Dino De Laurentiis’ Five Branded Women is a grim account of the Yugoslavian partisans’ fight against the invading Nazi army during World War II. The film occasionally plots an overly familiar conflict, but it catches the fervency of the resistance movement.
The film’s strength lies in Ritt’s direction. If his story bogs down, he is quick to follow with a storm of action, gripping in tone and adventurous in concept. The horrors of war are hammered out with serious intentions by screenwriter Ivo Perilli, who adapted the film from an unpublished novel by Ugo Pirro.
He describes the partisans as savages, willing to execute their own members if necessary, because it is this savagery that ultimately will destroy the Nazis. Scene by scene, the Yugoslavs are depicted as cruel, inhuman fighters who are, in fact, less sympathetic than their German enemy.
The women are Silvana Mangano, Vera Miles, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jeanne Moreau and Carla Gravina. Not all the roles are long, but they are universally rewarding, and the five actresses successfully fashion contrasting personalities.
Van Heflin stars as a partisan leader in one of his better roles. Richard Basehart is excellent as a captured German officer. Steve Forrest is the German soldier whose lovemaking is responsible for the branding of the women, and he scores with an electrifying scene, shouting of his mutilation by the partisans.