Films of Sergio Leone > The Colossus of Rhodes

Italian Peplum & Fusto Movies: The Good, the Bad & the Epic

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Arizona Colt:
Here's a bunch of Sword & Sandal and Italian Adventure movie reviews I've done over the past couple years. The further to the bottom represent the most recent...

SANDOKAN THE GREAT 1963 aka LA TIGRE DI MOMPRACEM

Steve Reeves (Sandokan), Andrea Bosic (Yanez), Leo Anchoriz (Lord Guillonk)

Sandokan, the pirate of the Eastern seas does battle with British colonialists who have kidnapped his father. In retaliation, Sandokan kidnaps the niece of the villainous Lord Guillonk  in an effort to trade for his fathers freedom. All doesn't go as planned and a major siege in the British fortress brings the film to a close.

Definitely one of Reeve's best movies I've seen. I enjoyed this much better than HERCULES (1957). Reeves isn't that great of an actor, but he is most imposing as Sandokan. He even duels with a tiger early in the film. The fist fights may be a little slow, but for the time, they pass as decent enough. The action scenes are few and far between causing the film to seriously drag in spots but the island photography is very nice. Lenzi shot the film in India and was able to capture some nice shots of the jungles and wildlife there. That's not to say the film doesn't have lots of action, it's just not spread out evenly throughout.

While the film isn't action packed, especially at 111 minutes, the movie picks up considerably during the final 15 minutes with a massive assault on the fort. Sandokan and his men are to be executed but they manage to escape with the help of a monkey whom Yanez befriended earlier in the film. After the battle has begun, Sandokan and his men are cornered in a tower and out of ammunition. Help arrives with the Indian tribes joining the fight as well as the remainder of Sandokan's ship mates. Reeve's gets to man a gatling gun and mow down a bunch of the British soldiers.

This scene is quite violent for its time. Sergio Leone is often quoted as having first shown people being shot with both the gun and the victim in the same frame but it is here in abundance during the finale and this was a full year before FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. Participants are shown shot with rifles then shot again once they're down with some impaled with spears in one take. Others are run through with swords or blown up with dynamite.

Reeves of course, was a natural at appearing in these kinds of movies and this was a slight departure from his usual sword and sandal movies like THE LAST GLORY OF TROY (1962;with SW regular Gianni Garko), THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) and THE TROJAN HORSE (1961). However, Reeves did play a similar character to Sandokan in the rare THE WHITE WARRIOR (1959) where he played a Turkish warrior fighting against Russian invaders. Reeves also did one spaghetti western, which he also wrote, the interesting THE LONG RIDE FROM HELL (1968). He retired from movies after that reportedly from injuries sustained during his career.

Andrea Bosic can also be seen in THE WITCH'S CURSE (1961), a fusto movie starring Kirk Morris and also Corbucci's peplum ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) also starring Reeves as well as Gordon Scott. He appeared in later SW's such as the Gemma movies DAY OF ANGER (1967), FORT YUMA GOLD (1966) and ARIZONA COLT (1966) among many others as well as appearing in some of Lenzi's later war epics.

Anchoriz, who also plays the villain in the sequel to SANDOKAN, SANDOKAN & THE PIRATES OF MALAYSIA (1964) also appeared in the fusto favorite, PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1961) starring Richard Harrison. He, like so many others, carried over into westerns appearing in the lively and adventurous big budget Italian oaters 7 GUNS FOR THE MACGREGORS (1966) and the first sequel 7 WOMEN FOR THE MACGREGORS (1967) and also in the downbeat classic A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL (1969).

Umberto Lenzi is probably the single most underrated director in Italian cinema considering the man dabbled in every genre proving his diversity and versatility as a director. He proves himself capable of handling big action scenes such as the siege at the end which is probably what led to him directing the later war pictures. Lenzi also foreshadows his cannibal movies briefly when Sandokan and his cohorts encounter tribes of headhunters whom turn out to be loyal to Sandokan's father. One of my favorite directors of all time, the man is unjustly called a hack and this tag is based only on his most notorious films, his violent jungle movies and his more extreme horror works.

Sadly, these few films will probably be all he will ever be remembered for outside of Italy. The man is justly saddened and irritated in interviews when it appears the only subject warranting discussion is CANNIBAL FEROX (1981) when so many more better and respectable films fill out his exhaustive filmography. Without a doubt his cop and adventure movies are his best works and are all sorely in need of some attention to give the man the recognition he so vehemently deserves.

Lenzi also returned for the sequel which I have yet to see but will watch very soon. Lenzi also directed the peplums MESSALINA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964) aka THE LAST GLADIATOR and TEMPLE OF THE WHITE ELEPHANT (1964).

This new DVD of SANDOKAN THE GREAT has a 12 minute sequence that is obviously not remastered and the quality is not as good as the rest of the film. I assume judging by the opening disclaimer that this piece was not in the original release but it quite good and contains an action scene in which Sandokan and his men are ambushed trying to escape the island and must retreat and journey deeper into the jungles. Aside from that, the remastering is gorgeous on this. The label has also released a number of other similar pirate films starring others like Gordon Scott and Robert Woods. If you are a true fan of Lenzi, you should definitely check out some of his other works unrelated to his more widely known horror and gore output.

Arizona Colt:
HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER 1964 aka GOLIA E IL MASCHERATO

Mimmo Palmara (Don Juan Phillippe), Alan Steel (Hercules), Arturo Dominici (Don Romero)

When Don Juan opposes his Uncle, Don Francisco who wants peace between his enemies, he is banished from the kingdom. Don Juan takes up with a band of gypsies who also have Hercules among their group. Juan Phillippe is pitted against Hercules in a knife fight with the duel ending in a draw. Juan joins their ranks and becomes the Masked Rider. Don Romero assassinates Juan's uncle and takes over his kingdom prompting Juan, Hercules and the gypsies to avenge for Don Francisco and the people in the surrounding countryside.

An unusual entry in the peplum genre. For the English release, the character of Goliath is changed to Hercules which makes for a jarring experience especially the fact that "Hercules" takes up with a band of gypsies not to mention the time period. The title is also misleading in that the Masked Rider character gets a bit more screen time than Hercules. Herc is more his sidekick than anything else. Again, this is due to the mangling of the title by AIP for its US release.

Palmara I've seen before in some other films although he isn't overly memorable, he is a presence and imposing in the fight scenes. He wears a silly red mask similar to the black Zorro mask which covers his eyes. He uses only a couple of times before seemingly doing away with it for the remainder of the film. He has a nice rapier duel with Dominici at the end.

Steel (Sergio Ciani) is his usual stone faced self and gets to show off in numerous fight scenes although never taking the film away from Palmara who has a hard time competing against Dominici who really owns the film. Steel is the only real connection to fusto cinema this film has which was probably the intention by the producers anyway. Steel also starred in the classic fusto HERCULES VS THE MOON MEN (1964), HERCULES AGAINST ROME (1964) and HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATES (1964). He also starred in the serious western FAST HAND IS STILL MY NAME (1972).

Arturo Dominici who fans will no doubt remember as the evil Asa's brother Javutich in Bava's MASK OF SATAN (1959). He dominates the film delivering a suitably villainous portrayal as Don Romero who assassinates Don Francisco rather easily taking over his lands and even threatening to force Dona Blanca, Francisco's daughter, into marriage with him. He also threatens to burn a woman alive and hang another. The scene that really shows off his nastiness is one in which captives are forced into a duel to the death with whips, the winner going free. Although the fight scene is kind of haphazardly pulled off, it nonetheless shows Romero's penchant for blood and death. His right hand man, Captain Blasco watches as Romero laughs seemingly enjoying the men dying in front of him. Dominici also featured in HERCULES VS THE MOLLOCH (1963) and PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1963) among others.

Frequent spaghetti western and action film character actors Nello Pazzafini and Sal Borgese feature as members of the gypsies.

This film was one of a few hybrid films melding swashbuckling adventure with traditional Italian peplum antics. Spurred from the apparent success of Umberto Lenzi's ZORRO CONTRA MACISTE (1963) other hybrids followed like SAMSON IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1964) starring Reg Park, SAMSON & THE SEA BEASTS (1964) starring Kirk Morris, HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATES (1964) and HERCULES & THE TREASURE OF THE INCAS (1964) starring Alan Steel and also directed by Piero Pierotti.

Pierotti handles the action scenes really well and sprinkles them consistently throughout the picture. Although it's nothing overly special, it is a good time waster with lots of action and adventure bolstered by a damn fine and bombastic score by Angelo Lavagnino which grabs your attention from the start. An unusually strong score for a year populated by dozens of similar films being cranked out in Italy at the time. Definitely an enjoyable curiousity piece, the film also has some gorgeous women thrown into the mix which is usually the case with these movies. A bit of romance is balanced out nicely with the action.

One of the best scenes has the gypsy women having infiltrated Romero's fort as dancers paying their respects to him, perform a dance in which the finale involves them tossing their daggers into the air landing in front of a person who will come to a bad end. Naturally, the daggers all fall at Romero's feet which prompts him to demand the execution of the women. At 82 minutes, I can't help but wonder if the film isn't missing something but as is the story comes across just fine and there's more than enough action to keep you occupied as well as the great antagonist turn from Dominici and the wonderful score.

Arizona Colt:
SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS 1964 aka GLI INVINCIBILI DIECI GLADIATORI

Dan Vadis (Roccia), Helga Line (Dania), Sal Borgese, Milton Reid (Chimbro)

The rebel slave Spartacus leads the ten gladiators against an evil Roman ruler in an effort to put a stop to his tyranny and the brutal gladiatorial games.

The second entry in the popular TEN GLADIATORS trilogy is a non-stop barrage of action mixed with a smattering of light comedy. There's quite a few major setpieces scattered throughout the films 98 minute running time. The opening gladiatorial combat scene starts things off on a rather serious and somewhat violent note. The evil ruler in the film appears modeled after Emperor Nero and gets up to similar villainy (although far less vicious) as his historical counterpart.

The plot is a good one and with ten main characters (well, only one gets the most screen time) there is ample opportunities for lots of action. The antagonist tries to use Roccia and his men to kill Spartacus and his followers but when this fails resulting in Roccia and Spartacus joining forces, Farro the devious ruler must come up with a new plan. The remainder of the film is a series of captures and rescues leading up to a massive battle at the end. Bits of this sequence may be stock footage but I'm not sure. One of the best scenes has Roccia and some slaves being hung from a large tree by one arm for a long time. After a while, soldiers shoot them with arrows. The heroes arrive in time just before Roccia is killed, though. After the big battle, Farro is run over by a chariot by his own henchman, Chimbro who escapes kidnapping Dania (Line) in the process. Roccia and his friends pursue on horses until Chimbro is stopped and he and Roccia engage in a final fight beside a river.

Dan Vadis plays Roccia and although he isn't as huge as some of the other actors like Steve Reeves or Mark Forest, he is very athletic for his size and isn't shy in the action scenes. Vadis was part of the Mae West Revue and a good friend of fellow peplum star Gordon Mitchell. Vadis starred in THE THEN GLADIATORS (1963), SON OF HERCULES IN THE LAND OF DARKNESS (1963), THE REBEL GLADIATORS (1963), TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964), and THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964) among others. Vadis was one of the lucky few who made the transition into other genres and had one of the most successful careers of the peplum actors. e played convincing bad guys in the spaghetti westerns FORT YUMA GOLD (1966) and THE STRANGER RETURNS (1967). This may have helped him in landing recurring roles in movies directed by Clint Eastwood whom he would star in a series of films from early 70s into the early 80s. Vadis would briefly return to peplums with a lead bad guy role in Mattei's THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS (1983) before being found dead in his car in the late 80s of an apparent drug overdose.

Helga Line is on hand to provide some eye candy but unfortunately, she doesn't get to wear any outfits to show off her body. She is dressed in a gown through most of the movie, though. She spends the last half of the film filthy as she is forced into hard labor along with other slaves and captives.

Character actor Milton Reid stands out as the memorable henchman Chimbro. He looks like a Mongolian warrior in this film and although he is an imposing presence, he is a bit short and Vadis towers over him in their fight scenes. Reid played a number of bit roles in his career but he has a meaty role in this one. Another memorable role for Reid was in THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) as the nasty Sabbala, the leader of the Naga's. Reid looks like something out of a Robert E. Howard novel. He also appeared in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) and as a nemesis for 007 in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977).

I had only ever seen the third film in this series, TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964) as a kid and I have yet to watch the first film. Hopefully it will be as good as the two sequels. It doesn't really matter the order in which you watch them as the films are not connected and are separate adventures. Exploitation fans should get a kick out of the fact that Bruno Mattei was the editor for this movie. The music is serviceable if nothing overly spectacular. Nick Nostro handles the direction well and seems to be comfortable juggling the comedy with the action bits but never allowing the comedy to overpower the finl itself. A recommended peplum romp peppered with all the ingredients that makes these movies fun to watch especially on a late Saturday night.

Arizona Colt:
SANDOKAN, THE PIRATE OF MALAYSIA 1964 aka I PIRATI DELLA MALESIA

Steeve Reeves, Andrea Bosic, Mimmo Palmara, Leo Anchoriz, Jacqueline Sassard, Dakkar

Directed by (the great and vastly underrated) Umberto Lenzi

Sandokan finds an injured man (Palmara) adrift in the sea. He tells of the British Lord Burke who has enslaved the Majaraja Hassim and made slaves of Malay and Indian natives using them in the seized gold mines in Sarawak. Sandokan goes undercover as the Rodger of Samaputra and infiltrates the house of Lord Burke in an effort to stop the evil of Lord Burke.

Reeves returns in the sequel to SANDOKAN, THE GREAT (1962) and is a rare instance of the sequel being better than the original. The action is far more plentiful and Lenzi shows an even more assured hand at handling multiple action scenes this time out. Although it's hard to tell being dubbed, Reeves comes off very well in this one displaying a bit more range than his previous outing as the famed pirate. Only his final duel with Anchoriz is a little disappointing coming off rushed as if the production may have been going over shedule.

Anchoriz shaves off the mustache here and his character is essentially the same from the other film but he is far more evil than his role as Lord Guillonk from the first SANDOKAN. He also gets a bit more screen time and one of the best sequences is Sandokan (under the guise of the Rodger of Samaputra) becoming a suspected guest of the house of Burke.

Bosic who returns as Yanez doesn't get to do as much but curiously, the guy dubbing his voice switches from his Brit accent to a more American sounding voice. This happens frequently so it's odd that the dubber would forget the character he was dubbing. I've seen this happen on some HK movies but this mistake happens for (usually) only one scene. Here, it's nearly the duration of the movie although it wasn't uncommon for a dubber to handle multiple voices.

Peplum and Fusto performer Palmara doesn't get a great deal to do here but during the latter half of the film he is involved in the many action scenes alongside Reeves. Palmara can be seen in HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964), a film I believe was shot in 1961 but was released here in 1964.

Dakkar, the black assistant to Richard Johnson in ZOMBIE (1979) gets a bigger role here than previous and participates in several fight scenes including the finale.

The set pieces are varied and include an attack on a ship early in the film, a prison rescue and the heroes are captured on a couple of occasions throughout giving way to some nice cliffhanger situations.

Like the first film, this sequel was shot on location; this time in Singapore. A brief encounter with a tribe of headhunters would be a warm up for Lenzi when he would later begin his violent jungle/cannibal romp MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972) also shot in Asia. There is one glaring mistake however. During one of the escape scenes, this one inside a mine, Sandokan affixes a gatling gun to a mining car and fires on the soldiers as he and his men make their escape. The bullets never move through the chamber in wide shots when you see Reeves firing it but in close ups of just the barrel, you see cartridges being discharged.

An extremely entertaining and highly enjoyable sequel that would greatly benefit from a remastered DVD release. The more Lenzi movies I see outside of his horror output, the more respect I gain for the man and his work. Outside of his more known and lesser films, his body of work is seriously in need of re-appraisal and wrongfully ignored. Lenzi is/was an amazingly versatile director of repute and any comments he may make about his attributes are warranted should any fans happen to see some of his non-horror works. Hopefully, a book or in-depth interview with the man will surface with the focus being on his movies outside the horror genre.

Arizona Colt:
THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES 1964 aka TRIONFO DI ERCOLE aka HERCULES VS THE GIANT WARRIORS

Dan Vadis (Hercules), Marilu Tolo (Ati), Pierre Cressoy (Milo), Moira Orfei (Pasiphae), Piero Lulli (Gordio), Enzo Fiermonte (Aristeo)

Directed by Alberto De Martino; Music by Francesco De Masi

The King, Panteone, is assassinated by his nephew, Milo. With the help of an evil sorceress, Pasiphae, Milo takes the throne. Hercules is alerted and battles against Milo and his seven invincible golden warriors who are summoned by a magical dagger given to him by Pasiphae. Realizing his threat, Pasiphae and Milo devise an insidious plan utilizing Hercules who later has his strength taken away from him. An exciting finale ends the film.

De Martino really knows how to deliver a good actioner and he piles on the peplum thrills in this fast paced fusto film. There are so many set pieces in the films tight 90 minute running time. Just in the first 30 minutes alone, you have the opening death of the King, the sorceress attempting to kill a friend of Hercules before he can reach him, the first appearance by the magical Gold Warriors fighting off some rebels and gladiatorial combat in a tournament deviously set up by Milo to aid in his ascension to power.

Vadis is great in the role and although he is built, what he lacks in the massiveness of Reeves or Mark Forest, he makes up for in agility. He has charisma as well. Vadis is given quite an action filled role and he appeared to have fun in all his fusto movies at least in the ones I've seen him in. He also did most of his own stunts.

He duels a man riding a chariot aligned with swirling blades similar to the scene in Cozzi's HERCULES (1983) starring Lou Ferrigno. Numerous traps are set for him after he wins the hand of the beautiful Ati (Tolo). His first encounter with the Golden Warriors known as "The 100 Hands" is a humorous one. He is later entranced by both Milo and Pasiphae destroying a village and even accidentally killing his friend, Aristeo. This results in him having his strength taken away by his father, Jove. During the finale, Ate is about to be killed in a spiked trap and Hercules is helpless to do anything. He prays to his father to restore his strength. He does and after dealing with the evil Milo, Ate ends up dangling from a cliff ledge. The sorceress assumes the form of Ate and she, too, hangs from the cliff resulting in a difficult decision for Herc.

Tolo is suitably beautiful here as the love interest of Hercules. She isn't given much to do aside from look good and be placed in life threatening situations. She has appeared in all manner of Italo genre cinema including numerous fusto's, westerns, spy thrillers and giallo's.

Cressoy is wonderfully evil. He kills his Uncle, the King without hesitation and sets up a devious and crafty plot to usurp the throne. He also, along with help from the sorceress, devises a plan to have Hercules's strength taken away. Then finally eliminating Ati, his only remaining obstacle. This cliffhanger moment is expertly handled by De Martino. Ati is affixed to a spiked platform. Hercules, now a mortal, is forced to hold up a metal basket. Milo's men drop large bricks into the basket. If Hercules cannot hold up the increasingly weighted basket, Ati will be impaled by dozens of spears and at the moment of her death, Hercules will be killed as well.

Frequent Spaghetti western baddie Fiermonte gets to play a hero here as Hercules' friend Aristeo. He can be seen in the great THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO (1969), LONG RIDE FROM HELL (1968) starring Steve Reeves and CHUCK MOOL (1970) among others.

More action takes place as Hercules is given his strength back to save the innocent Ati as dozens of rebels swarm the palace. Milo escapes with Ati as his prisoner and Hercules pursues them into the cave where Pasiphae, his mother, resides. Inside the cave, a final battle with the 100 Hands ensues just before Pasiphae tries to avenge her son by giving Herc a difficult choice of which damsel to rescue when two Ati's hang over a cliff above the ocean. Of course, you know how it all ends and the last scene is a comical one involving two thieves who figured into the plot earlier in the picture.

I first saw this film on TNT back in the early 90s. On New Year's Eve they used to have an annual Torch and Toga marathon comprised of various Hercules films that ran all night. Other films that often got played were HERCULES VS MOLOCH (1963), MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963), HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES (1963) and HERCULES & THE SEA MONSTER (1965), the aborted pilot for the planned HERCULES TV show from the 60s.

An excellent entry in the genre that's over flowing with action and although it has a couple of silly parts, the plentiful fights and cliffhangers make it well worth the 90 minutes of entertainment the film provides.

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