Sunday, October 26, 2008

Romulus & Remus (1961) review


Steve Reeves (Romulus), Gordon Scott (Remus), Franco Volpi (Amulias), Virna Lisi (Julia), Andrea Bosic (Faustalus), Laura Solari (Rea Silvia), Massimo Girroti (Tasius Nemulias), Jacques Sernas (Cursias), Ornella Vanoni (Tarpea), Piero Lulli (Sulpicius), Giovanni Cianfriglia

Contributing Writers: Sergio Corbucci, Luciano Martino, Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari; Cinematography by Enzo Barboni; Music by Piero Piccioni

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

Born of a God and a mortal, two babies are abandoned to a river. Nurtured by a wolf, they are later recovered by a sheperd. They grow up to lead a band of thieves in an effort to eliminate two cruel Kings-- Amulias and Nemulias, the King of the Sabines. After 20 years, the two twins are briefly reunited with their mother. Before she dies, she tells her sons that they are destined to be the founders of a great city.

Later after having fallen in love with the daughter of Nemulias, Romulus is unaware of his brothers ambitions as Remus steadily succumbs to the temptations of power and greed. King Tasius pursues the brothers and their followers both to retrieve his daughter as well as avenge the destruction of his city of Abalonga. Soon, a rift develops between the two siblings leading to a death duel between both sons of the Gods to determine the true founder of Rome.

Gordon Scott, Andrea Bosic, Steve Reeves

A fine directorial effort by spaghetti western master filmmaker Sergio Corbucci. A great number of Italian technicians worked on this picture including Sergio Leone. Both Sergio's careers parallel each other (in Italy anyway). Both Sergio's worked as AD's on THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959) which led to Leone directing THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES (1961) and Corbucci handling ROMULUS & REMUS (1961). Corbucci also had a hand in MACISTE AGAINST THE VAMPIRES (1961; aka GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES) co-directed with Giacomo Gentilomo.

While it's one of the finest sword & sandal movies, ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) bears none of the marks of Corbucci's later career (although the extreme violence inherent in his westerns is foreshadowed here), but the film is directed with great care along with a fine script and memorable performances by everyone.

Steve Reeves puts in possibly his best acting gig as the gentle and kind hearted Romulus. He chooses to think his way out of a fight and save those around him as opposed to his brother, who cares only for his own personal gain and glory. Reeves doesn't do any superhuman feats but flexes his acting muscle as does Gordon Scott as the supercilious Remus.

Corbucci carefully builds these two characters to the breaking point till avarice and sovereignty totally consumes Remus. Even at this point, Romulus doesn't want to fight his brother only when it is obvious that the two must duel does he take up arms against him. In death, Remus realizes his mistake but finds content in the notion that it was destined from the beginning.

Destiny and fate play an important role in this movie. After Remus defies the Gods by crossing the shorter route to the prophesized city of glory, he and his followers must traverse an unstable volcano. Inevitably, the volcano erupts splitting the mountain in two sending everyone to their doom save for a badly injured Remus and Tarpea, the woman who loves him. As she prays for the Gods to save him, the Sabines arrive with the intentions of killing both of them. Tarpea gives the information to Tasius as to the location of his daughter.

He gives his word to spare them should she speak where Romulus and the others are. When she does, the easily riled Cursias adamantly disapproves of letting them go free. King Tasius responds, "That man has his have all of us." The Sabines are, surprisingly, not the real villains here, but Remus, who eventually becomes overpowered by his ambitions to rule a city; a city by which he is willing to sacrifice all for his own gain. At the end, the Sabines join forces with Romulus and it is here that Remus appears and attempts to kill his brother to rule what is to become Rome.

Piero Lulli (right)

Frequent Spaghetti Western villain Piero Lulli plays a rare good guy role and gets more screen time than another heroic peplum role in THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964). Steve Reeve's stunt double, Giovanni Cianfriglia also plays a small role in the film attempting to have his way with the beautiful Julia until Romulus intervenes and let's his fist explain that the lady isn't interested.

In what is essentially a chase movie in a Roman setting, Corbucci keeps the action moving at a smooth pace perfectly balancing the plot, characterization and the action sequences never allowing the film time to become tiresome. It would be interesting to learn if there were any conflicts on set between both Reeves and Scott but they work well together and both play vastly more interesting personalities than their usual brawny types. The character of Remus being the more interesting and complex of the two, Reeves (of course) gets top billing as the kinder, more cautious Romulus. However, both get equal screen time. Gordon Scott was a better actor than Reeves and would appear to have been more agile in his action scenes.

With such an awesome pedigree both behind and in front of the camera, Corbucci's famous entry in the Sword & Sandal sweepstakes is one of the greatest the genre has to offer. I'd definitely rate this as one of Corbucci's best films and worthy of a wider audience. Fans familiar with his more well known Italian westerns should seek out this film to see what Sergio Corbucci was capable of outside of the habitual western setting he was most commonly associated with.

This review is representative of the German DVD which has English options.

DVD Availability: Koch Media (R2)

Goliath & the Barbarians (1959) review


Steve Reeves (Emiliano/Goliath), Chelo Alonso (Landa), Livio Lorenzon (Igor), Arturo Dominici (Seyvo), Andrea Checci (Delfo), Bruce Cabot (Arboina)

Directed by Carlo Campogalliani

In 568 AD, bloodthirsty barbarians invade Barona slaughtering everyone in their path. A band of survivors, led by Emiliano, flee into the nearby forests. There, Emiliano swears vengeance for the brutal death of his father at the hands of the barbarians. Proving himself to be an almost invincible adversary, the barbarian hordes name him the 'Goliath'. A brutal struggle ensues to drive the invaders from the lands of Barona and the surrounding provinces. Eventually, Emiliano learns that Igor, the leader of the brutes, is the man responsible for murdering his father. The 'Goliath' dispenses merciless retribution to all those who would harm him and his people.

One of the best peplum/fusto movies as well as being the best Steve Reeves picture I've yet seen. A stunning adventure filled with action, intrigue, blood, violence and gorgeous women. Reeves name here is Emiliano but is called Goliath on occasion as well as THE Goliath by the brutes. He does perform a number of super human feats of strength throughout that are probably symbolic of his burning desire to kill the barbarians as opposed to portraying a God or demi-god of some kind. Possibly the Italian dub would reveal more.

Reeves isn't the best actor obviously, but he's intimidating and possesses a lot of charisma and this is the best film performance I've seen him in aside from his wonderful portrayal of the pirate, Sandokan, in the first two SANDOKAN movies. When Reeves swears to kill the invaders, he carries out his vengeance initially dressed up wearing some fur claws and a sort of furry tiger mask. He watches the neighboring villages and when the savages come, he attacks them saving the innocent people.

The word spreads among the hordes that a Goliath is loose who "roars like a lion", killing many with great strength. Emiliano soon does away with this costume and is later captured in the wilderness whilst chopping up logs. Reeves gets ample opportunity to show off his muscular attributes which will please female fans of these films. It's a shame the women couldn't reveal as much skin as the men in the peplums. Reeves also has a good chemistry with his stunningly sensual co-star mentioned below.

The striking beauty, Chelo Alonso, plays the fiery Landa, the daughter of Delfo, the leader of the hordes under the command of Alboina. She is lusted after by Igor, the leader of the barbarians who wishes to eliminate Delfo and take his daughter without reprisal. Landa will have nothing to do with him, but after being thrown from her horse, Emiliano saves her, and of course, you know what happens next. He doesn't want anything to do with her because of her relation to the enemy and even threatens to kill her should she return.

Emiliano eventually falls for her, too, and this adds another element to the storyline concurrent with the revenge theme. Alonso has a dynamite body and she gets to show it off, albeit teasingly, in two VERY suggestive dance scenes. Even if you're not a peplum fan, just seeing her sexy figure promenade about is enough reason to tune in.

Aturo Dominici plays a supporting role as Seyvo, one of Igor's subordinates. He gets to display a good amount of villainy before his exit during the final moments although I would have preferred he met a more dramatic fate than the one he gets. Dominici was made for villain roles with his devilish features and put them to good use in HERCULES (1957), PERSEUS, THE INVINCIBLE (1963), HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH (1963), HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964) and one of the most famous Italo horrors ever, Bava's MASK OF SATAN (1959).

After Emiliano is captured by Seyvo, he is accused of being the Goliath and is to be put to death. Landa intervenes and her father agrees to free him per their rules that if he can survive two torturous tests, he will be set free. Of course, releasing the threat to the barbarians success of conquest enrages Seyvo further giving weight to the notion that Delfo won't make it to the final credit crawl. The tests involve spears thrown into a wooden board. Emiliano is then pulled with ropes by other men to try and impale him onto the spearheads.

When it seems two men can't do it, about a dozen of them try at the same time. After passing this test, his arms are tied to two horses which are supposed to rip his arms from their sockets. Emiliano passes this one, too. He is freed much to the chagrin of Seyvo and Igor. This leads to an interesting plot point which isn't explored for very long.

After he earns his freedom, Emiliano's people begin to suspect him since he is in love with the daughter of their enemy. He now seems reluctant to wage war against them. One of his people points this out to him and when Landa meets him in the woods one day he tells her he doesn't want to see her anymore but this is only temporary. Perhaps if the film were longer than 83 minutes this bit could have earned some more dramatic miles.

The level of violence in this film is very high for a movie of this type in 1959. There are some brief bits of brutality throughout but the scenes of vehemence hits a high note during the last 15 minutes just after Emiliano and his men ambush an escort of the sacred crown of Arboina led by Seyvo. The good guys kill most of the barbarians and steal the crown but seyvo escapes. In retaliation, Igor orders seyvo and his brutes to burn and kill everyone in the subjugated villages until the crown is returned.

Here, you see a man trampled by a horse. It's a dummy, but you see the act. This is followed by an axe to the face, children killed, people tied to stakes and impaled with spears affixed to wagons, a guy burned in the face with a hot branding iron, a guy burned alive tied to a cross, people herded together and shot down with arrows and victims tied to the ground and passing horsemen throw spears into their bodies. It's not Fulci level violence, but it is shocking to see such things in movies like this.

After this ferocious village massacre, Emiliano goes to the barbarian fort to give conditions on the return of the sacred crown-- The release and freedom of the villagers in exchange for the crown. The plan doesn't go quite as expected and the stage is set for a huge battle inside the fort. Emiliano learns that Igor is the man who killed his father as he wears his father's necklace. The manner in which Reeves kills Igor is a bit of an eye opener as it is as savage as a number of the brutish acts committed by the barbarians.

Directed with an assured hand by Carlo Campogalliani, he also directed SON OF SAMSON (1960) starring fusto favorite Mark Forest and Chelo Alonso again. A young Terence Hill also stars. Campogalliani also directed URSUS (1961), the first film in a series of at least nine entries this one starring Ed Fury who would appear in at least two more URSUS films.

A classy peplum/fusto actioner with some very nice studio sets as well as some beautiful shots of the countryside. It's a shame that there aren't more quality releases of these movies but there's hope for the future. This is the Wild East release paired with GOLIATH AGAINST THE VAMPIRES (1961). This release is a port of the Spanish Warner Bros. release which has English options. A very good and frequently exciting Italian muscleman movie that's an awful lot of fun and is one of the best I've ever seen and is highly recommended for any Reeves fan and that gorgeous Chiquita, Chelo Alonso.

DVD availability: Warner Home Video (R2); Wild East (R1)

Sandokan, the Great (1963) review


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 (center)

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)
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