Axis powers were defeated. The British refused to make any promises, and the Libyans, knowing that the British were by no means opposed to the idea of colonization, didn't trust them. Things probably were pretty tense.]
Malone is pulled out of the fight by a slim Englishman. This is Malone's contact, Philip Graham. In this film, Philip is played as being blindingly gay, with a very soft whispy look. He had been watching Malone since he got into town, and chose now to meet with him. Philip is a British Intelligence Agent, though not a very good one it seems, and is in tight with the Consul. It's never explained how Malone knows Philip. Did they meet before the war, did they have some sort of background? I hate moves that force us to believe that everyone knows everyone else, regardless of the situation.
They go to what I assume is Philip's apartment and Malone gets cleaned up. Philip stands way too close to Malone in several shots, and delivers several pats on the shoulder that linger too long. I also notice here that Malone is rather portly. His belt seems to be straining mightily to contain his belly and his ass looks huge. They chat a bit and then decide to go down to a club that caters to rich foreigners and the like.
So Philip and Malone go to this swanky club full of rich westerners. Here they meet Nancy, who is sitting alone waiting for someone. Malone tries to talk to her, but she totally blows him off. It's actually refreshing to see this smarmy American getting burned down by this girl.
Just then, a party of Arabs arrive. Sheik David sweeps in and Nancy rushes to his side, love stars in her eyes. We see that Sheik Ibrahim has come along with Sheik David. At the first sight of Malone, Sheik Ibrahim approaches him with dagger drawn. Malone grabs a glass decanter, holding it as a weapon. Only an admonishment from Sheik David diffuses the situation.
Sheik David and Nancy chat, and David is introduced to Malone. Philip knows David well, and seems to have a great deal of respect for him. Nancy is going horse riding with David and they soon leave. Malone is dismayed to see that Nancy would be cavorting with this Arab prince, clearly he thinks she should be giving him the lovin'. [Editor Pam: There might be some racism at work here, since at this time most Americans didn't consider Arabs to be quite "white."]
We next reconnect with Sheik Ibrahim and the Czech, back in the businessman's office. The Czech is pushing Ibrahim hard to incite the rebellion against the British. Ibrahim takes the bait.
So, Sheik Ibrahim now goes and gets the locals all riled up. He stands in a group of them, high on his soapbox. This sequence is about half stock footage, with close-ups of Ibrahim spliced in without much effort. We see Philip in the crowd, listening as Ibrahim rages against the British infidels. Hmmm...if I were Philip I might leave now, before this crowd decides to start the bloodfest with him.
Stock footage riot in Stockfootageistan.
Philip goes back to the Consul, explaining the situation brewing. They both agree that Malone is a trouble maker and they need to take "drastic measures" to keep him out of the way. What's going on here? Why are the British so unconcerned about the growing spirit of rebellion or about the guns? Where's the area's Military Governor? Surely he would be much more likely to do something about the situation. Man, this movie makes the British look like fools.
But that's ok, because this scene of rebellion never pans out. We never get any indication that Ibrahim was able to stir up that much trouble, certainly not a rebellion. It was as if the soapbox scene was just filmed to take advantage of a batch of stock footage.
For his part, Malone knows he has to get close to Ibrahim and the militant Arabs to get his story. Therefore he dons a disguise to make him blend in. This consists of a terribly fake beard and native garb. A local would have to be blind and stoned not to see through it, but this is typical of Hollywood movies where the barest of disguises allows the hero to do his task while still letting the audience see his face.
Two Americans dressed as Arabs! Comedy!
He doesn't get very far as the British Consul orders him arrested, which is done as he goes to meet Parkyarkarkas who has some horses for him. Malone is tossed in the jail to stew.
Parkyarkarkas now plots to rescue Malone. He gets with Haditha the belly dancer, bribing her with a string of fake pearls. Haditha is to sneak up to the jail cell window and pass through a rope and a hacksaw (!!!). The escape sequence is a mix of stock footage and very dark newly-shot stuff. Instead of using a day-for-night filter, they apparently shot it in the pitch black, lit only by a few torches. Thus, I can barely make out what's going on for most of the escape. I timed it and this escape scene lasts an interminable six minutes, which is like 10% of the entire film.
Parky bribes the bellydancer.
But escape Malone does, knocking out a guard and stealing his head dress and robes. He sends Haditha away, at which the girl seems genuinely put-off that she risked her life to save him and he barely says thanks. Malone is such a jerk.
Parkyarkarkas and Malone then leave the city on horseback, headed out into the desert to the Arab tribesman encampment. Malone knows the way because he was here before, remember, before the movie opened.
Back at the British Consulate, Philip and the Consul are chatting when the secretary rushes in to tell them that Malone has escaped. Man, I haven't seen this many raging gay men in a room since the last time I watched Will and Grace...
"You know that club down on 98th Street?"
Back now to the encampment, we see that Sheik David is wooing Nancy in his tent. The set for the Sheik's tent is barebones, looking much like a drapery hung behind a set with some sand tossed around on the floor. Contrast this with Omar Sharif's sheik's tent in Hidalgo, now that was an impressive tent. David is clearly smitten with the American girl and hints at marriage. Nancy deflects his advances well and keeps asking him about politics. Hmmm...what is Nancy's game? David then tries to compare Islam with Christianity (really! In this movie!) in an attempt to convince Nancy to shack up with him. She blocks that one as well.
Aww...aren't they cute?
Also note that David shows Nancy this fancy medal he keeps in a box. It was a peace medal that was given to David's grandfather by the British. Nancy pins it on his chest and tells him to wear it proudly. Remember this medal, it will play a role later on.
Meanwhile, Parkyarkarkas and Malone sneak into the tent where the cases of Mauser rifles are being kept. As they check out the guns, they're discovered by six Arabs. A badly staged fistfight develops quickly, with lame punches and kicks for all. Malone is soon overwhelmed and gives up. During the fight, Parkyarkarkas escapes the tent and most amazingly no one seems to notice or chase after him. You would think the Arabs would say at some point, "Hey, what about that other guy?".
Sheik Ibrahim orders Malone killed off in a nasty way. He's buried in sand up to his neck and horsemen play target practice with thrown javelins. Ouch, that's pretty harsh. Luckily for him, these Arabs are horribly bad shots and all the javelins miss.
Before Malone can be killed, however, Sheik David stops the execution. He's more mad that Sheik Ibrahim ordered the killing without consulting him first, a clear act of disrespect. He orders Malone brought before him. Nancy makes the mistake of referring to the thief as "the American", which is knowledge that she shouldn't have. This makes Sheik David angry and he accuses her of being in cahoots with the thief. This is going to hurt their love affair.
Despite having been buried in sand, Malone's robes are spotless white when he's brought before David. The two men banter back and forth, Malone telling him he‘s a creep for "dealing with Hitler" and David proclaiming that he only looks out for the "welfare of my people". This gets nowhere and Malone is carried off to await his fate in the morning.
But, remember that Parkyarkarkas is still on the loose. He sneaks up to the tent where Malone is being guarded by a single disinterested Arab and slips him a pocket knife. With this Malone cuts his bonds and knocks out the guard. He then slips unnoticed out of the tent and Parkyarkarkas gives him a horse. Parkyarkarkas isn't going with him, he says he has some "unfinished business" to take care of. What? He does give Malone a revolver.
Parkyarkarkas has already saved Nancy and she is waiting with the horses. This struck me as strange because I would have thought that they would have taken advantage of the opportunity to show Malone being all studly rescuing the girl.
Meanwhile, the Czech comes to the encampment to speak with Sheiks David and Ibrahim. He's mad that David is determined to stick with the treaty with the British. Hmm...then maybe he should give back all the Mausers? Did David pay for these guns, or did the Czech give them to him for free under the condition that he use them in the rebellion?
When Sheik David refuses, the Czech reaches in his coat, pulls out a Luger pistol and shoots David in the chest! Damn! And, that was so obviously a prop gun, with zero recoil and no ejected brass.
The three of them were alone in the tent, yes, but didn't anyone hear that shot? Sheik Ibrahim looks at David's body on the floor and says that it's the will of Allah that he now leads his tribe against the British.
And so we have Mega Stock Footage Time! The producers must have raided a whole bunch of 1930s movies about Lawrence of Arabia or something to come up with about 15 minutes of stock footage of Arab horsemen storming a walled town. Our principal cast is inserted in numerous shots, watching from windows, peering around doorframes, looking all concerned. All the horsemen-riding-around shots get tedious rather quickly, and the plainly obvious switches from new to old footage are never more evident. And it seems that several of the stock footage shots are from movies set in India, as the clothes and scenery changes dramatically from the Middle East motif.
Just before the Arabs reach the city, Malone and Nancy arrive and spread the word of the coming attack. The British Consul orders everyone to pull back to the fort and close the gates.
Eventually, Ibrahim and a ton of Arabs have the fort in the city center surrounded. Inside are the British Army garrison and all our main characters, including the Consul and his secretary. The situation is tense, but so far no shots have been fired. What the Arabs are waiting for is not known, but it's just a matter of time.
The stockfootage tribesmen storm Stockfootageistan!
Suddenly, from out of nowhere Sheik David appears! What the hell! He stands before his tribesmen and tells them that he "came back from the grave" to tell them to go home in peace.
Ibrahim, understandably shocked, goes to the Czech's side, stunned that David is still alive and kicking. The Czech tells him to finish the job and Ibrahim pulls out a Luger. But before he can shoot Sheik David again, Malone sees him and pulls out his own pistol. Firing from the hip from what must be a hundred yards, Malone shoots and kills Ibrahim! Wow, Malone is the best shot in the world!
The Czech pulls his own gun and fires a single shot somewhere off screen and then runs off. We then see Philip chasing him, his own Colt M1911 pistol drawn.
The Czech reaches his office and goes inside. Philip comes a few minutes later, but just as he's about to barge in, he hears a gunshot. The door opens and out walks Parkyarkarkas! What the hell!
Parkyarkarkas proceeds to tell Philip that he's a US Military Intelligence Agent and he has been watching the Czech for a while. What? Before he made it clear to Malone that he was just a standup comic lost in Libya. Did the US Army staff really recruit a famous comic to go undercover in Libya to watch a crooked arms dealer? Does this make any sense? Why did they have to put this part in? BTW, what happened to the Czech? Did Parkyarkarkas shoot him? Did he shoot himself?
Anyway, Sheik David gets his people to go back to their tents and respect the peace treaty. More stock footage shots show them all leaving. Many of the same shots from before are just reused and the jumble is distracting. And now all our principle characters meet up for one last mind-blowing closing.
We see that Nancy, who before had nothing but open disgust for Malone, is now madly in love with him. They hug and kiss and googoo and all that. What happened? I guess that this is supposed to happen in these movies but come on! [Editor Pam: As I mentioned before, the racial climate in the United States at this time probably made it impossible for the white heroine to end up with an Arab in a movie intended to appeal to the masses. Yes, I know it happened in The Sheik about twenty years before this movie was made, but that Sheik turned out to be the suntanned offspring of an English aristocrat and a Spanish noblewoman. I must say, Duncan Renaldo is much better-looking than Walter Woolf King, I'd have picked the Arab myself.]
We also learn that Nancy and Philip are brother and sister!!! What the hell!!! Why? Why add that bit in? Simply so that we could have a two-second scene where Nancy hugs Philip and tells him that she's glad he's alive (he went after the Czech), and so Malone can assume that they're a couple? Hey, this is where George Lucas got the Luke-Han-Leia love triangle from the Star Wars saga!!! Seriously, think about it.
You all saw this coming.
And finally we learn what's up with Sheik David coming back from the dead. Remember that medal that Nancy pinned on his chest? Well, apparently that stopped the bullet from the Czech's Luger! It knocked him out cold, but didn't kill him.
I could write ten pages on the muzzle velocity of the bullet, the kinetic energy of that bullet as it struck the medal, the force transferred to David's ribs and internal organs, all that stuff. But this is a cheap movie and there's no point in that so I will just let it go.
Bonus! Some statistics:
23 Number of lameass jokes by Parkyarkarkas that stopped being funny in about 1952.
9 Number of punches thrown by Malone. All right crosses and jabs, he has no left.
8 Number of Manly Shoulder Claps delivered by Malone.
4 Number of times the phrase "By the beards of the Prophets!" is uttered, which is more than in all other movies ever made combined.
3 Number of unfiltered Camels smoked by Nancy. Bad girl.
1 Number of moments where Parkyarkarkas is actually funny. Look for it.
Written in April 2005 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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