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Monday, March 23, 2009

Hercules & the Black Pirate (1964) review


Alan Steel (Hercules/Samson), Rosalba Neri (Rosita), Andrea Aureli (The Black Pirate), Piero Lulli (Don Rodrigo), Nello Pazzafini

Directed by Luigi Capuano

After defeating the Black Pirate and his men in a sea battle, Hercules falls in love with Rosita, the daughter of Don Alonzo. He disapproves of the son of a fisherman marrying the daughter of nobility and Hercules leaves the castle to return to his home village. Don Rodrigo secretly plots the death of Don Alonzo to usurp his power as ruler of Valencia and to also win the hand of his wife, a former lover of his before she married into royalty. Rodrigo sides with the Black Pirate to fulfill his plan. Eventually, Hercules must once again do battle with the malicious pirate as well as duel with the conniving Don Rodrigo to save the King, Rosita and his kidnapped daughter, Alma.

One of a handful of hybrid peplum movies this one very similar to the slightly better HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964) and even borrowing much of that films score. Sergio Ciani (Alan Steel) played second fiddle to Mimmo Palmari in that movie as he hadn't become a proven commodity in the genre. Like that film, there is an even stronger THREE MUSKETEERS vibe going on this time with some sea battles and decent sword fights. Ciani also had a bit role in THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) as well as an appearance as a gladiator in HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959).

A lot of sword & sandal and peplum movies around this time were mixing things up a bit in an effort to keep the genre fresh. Despite the melding of styles, declining budgets and audience disinterest led to the peplums demise which in turn gave rise to the Italian western during the year of 1964. Sergio Ciani, like Dan Vadis, was a late entry in the muscleman sweepstakes. Even with the genre drying up by the following year, Ciani headlined some of the most memorable movies from the end of the cycle. These hybrids, as well as the last round of films, were never the best of the genre, but definitely some of the most fun.

Steel (Sergio Ciani) is obviously suited to these roles but he never emotes when the scene calls for some strong reaction unless it involves fisticuffs. He was apparently popular as he continued to get roles for a number of years in movies that didn't require throwing logs or big rocks around. Other movies starring Sergio Ciani are SAMSON & THE SLAVE QUEEN (1963), THE REBEL GLADIATORS (1963), HERCULES AGAINST ROME (1964), the popular cult film HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN (1964), the terrible SAMSON & HIS MIGHTY CHALLENGE (1964), SLAUGHTER ON THE KHYBER PASS (1970) and FAST HAND IS STILL MY NAME (1972).

Neri is as sensual as ever as Rosita. Like most all beautiful women in these movies, she isn't given much to do but dote after the hero. Women in these movies were either damsels in distress or were wicked villainess' plotting the downfall of the heroes. Neri can also be seen in a more active role in KINDAR, THE INVULNERABLE (1964). Some others are HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH (1963), ARIZONA COLT (1966), DAYS OF VIOLENCE (1967) and in far more revealing roles like THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT (1973) and SLAUGHTER HOTEL (1973).

Lulli is again excellent as the cunning bad guy, Don Rodrigo. While I prefer Arturo Dominici from the earlier, similar movie, Lulli suffices and would make a career out of playing despicable villains most especially in spaghetti westerns like the SARTANA series and THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO (1969) among many others. Lulli did get to play a hero in the Dan Vadis fusto movie THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964) as well as the Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott classic, ROMULUS & REMUS (1961). Piero Lulli had the perfect villain face much like his colleague, Arturo Dominici. He seemed to play as many good guys as he did bad guy roles. Here, he is especially despicable at one point even threatening the life of a little girl.

Frequent peplum and Euroater actor Nello Pazzafini looks a bit jarring here painted up in black face! I'm not sure if he's supposed to portray an Indian or someone with a dark, dark suntan or if the filmmakers expect the audience to believe he is an African vassal. Andrea Aureli as the Black Pirate doesn't strike much of a menace. His acting is fine, just that he isn't much of an imposing threat. He never quite comes off as much of an antagonist as Lulli's Don Rodrigo steals the villain role away from him.

Euro cinema heavy Giovanni Cianfriglia has a brief duel with Ciani upon his return to Alonzo's castle after the opening defeat of the Black Pirate. This fight is actually better than the one at the climax of HERCULES THE AVENGER (1965) between Cianfriglia and Reg Park. Cianfriglia was formerly the stunt double to Steve Reeves. The bulk of his career was as a supporting character and seldom got to headline a movie. A shame really, as he had a good face and could play either a hero or a villain. He was most often cast as the latter. He would have been a better choice as the Black Pirate of this films title.

The set design is passable and the budget allows for a castle set as well as a couple of ships. These could all be redressed sets from some other costume adventures, though. The action scenes aren't stupendous, but do showcase some fair fisticuffs that are a bit better than the sword duels. Some of the stunts are good and Hercules (Samson in the Italian version) gets to take part in some superhuman displays of strength despite the Elizabethan time period in which the film is set.

Not quite as much fun as HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964), it would be if the lead was a better actor. Even still, it's a decent diversion if you've nothing better to watch and fans of the genre will no doubt get a kick out of it. Spaghetti Western fans may find the picture of interest what with all the familiar faces soon to appear in the Italian versions of the Old West. A widescreen release restoration would no doubt benefit this lively late entry in the period Euro adventure genre.

This review is representative of the Retromedia DVD. It is the co-feature with HERCULES THE AVENGER (1965).

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