Fifty movies about an Oakland basketball team: who woulda thunk it? OK, so they’re really “sword and sandals” movies—all those Hercules, Son of Hercules, Colossus, Ursus and similar pictures, strong on Legendary Heroes, usually strong on magic and gods/goddesses, with lots of wholly innocent beefcake and (usually) cheesecake, usually some humor along with lots of fighting, loads of scenery, surprisingly good production values and plots that don’t always make much sense. Oh, and really bad dubbing, except sometimes for the one or two American actors. These are fun movies, mostly Italian, and I grade them within their own realm: a really great sword-and-sandals flick might not be a classic in traditional Hollywood terms. It’s a thirteen-disc set (there aren’t many hour-long sword-and-sandals flicks); Part 1 covers discs 1-6.
Hercules and the Masked Rider (orig. Golia e il cavaliere mascherato), 1963, color. Piero Pierotti (dir.), Alan Steel (that is, Sergio Ciani), Mimmo Palmara, José Greci, Pilar Cansino, Arturo Dominici. 1:26 [1:23]
Who knew that Hercules (“Alan Steel”) was not only a demigod but a time traveler? In this flick (clearly shot in widescreen and panned-and-scanned, more’s the pity), he’s jumped from the second century BC to the 16th century CE, since there are at least two handguns along with the many swords—and he’s somehow riding with a band of gypsies in Spain. (According to the source of all knowledge, this character was Goliath in the Italian original, but that still involves time travel, albeit only 16 rather than 18+ centuries—and Goliath wasn’t an immortal demigod. Hey, it’s swords-and-sandal magic!)
This means that—other than Hercules, who seems allergic to shirts, and a few of the evil Don’s soldiers who wind up naked after being humiliated by the gypsies and Hercules—everybody’s fully clothed, from head to toe. (Even Hercules has a shirt on for maybe three minutes total.) It also means that there are no gods & goddesses, no magic (although the Evil Don would happily burn the head gypsy as a witch), just lots of plot.
Plot. Hard to say whether it’s ever worth describing the plot in these spectaculars, but here it’s two Dons with their lands on either side of a river—and the Don on one side is pure evil, just loving to hunt down innocent peasants trying to escape from forced labor and really loving the occasional torture opportunity. The other Don is aging, has a beautiful daughter, and is unwilling to risk war with the evil Don—to the extent that he’s willing to marry his daughter off to the evil Don in the thought that this might prevent war. Foolish (and soon dead) man! Meanwhile, the aged Don’s nephew, the actual love of the daughter (well, why not? they’re first cousins, but it’s 16h century Spain), has returned from battle (after meeting up with the gypsies, fighting Hercules to a draw in a one-hour contest that earns him not only his life but the welcome of the gypsies), and thinks this is all a terrible idea. He becomes the Masked Rider and…
Lots’o’plot ensues, and of course things all work out in the end. (Hercules isn’t really the primary character, but here’s there now and then. Some reviewers compared the real protagonist, the cousin, to Zorro: that’s not too far off.) And, you know, even though the premise is even more bizarre than usual, it’s fun. Good score, pretty good print. I’ll give it $1.50.
Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators (orig. Gli invincibili dieci gladiatori), 1964, color. Nick Nostro (dir.), Dan Vadis, Helga Line, Ivano Staccioli/John Heston, Alfredo Varelli/John Warrell Ursula Davis, Giuliano Dell’Ovo/Julian Dower. 1:39
What this movie has in common with the previous one: in both cases, the titular character is not the major protagonist—Spartacus is there for maybe a third of the picture, and the biggest of the ten gladiators (who in this case aren’t slaves but entertainer/warriors) is the protagonist (and, in the end, rides away with The Girl).
Otherwise: set in Roman times, with the Ten Gladiators blackballed by the primary entrepreneur (because the big one almost spears a Roman senator instead of killing the winner of a 12-person to-the-death battle who refused to kill his father, one of the others) saving a senator’s daughter from Bad Thieves and being recruited by the senator to find and kill (they prefer capture) Spartacus, who is supposedly thieving. They find and meet Spartacus (involving an apparently hours-long battle between the big guy and Spartacus, ending with both of them collapsed and laughing) and join to his cause—which is, mostly, to take his group back to Thrace and freedom.
The gladiators say they’ll go back and try to sell that to the senator (with the promise that he’ll be sent ransom money for the group later)…who says “sure, why not?” and drugs them over dinner, putting them in the dungeon.
There’s more plot—and, other than the sheer stupidity of the gladiators and the apparent deal that knocking an enemy out means he’s out of the action forever, it’s not as implausible as you might expect—ending with a reasonably satisfactory conclusion. The overall lesson: if the venal, vicious Senator Varro had let a hundred or so slaves escape, he would have avoided destroying a major part of the Roman army—and dying in the process. But, you know, power demands respect, especially wholly corrupt power.
Lots of fights, of course, with swords but the good guys prefer punching the other guys out; very little blood shown; some humor; the gladiators almost never wear anything above the waist or more than a foot or so below, if that matters; and the kind of production values (thousands of extras, huge battle scenes) you expect from these movies. I was particularly taken with one plot point: the gladiators, trying to figure out how to free the slaves held in a compound that combines mining with aqueduct-building, capture a blacksmith and convert him to the cause by noting that, if they free the slaves, there will be thousands of chains and handcuffs that he can melt down and make into shields and the like. He winds up being one of the foremost warriors in the grand battle.
Excellent print, great production values, but a narrow view of a wide-screen movie. Still, another $1.50.
The Conqueror of the Orient (orig. Il conquistatore dell’Oriente), 1960, color. Tanio Boccia (dir.), Rik Battaglia, Irene Tunc, Paul Muller. 1:26 [1:14]
The story of Dakar, an Evil Usurper who’s murdered the king (or sultan) and seized the throne, with an army that seems to go around burning villages for fun (which makes it difficult to provide the required tributes), and along the way found a beautiful young woman, Fatima, who Dakar would make the first of his many wives. We’re also introduced to a young fisherman, Nadir, (trawling in the river) and his elder. A bit later, Fatima escapes and is next found floating in a little boat about to hit rapids—and, of course, Nadir rescues her. (Perhaps the name “Nadir” is a clue as to the quality of this flick.)
One thing leads to another, Fatima is recaptured, the fisherman vows vengeance, and of course we learn that he’s the legitimate heir to the throne—and after lots of talk, more talk, some really bad scimitar-fights, and the like, he slays the usurper and brings eternal peace to his kingdom.
Pretty bad. The English-language scriptwriter appears to have had English as a third language (at one point, having been captured, our hero is left behind bars “until thirst and famine shall end his life.” Famine? Really? The production values are at best OK, the plot makes little sense. Maybe the missing 12 minutes would help; probably not. Charitably, $0.75.
The Last of the Vikings, 1961, color. Giacomo Gentilomo (dir.), Cameron Mitchell, Edmond Purdom, Isabelle Corey. 1:43.
“Prince Harald needs more wood!” That cry as hundreds of trees are being felled by wholly inept axe-wielders is probably the best dialogue in this mess. We also learn that Vikings fight by waving axes around a lot, that axes defeat bows and arrows even at long range, that some kings are hand-rubbing gibbering incarnations while princes just laugh a lot…and that perfidy runs deep in Norway.
As to the plot and acting and scenery…well, this was the first old flick I’d watched in almost three months (the DOAJ project was more fun); I was watching it the day after surgery; I was on low-dose opioids,,,without all of which I might not have made it all the way through. Maybe, charitably, $0.75.