Classic 50 Movie Warriors, Disc 5

Damon and Pythias (orig. Il tiranno di Siracusa), 1961, color. Curtis Bernhardt (dir.), Guy Williams, Don Burnett, Ilaria Occhini. 1:39.

The plot summary on the sleeve and the one on IMDB cover roughly the last third of the film, and maybe that’s OK. For the first part: the head of the Pythagorean group in Athens has died, and his logical successor is trying to teach the Pythagorean philosophy in Syracuse—and in hiding since the dictator Dionysus regards Pythagoreanism as dangerous, with its friendship and nonviolent ideals. So Pythias goes off to find him and bring him back, and in doing so is first robbed and then aided by Damon, a rogue. Meanwhile, Pythias’ pregnant wife has gone into terminal decline since he’s gone. After lots of adventures, the successor manages to make it to freedom—but Pythias is captured.

From there, the plot actually mostly follows the legend of Damon and Pythias. It’s about friendship, philosophy, and lots of other stuff. It’s reasonably well-done, remarkably free of gratuitous killings, and relatively low on the sort of spectacle that dominates most of these movies. (If you’re a costume enthusiast: almost all the men wear very short tunics, while all the women wear floor-length clothes.) I’d give it $1.00.

Fury of Hercules (orig. La furia di Ercole), 1961, color. Gianfranco Parolini (dir.), Brad Harris, Luisella Boni, Mara Berni, Serge Gainsbourg. 1:37.

A bit more typical. This time, Hercules visits Arpad, one of his old haunts while on an extended journey and finds that his friend the king has died. His daughter, now queen, is trying to build impenetrable walls around Arpad using slave labor—and things are mostly run by the evil Menistus who hopes to kill her and take over as dictators.

Lots of action, all fairly coherent, culminating in a huge revolt combining slaves and rebels. Brad Harris is impressive, and as Hercules he’s even more so. Another one with no cheesecake and even more beefcake, as Hercules’ oversize chest is mostly exposed. Serge Gainsbourg is appropriately sneering and evil as Menistus.

I was somewhat thrown out of the action during the big extravaganza the queen throws in Hercules’ honor. For background music, authenticity doesn’t matter—but when entertainers are dancing to music, it seems a bit odd for the primary instrument to be a piano. The print’s decent, except that the first five or ten minutes suffer from red shift (that is, most colors are shades of red). All things considered, a pretty decent flick; by the relaxed standards used for this set, I’ll say $1.50.

Caesar the Conqueror (orig. Giulio Cesare, il conquistatore delle Gallie), 1962, color. Tanio Boccia (dor.), Cameron Mitchell, Rik Battaglia, Dominique Wilms, Ivica Pajer, Raffaella Carra. 1:44 [1:38]

Instead of mythology, we get history (or at least one portrayal of it), with Julius Caesar (Mitchell) in 54 BC wanting to invade Britain but beset by a rebellious Gaul, led by Vercingetorix (Battaglia). There are also scenes in the Senate (mostly wanting Caesar to show up in person to justify his expenditures), and a fair amount of stuff on Caesar as a person—including an odd extended scene where he’s dictating to three young scribes, apparently dictating two different letters and his treatise on Gaul being divided into three parts, and doing so simultaneously.

And, of course, there are lots of battle scenes with enormous casts of extras, horses, and arrows. Lots of bloodshed, much of it right there on the screen—and, by the way, a double-betrayal, as the third of Gaul’s tribes that Caesar believed he had bribed to support him choose to attack him instead. There’s also a somewhat complicated love story, involving Caesar’s ward Publia (Carra), who’s pledged to one soldier, then used by Caesar to marry a commander to assure his support, then captured by Vercingetorix…and eventually reunited with the soldier.

The bad: lots of red-shift problems, with much of the movie being in various shades of white and red; extreme pan-and-scan, with speaking characters sometimes invisible on one side or the other; occasionally choppy print. The good: a bit more vividly realistic view of battle, with hundreds of people dying badly; pretty good acting on Mitchell’s part and elsewhere; a bit more nuance than one might expect. (If you read the IMDB reviews, be aware that one negative review says this was a French production. As the original title and most of the cast names may indicate, it was typical of these movies in being an Italian production, this time with most outdoor scenes filmed in Serbia.) Overall, given the print problems, it comes down to $1.25.

Son of Samson (orig. Maciste nella valle dei Re, that is, Maciste in the Valley of the Kings). 1960, color. Carlo Campogalliani (dir.), Mark Forest, Chelo Alonse, Vira Silenti. 1:29.

The basic plot line: In the fifth century BC, the Persians are marauding and essentially controlling Egypt, with Pharaoh Armiteo I a weak ruler essentially in the thralls of his young, beautiful, wicked wife Queen Smedes. His son, Kenamun, goes out wandering and encounters Maciste (who says that means “Son of the Rock” although some call him Son of Samson), a phenomenally strong and always shirtless man. Kenamun sees a lion about to attack Maciste and shoots the lion with an arrow—and then Maciste wrestles a second lion into submission or death (unclear). So they’ve saved each others’ lives. Previously, Kenamun had met and fallen for a young woman in a village and vowed to return to her one day.

That’s the start. Lots of marauding Persians, killing the men of a village and enslaving the women; oodles of “blood.” Maciste frees the enslaved women of one village (yes, the same one). Smedes has Armiteo assassinated. Kenamun returns to Memphis…and the evil grand visir has a forgetfulness necklace that causes Kenamun to forget everything and marry Smedes.

Lots more plot. Much Egyptian scenery, including the pyramids. Decent production values. Some humor. A dance/seduction that’s a cross between a Dance of the Single Veil and a vigorous belly dance. All ends well, albeit only after a bunch more deaths. Apparently Mark Forest was actually bodybuilder Lpu Degni.

Widescreeen (very widescreen, 2.35:1), and if your TV can do the expansion, the print’s good enough that it didn’t look bad expanded to fill the width (not the height) of a widescreen TV. Generally good print. Fairly satisfying, almost worth $1.75, but I’ll say—by the relaxed standards for this set–$1.50.

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