THE DESERTER took Serbian heartthrob Bekim Fehmiu and transplanted him into a spaghetti western, produced by Dino De Laurentiis, shot in Spain, Italy and Yugoslavia, released in 1971. After taking critical brickbats for his lead role in The Adventurers, the failure of this sloppy and unpleasant actioner (122nd place with a gross of $1,500,000) didn’t enhance his prospects. The credit rolls from director Burt Kennedy and screenwriter Clair Huffaker are a mixed bag–this one rests on the bottom of the sack.
In the mission vein of The Professionals and The Dirty Dozen, this has Fehmiu, revenging the murder of his wife by Apaches, leading a motley group of soldiers across the border into Mexico to attack the Apache stronghold “La Spina Dorsale Del Diavolo”, the Devil’s Backbone (alternate titles for the movie).
Glum foray with an extra quotient of noisy violence in unconvincing action scenes isn’t salvaged by the poor use of an impressive supporting cast: Richard Crenna, Chuck Connors, John Huston, Ricardo Montalban, Ian Bannen, Woody Strode, Patrick Wayne, Brandon de Wilde (his final film), Slim Pickens and Albert Salmi. 100 minutes, complete with ridiculous jazzy score at home in a low-budget spy flick. Go AWOL from The Deserter.