Sabre Command (1973)
Hi all, Nate here. While researching some Israeli Air Force A-4s the other day I came across this little movie on a forum and I thought I'd share it with you. I'll be the first to admit that I couldn't possibly care less about the entire Jewish/Arab/Kill Each Other Problem, mostly because it's been going on for the last 2,000 years and will probably always be pointless and bloody no matter what we white people try to do to fix it. We tend to think that it's only been an issue since the State of Israel was founded in the 1940s, but that chunk of the Middle East has been a religious battleground for thousands of years. If anything the last 50 years has been relatively peaceful compared to other centuries. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, Iím neither Muslin nor Jewish and I live in Indiana, which is oh-so not the Middle East, so I just don't care.
Let's watch a movie. First off, this film was released in 1976/77/78 under about ten different names (Warhead, Prisoner in the Middle, Kill all the Jews etc) but it seems that it was originally filmed in 1973 (or maybe late 1972) with our title Sabre Command. Hours (ok, minutes...) wasted on Google couldn't turn up any reason why it sat on the shelf for at least four years before being released, or if it was released in Israel first, but Iím kinda curious so if anyone out there knows (and you don't), let me know (and you won't).
Our opening scene is a group of radical Arab Palestine Liberation Organization fighters rocketing a school bus full of kids (boo!). The Israeli Defense Forces assembles a crack team of commandoes to hunt the Arabs down, led by a hunky officer with surferdude hair and perfect teeth. The showdown will take place across the border in the desolate Jordanian desert where the PLO gunmen are hiding out. Along with Captain Handsome is skinnychick Army girl, Crazyhot blonde sniper girl with deadeye aim, Comic relief guy with Afro wig and a Sony walkman, Combat Medic girl who looks like Sarah Silverman, Other comic relief guy who is fat, Raj from Big Bang Theory's twin brother, Cigar and Boonie hat wearing guy, and five other nameless dudes and chicks. The composition would be unique for a Western/American action movie as four of the 12 commandos are young women, but of course women in Israel have always been on the front lines in combat roles so itĎs a normal thing for them.
The commandos gear up for battle.
The PLO side numbers dozens and dozens initially, plus a lot of reinforcements later as they are close to their power base in the Arab lands. Checkered Keffiyehs, outrageous mustaches, and eye-burning body odor are common and expected. You'd also expect the Arabs to be cardboard cut-out bad guys but there's actually a commendable effort to humanize them, especially those few with speaking roles. They laugh, they joke, they are confused and they are courageous, and their passionate defense of "their homeland" is given a sympathetic voice, extremely surprising in a movie made in Israel.
And the PLO does likewise.
The meat of the movie is essentially a long, drawn-out Advanced Squad Leader mini-campaign between small units (use the desert map from the Hollow Legions expansion!). The Jews attack and rout the Arabs when they spot them, then the Arabs regroup and ambush the Jews in a ravine as they attempt to extract themselves from the Jordanian desert. Attrition is high on both sides, in the first few running battles, several dozen Arabs and four Jews die (including two of the women). Another Jewish girl is captured and raped (and presumably killed), though we see nothing unpleasant on screen.
Not going to end well for her.
A final battle starts on the road to a small abandoned fort and safety, a wicked fight between armored jeeps and trucks and guys on camels, and then an Alamo-style showdown at the desert fort to close things out. Damn near everyone dies here, dozens and dozens of Arabs (and camels) and all the remaining Jews perish in an epic gun battle for the ages.
Everyone gets a death scene.
The action scenes are actually pretty topshelf, with stuntmen and actors running and falling and yelling quite convincingly as the machine guns growl and the soundtrack soars. The camera follows individual soldiers around the killing fields, giving us an intimate view of this deadly shootout, and we kindasorta feel bad when they end up riddled with bullets (all of them). Much of the action is seen from the point of view of the Arab side, so much so that if you re-cut this movie and loop in some new dialogue you could probably make it into a pretty fair pro-PLO propaganda film about the heroic Arab defenders of the Muslim Holy Land fighting against the infidel Jewish usurper demons.
They have a right to be here, too.
Oh, and David Janssen is here, and he has this huge nuclear bomb that everyone wants to get their hands on (the USAF lost it here, don't ask). Sleepy-eyed Janssen is phoning in his performance to a level that has to been seen to believed, almost like heĎs deliberately trying to sabotage the production so theyĎll fire him (no such luck). It's possible that he was on vacation in the Holy Land when his agent conned him into acting in a local Israeli action movie. He clearly doesn't want to be here and so I don't want to talk about him (take that!).
Sit back down, Janssen, youíre not even trying.
He does make some good points, though, when he tries to tell the Israelis that they don't want to become a nuclear power because then they'll go from being the underdogs to the big dog on the porch. If they remain the little guys surrounded by hostile Arabs, the US and others will continue to feel sorry for them and help with defense and finances, but if Israel joins the Nuclear Club then they might be left on their own. As it turned out, however, history has shown that the US still stands firmly behind Israel no matter what's in their secret arsenals. Itís interesting to note that in 1972 when this movie was made (and Janssenís statements were spoken) that Israel already has a clandestine nuclear weapons program up and running. Itís also odd that Janssenís scripted statements even made it into the movie, were the film producers taking a subtle jab at their own countryís nascent attempts to join the Nuclear Club? Perhaps even some disinformation by the IDF? Overthinking this? Yes? Ok, letís just look at Taylor Swift with a kitten insteadÖ
Yes, thatís better.
Written in October 2014 by Nathan Decker.
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