A lot of contemporary World War II movies feature sweeping scenes of battle, and their filmmakers brag about how their movie is both realistic and devoted to facts of the war.
"Hell Hath No Fury" is not one of those movies. It's a made-up story about gold fever in the waning days of the war in Europe. American G.I.s, Resistance fighters and Nazi troops are searching for a stolen cache of gold ingots hidden in a French cemetery. The movie is in theaters on November 5, 2021 and available on digital November 9.
In the early moments of the movie, you won't see any heroes as we follow the fate of Marie (played by Nina Bergman), a young French woman who may be a Nazi collaborator. Or perhaps she's with the Resistance and spying on the Germans. She could be someone entirely different. Finding out her motives will be the secret revealed in the movie's final moments.
"Hell Hath No Fury" is directed by British filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson, a former stuntman perhaps best known for his work with action star Scott Adkins on movies like "Avengement," "Triple Threat" and "Accident Man." Faced with severe production limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson devised a movie that would allow his team to work safely in a bubble at a single location while delivering the action and character portrayals he's known for.
Louis Mandylor ("Rambo: Last Blood," "The Debt Collector") and Timothy V. Murphy ("Snowpiercer," "Sons of Anarchy") play a pair of grizzled American soldiers scarred by the experience of fighting their way up through Italy. They've heard about the gold stash and want to cash out and live well after the war.
Dominiquie Vandenberg, who's ex-French Legion Special Forces in real life, plays the Resistance leader who just wants the gold to fund his team's work until the war is over.
Daniel Bernhardt ("John Wick," "Red Notice") plays Van Bruckner, a Nazi officer who hid the gold and shared his secrets with his paramour, Marie. Is she on his side or looking to take him down?
The confrontation between the characters doesn't pull any punches. Both the desperation and the ruthlessness of these men come through, as evidenced by this scene in which the G.I.s try to get Marie to reveal where the gold is hidden.
There's a lot of plotting before things blow up in the last reel. There won't be many survivors, and there's not the kind of heroism on display that audiences usually expect from a WWII movie. War doesn't make every person a noble fighter for the cause. This crew is definitely out for themselves, and most of them pay a price.
Johnson has well over a hundred IMDb credits as a director, writer, stuntman, producer and actor. He talked with Military.com about making "Hell Hath No Fury."
Military.com: What led you to make a World War II movie?
Jesse V. Johnson: "I'm fascinated by history. For me, it doesn't matter what era it comes from, but there are certain areas of history which are very rich in dramatic stories, times of extremity that force the human condition to the very bounds of its perception of good or evil.
"I'm very interested in how men or women are forced to do things that they wouldn't normally believe they were capable of, good or bad. And then how they coped with that, the aftermath and how they dealt with their own inner moral compass. War does that.
"World War II offers just a wonderful amount of different stories and characters. The script for 'Hell Hath No Fury' was pristine. I've been looking for a WWII story for some time. The one I really wanted to do was on the way that Otto Skorzeny rescued Mussolini from the Gran Sasso mountain range after he had been arrested by Victor Emmanuel, the King of Italy. Unfortunately, it was difficult to do, and there wasn't much action in it."
Military.com: You made this movie during the pandemic. Was that a challenge?
Johnson: "With COVID, I put a call out for something for scripts I could make with minimal locations and minimal cost. We had an awful lot submitted, but 'Hell Hath No Fury' was the one that my team just kept coming back to. It's just a really, really good story set against the backdrop that I'm very passionate about. I'm a collector of items from this era, and I had a lot of this stuff in my collection anyway. So this movie made sense as a very contained project. We went and bubbled in the middle of nowhere and made this film.
"The movie is a fantasy story, but I needed the characters to be as realistic as possible. There was a lot of research done into American troops and why some guys who served were a little older than the others, and why they were so twisted and bitter at this point so late in the war.
"The troops in our movie landed at Salerno and fought their way up through Southern Italy, which was an absolute meat grinder of a trip. Some of the most ferocious fighting was in Italy. Even though it's not specified too heavily in this movie, this small group of Americans experienced that fighting, and that's why they're a little twisted. We'd call it PTSD nowadays, but it was still called shell shock at that point.
"Some of those soldiers would've been very, very cynical. Not all of them, of course, because battle can bring out the very best in humanity. But to the other side of that coin, that kind of warfare can also bring out the worst of man."
Military.com: Rather than tie this movie to a specific story, you took some basic facts about the war and told a completely made-up tale. That was an enjoyable break from movies determined to recreate the past as exactly as they can.
Johnson: "Since 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Band of Brothers,' you have a particular kind of war film and a particular kind of way of telling that story. And it's been done to death. I love those two movies. But my cinematographer and I watched a lot of movies in preparation for this and we couldn't get through most of them because they were so boring. They're stories based on other people's films, on the Wikipedia page history. They're not dramatic, and they're not well-acted or well-told.
"We asked ourselves, 'What was it that got us passionate about this era?' A lot of it came from sitting with your grandfather on a Saturday and watching 'The Great Escape' or 'Kelly's Heroes' or 'The Eagle Has Landed.' These films are ripped now because they didn't have the Spanish tanks used in reality or uniforms are not quite viable or that collar tabs are not correct. What you're trying to do is give people an adventure and a sense of escapism and fun.
"For this one, we picked up anamorphic lenses from the '60s because these antique lenses give it a very distinct look. The edges of the frame are slightly distorted, so you may get a familiar feeling watching this. We're not copying [cinematographer] Janusz Kamiński and Steven Spielberg in the way that they made 'Saving Private Ryan.' It seems like every single war movie made since 'Saving Private Ryan' copies without any kind of guilt whatsoever. They shoot the tilted shutter for the action scene and they wobble it, and there's not an original creative bone in over 20 years of World War II films since. It was a fantastic movie and it moved me enormously when I saw it, but there's got to be room for another way of doing this."
Military.com: "Hell Hath No Fury" seems purposefully unheroic. Instead of epic, sweeping vistas, you have a grimy confrontation that takes place on small patches of land. You have no idea of the scope of the war, just the showdown between the G.I.s, Nazis and Resistance battling to find this missing gold.
Johnson: "There are many, many films made of heroes, and there were many heroes in World War II on every side. Heroic, chivalrous, noble, the higher echelons of human character. Men holding positions so their squad could get away, men sacrificing their lives for an enemy soldier, Luftwaffe pilots aiding B-17s to get home.
"There was a lot of great heroism, but this is not a movie about any of that. It's a story about the darker recesses of the human soul. That was what appealed to me when I read the script, which was written by a French writer named Romain Serir. The French have a very interesting view of World War II. It's not my personal view. I have my stories from my grandmother from 1941-43. She was in the Auxiliary Territorial Service in the UK, and her stories are amazing. Later in life in her 80s and 90s, she gave talks to colleges, and she was a hero even if it was an unsung hero at the time.
"To a degree, this film is about those kinds of women, through what Marie represents. The men in this movie are the darker, less appealing side of human nature.
"Romain's view of the US troops was very interesting. I'd never read anything like it. The G.I.s were almost described as the bad guys at the beginning of the movie. I wondered, 'What's going on with this?' You have to realize that, when the American troops landed, they wanted to shoot anyone with a firearm. At the beginning, they didn't know about the French Resistance and the Vichy French forces had shot back at American troops in Africa. They just saw men in civilian clothes with a Sten gun or an MP 40. There was a huge indifference by the troops until they started to learn, and there was a little more communication made.
"Nowadays, we think it was an amazing embrace after D-Day, and the troops shook hands and went to war against the Axis. It was much more confusing than that, because you had an entire nation that's been subjugated and under Vichy control.
"The script finally let me see something that represented that moment with a little more complexity than we've seen before. It's not only the way the American troops view the Resistance, but by how the Resistance themselves think of the American troops. And there's a lot of bitterness bordering on absolute malice. For the first third of the script, I didn't know which character I was supposed to root for. I liked that, and I enjoy the journey that the story takes."
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