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  Once Before I Die The First And Last Time
Year: 1966
Director: John Derek
Stars: Ursula Andress, John Derek, Richard Jaeckel, Ron Ely, Rod Lauren, Vance Skarstedt, Allen Pinson, Gregg Martin, Renato Robles, Fred Galang, Andres Centenara, Ron Francisco, Nello Nayo, Mario Taquibulos, Eva Vivar, Lola Boy, Armando Lucero, Jock Mahoney
Genre: Drama, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Alex (Ursula Andress) has been enjoying a canoe trip down this Filipino river which makes her late for her appointment at a polo match the American Army has arranged, but she does get there. However, when the match is about to start, with her kicking it off, a Japanese warplane roars out of the sky and strafes the spectators with bullets, leading everyone there to dive for cover. Yes, it is World War II, and the conflict has reached the Philippines which means Alex will have to give up her pampered life and as her boyfriend Major Bailey (John Derek) tells her, get out of there.

But what about her puppies? Pardon? She means her pets, which she wants to go back to her home to fetch so they can be rescued from the pandemonium as well, but it was indicative of the unintentionally campy tone of Once Before I Die that you could find yourself laughing at the wrong moments. This was John Derek's second film as director after a career as a second tier leading man (a role in The Ten Commandments would probably be his main claim to fame), but he wanted to follow his heart and photograph beautful women, and marry them as well: Andress was his wife at the time this was made.

Though not for long, as they would divorce the year it was released, but luckily for their fans we had this to remember their union by. Next Derek would marry Dynasty star Linda Evans and then Bo Derek, who he raised to a strata of international fame through his would-be erotic movies, though don't go expecting any nudity in this one, as it was the premise which wished to provide that sexually potent plot development. Well, there was one performer who got naked, and it summed up the bizarre nature of the arrangement that he was co-star Richard Jaeckel playing Lieutenant Custer (any relation?), a somewhat crazed soldier who likes to wander off on his own to gun down Japanese troops.

So if you were a really big fan of Richard Jaeckel but could take or leave Ursula, this was the movie for you. As for Derek, in spite of him taking the male lead here it proved to be the last film he would act in as he decided he preferred to be behind the camera from then on, and an indication of that would be in the manner in which his character exits the movie rather abruptly about half an hour in. This leaves Alex as the mascot of sorts for the platoon, with their endeavours to get to safety and along the way blow up a Japanese tank which has been giving them a hard time. Meanwhile Alex mopes around about as much use as a chocolate teapot until one young soldier makes a personal request of her, which you can guess by the plea in the title.

The great war journalist Martha Gellhorn in her writings about the Second World War admitted that she would often sleep with the American soldiers she reported on because she regarded doing so as an act of charity, and they may as well be happy for a while before going off to face death in dreadful conditions, so this mindset seemed to inform Once Before I Die. That youthful recruit asks Alex to take his virginity, and she agrees in a scene which creates a montage of freeze frames of Andress's face in presumed sexual ecstasy intermingled with the other soldiers attacking that tank, though quite what we were intended to take away from that juxtaposition was something of a conundrum. Yet there was a lot about this which was mysterious, and that included the ending which was not so much moody and enigmatic as it was confusing and unsatisfying. Derek was out to prove himself with arty techniques, but that only served to muddy the waters of what was a silly work anyway. Music by Emmanuel Vardi.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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