In 1943, the Nazi Germany is suffering heavy losses at the Eastern Front and an order for all-out retreat is eventually issued. The 27th Penal Panzer Regiment, consisting solely of people convicted of various real or political crimes ranging from incest to dissidence, has just returned from Stalingrad where German forces were decimated by the Soviets after a year-long bloody fight. They are a motley tank crew that consists of Sergeant Willie Beier (aka Old Man), a family man who fears for the safety of his wife and child if he disobeys the Nazis, Corporal Joseph Porta, the team's fixer and a self-proclaimed communist who always tries to keep his spirits up whether through gambling, drinking or simple tomfoolery, Corporal Hugo Stege, Porta's "partner in crime", young Sven Hassel, a character based on real Sven Hassel, the writer of the novel that the movie was based on, Wolfgang Creutzfeldt (aka Tiny), a dimwitted and often violent giant of a man and Bauer, a silent but friendly individual convicted of murder. They are joined by Alfred Kalb (aka Legionnaire), a psychotic ex-member of the French Foreign Legion and a self-proclaimed Muslim, convicted of polygamy, an inexperienced teenage soldier nicknamed Freckles, convicted of incest with his stepsister and their new commander Captain Erich von Barring, a straight-laced understanding officer who hoped for a better position than the one he got, but does his job dutifully anyway. Since penal regiments are viewed as completely expendable, they are often sent on suicide missions. Sadistic Colonel Von Weisshagen decides to send the 27th Penal Panzer Regiment on one such mission behind the enemy lines of the Eastern Front to blow up a Soviet train that's carrying countless gallons of fuel for the Red Army vehicles and tanks. If successful, the unit could receive full pardon, the German army would get precious time to retreat and regroup and Von Weisshagen himself might receive an Iron Cross from a high-ranking general (Oliver Reed). But can they trust the top brass?
From the same director
Bruce Davison (Cpl. Joseph Porta), David Patrick Kelly (The Legionnaire), D.W. Moffett (Capt. Erich von Barring), Jay O. Sanders (Tiny), Keith Szarabajka (Old Man), Oliver Reed (The General), David Carradine (Col. Von Weisshagen), Branko Vidakovic (Cpl. Hugo Stege (as Branko Vidak)), Slavko Stimac (Sven Hassel), Boris Komnenic (Bauer), Andreja Maricic (Müller), Klaus Pagh (Reinhardt), Anton Sosic (Freckles), Svetislav 'Bule' Goncic (Sgt. Siegfried (as Svetislav Goncic)), Gordana Bjelica (Russian Officer), Irena Prosen (The Madam), Lidija Pletl (Irma), Danica Maksimovic (Lady of the Night), Annie Korzen (Lady of the Night), Jelena Tinska (Lady of the Night), Vojka Cordic (Lady of the Night), Slavica Djordjevic (Lady of the Night (as Slavica Dordevic)), Nada Vojinovic (Lady of the Night), Svetlana Popovic (Svetlana), Gordana Les (Catwoman), Dragan Petrovic-Pele (Hero of Bektovka (as Dragan Petrovic)), Milenko Zablacanski (Hero of Bektovka), Goran Radakovic (Sergeant), Vladan Dujovic (Lieutenant (as Dujovic Vladan)), Nikola Simijanovic (Dimitri), Dragan Bjelogrlic (Soldier in Brothel (uncredited)), Bogdan Jakus (uncredited), Dragomir Stanojevic (uncredited)
Svel Hassle has written a lot of books about his war experiences as a Dane in the German Army in WWII. Most of these fictional accounts but based on real-life events), the books have been widely released in Europe, but from time to time are available in North America as well (Corgi Press).
This is the one and only movie made from one of his books, a shame really, since Swen Hassle portrays way in a most realistic manner; neither making light of what is happening, not glorifying war, but emphasizing the "Kameradschaft" - the effects of the war's events on Swen and his friends.
The movie unfortunately has some flaws that keep it from being really great. Foremost of these is the casting of David Carradine as a German officer. Too bad, since his performance in this film is sub-par at best.
The casting of Bruce Davison as Porta is a great choice, and he really shines in this movie, and along with David Patrick Kelly (as "The Legionnaire") gives realistic performances.
One of the major reasons this movie didn't receive wider distribution was protests from a number of groups who thought the movie - although they probably had not seen it - glorified the Nazi regime. It doesn't - it portrays war as brutal (on all sides), with no leaders to rely on, rather only one's fellow soldiers to depend on for your life.
A side-note - Swen Hassle is still alive (at this writing) and until relatively recently, has still been writing (although not writing fiction any more). Two of the three major characters in his books (Tiny, Porta and the Legionnaire) survived the war as well.
The film is based on Danish writer Sven Hassel's 1979 war novel "Wheels of Terror". Hassel was actually part of the German Panzerkorp during the war and most of his novels are based on his experiences or stories he heard during the war, although some dispute the veracity of his work. He always puts himself in the novels, sometimes as a major participant and sometimes as a minor observer. The character of Sven Hassel also appears in this novel and is played in the movie adaptation by Slavko Stimac.
Wheels of Terror (; Canada (English title)) • Esta guerra es nuestra (Argentina) • Колела на терора (Bulgaria (Bulgarian title)) • Rodas do Terror (Brazil) • Døden på larvefødder (Denmark) • Los panzers de la muerte (Spain) • Rangaistuspartio (Finland) • Wheels of terror - kuolema telaketjuilla (Finland (video title)) • Les panzers de la mort (France) • Taxiarhia krouseos 27 (Greece) • Lánctalpak (Hungary) • Battaglione di disciplina (Italy) • Le ruote del terrore (Italy (TV title)) • Døden på larveføtter (Norway) • Karna kompania (Poland) • Blindatele morţii (Romania) • Döden på larvfötter (Sweden) • Teror na kolesách (Slovakia) • Колеса страха (Soviet Union (Russian title)) • Die Galgenvögel (West Germany) • Die Galgenvögel vom 27. Panzer Strafbatallion (West Germany (video title)) • The German Dirty Dozen (World-wide (English title) (informal title))
France:Tous publics / Sweden:15 / United States:R / West Germany:16
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