Sunday, October 26, 2008
Sandokan, the Great (1963) review
SANDOKAN, THE GREAT 1963 aka LA TIGRE DI MOMPRACEM
Steve Reeves (Sandokan), Andrea Bosic (Yanez), Leo Anchoriz (Lord Guillonk)
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
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. Joining forces with a massive tribe of headhunters, Sandokan and his companions attack the British fortress in an effort to quell the tyranny of Lord Guillonk and his oppressive militia.
Definitely one of Reeve's best movies I've seen. I enjoyed this to some degree more 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 and stiff, 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 the 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 headhunters 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 in addition to some violent machete and spear action. This battle sequence comes complete with many explosions and mass attack scenes.
The scene in question 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 pictures like THE TROJAN HORSE (1961), THE LAST GLORY OF TROY (1962;with SW regular Gianni Garko) and THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959). 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 (1963), SANDOKAN, THE PIRATE OF MALAYSIA (1964), also appeared in the fusto favorite, PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1961) starring Richard Harrison. Anchoriz again played a villain in that film. 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) where he was the main villain in both. He also featured in the downbeat classic, A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL (1969) where he again essayed the role of a bandit.
Umberto Lenzi is probably the single most underrated filmmaker in Italian cinema. The man dabbled in virtually every genre proving his diversity and versatility as a director. He demonstrates an assured hand in showcasing big action scenes such as the siege at the end. This is probably what led to him directing the later war pictures from the late 1960's on. Lenzi also foreshadows his cannibal movies briefly when Sandokan and his cohorts encounter a tribe 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 exploitation horror 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) while so many more better and respectable films fill out his exhaustive filmography. Without a doubt his crime 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 even better sequel, SANDOKAN, THE PIRATE OF MALAYSIA (1964). The follow-up has Lenzi more comfortable in the director's chair with a script that allows for more action sequences. The Sandokan series continued, but without Lenzi's, or Reeves's participation. Ray Danton took over the role for the next two installments-- SANDOKAN FIGHTS BACK (1964) and SANDOKAN AGAINST THE LEOPARD OF SARAWAK (1964). Additional films and several television series followed for the next several decades. Lenzi also directed the peplums MESSALINA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964) aka THE LAST GLADIATOR and TEMPLE OF THE WHITE ELEPHANT (1964).
The Spanish 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's 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 absolutely 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. Possibly, those fans will find something of interest here. SANDOKAN, THE GREAT (1963) is an enjoyable experience taking the viewer back to a time when adventure films were much simpler affairs and possessed a colorful exuberance lacking from similar films today.
This review is representative of the Spanish DVD which has English options
DVD availability: Filmax (R2)