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Friday, April 9, 2010

Maciste At the Court of the Great Khan (1961) review


Gordon Scott (Maciste), Helene Chanel (Kiutai), Yoko Tani (Li Ling)

Directed by Riccardo Freda

After betraying the Chinese Emperor in aiding them against the Tartars, the Mongols take over China. The only obstacles in the Great Khan's way is heir to the throne, Prince Tai Sung and Princess Li Ling. The Mongols plan to kill the young prince and marry the princess. Maciste, a traveling hero righting wrongs across the globe, helps the small band of Chinese patriots to liberate their country.

Italy's Godfather of Horror, Riccardo Freda, was a decent hand at directing mythological adventures and this 1961 production is one of his better ones. Shot on leftover sets from MARCO POLO (1962), this was Gordon Scott's second foray into sword and sandal cinema. Scott was the most energetic and intense of the American actors that went to Europe to shoot these movies during the late 50's through the mid 1960's.

He was in good company alongside such luminaries as Steve Reeves, Gordon Mitchell, Lex Barker, Jack Palance and Mark Forest to name a few. The only other actor that comes to mind that matched Scott's intensity would have to be Gordon Mitchell. Scott was said to be quite the wild card and he shows it in his films especially during the action scenes showcasing a verve and indominatable force that was sometimes lacking in many other similar films. He really seemed to enjoy his work portraying these larger than life characters.

One of a handful of scenes deleted from the US release under the title of SAMSON & THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD

As per the time the film was made, many of the Asian characters are essayed by non Asian performers. The actor playing the Mongol leader is clearly anything but Asian and rivals the absurdity of seeing John Wayne as Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR from 1956. This version retains Carlo Innocenzi's opulent score. The US version had additional music by Les Baxter.

The many action scenes are where this picture excels and their are several that stand out among the dozens of other similar adventures. One of the best is a scene inside a restaurant where Maciste demolishes the place while dueling with a large group of Mongols. Ripping away a support beam, he uses it to smash the bad guys.

Another sequence is one of, if not the best damn stunt sequence in the genre which sees Scott attempting to stop a team of horses from decapitating a group of prisoners. Scott is over, under and behind the chariot being dragged on his feet and manages to halt the head cleaving chariot in the nick of time.

Another deleted scene from the US version. This one is from the beginning of the movie. It sets up the premise which is only mentioned in the US cut.

The AIP version of this movie ran at a brisk and lean 77 minutes. The original Italian version on this Spanish PAL disc is listed at 92 minutes. At NTSC speed, that would put the film around 96 minutes. One of the most noticeable differences occurs during the beginning. The plot point of the Mongol raider betraying the Chinese Emperor is seen at the outset. A knife thrower assassinates the Emperor and is then tortured and killed for his trouble. The Mongol usurper takes over till the rightful heir and his baby sister are of age.

More cut footage. This scene occurs right after the Chinese emperor is assassinated.

This entire set up for the storyline is missing from the English release. At approximately ten minutes in, the film begins the way the English dubbed edition begins. For about ten more minutes, the bulk of this footage is also different from the US release. It shows that the Mongols have enslaved the Chinese and use them for labor. It would appear about ten years have passed from the opening sequence and where the US version begins.

Maciste, buried inside a mountain, causes a massive earthquake which destroys the Mongol stronghold and wipes out their forces in the process.

Maciste doesn't appear until approximately 20 minutes into the movie. For the dubbed version, he appears just shy of the ten minute mark. There's more violence between the Mongols and the rebelling Chinese present in the Italian version. After Maciste saves the young prince from a tiger (this scene is longer), a village is razed by the Mongols in a scene missing from the US version.

Fans of this Italian-French co-production and Gordon Scott should definitely seek out this complete version. There are no English options, but it is in full widescreen format and 16/9 enhanced. The film looks good, but not quite as good as some other recent European discs I've seen of these movies.

The colors are moderate and not overly vibrant. There's occasional print damage evident, but nothing compared with what passes for some of the US releases.

Still, it far outshines any of the stateside public domain DVDs especially putting to shame the scope release from Retromedia which only ran 68 minutes(!) MACISTE ALLA CORTE DEL GRAN KHAN (1961) is a fun fusto film with a high action adventure quotient. The inclusion of the gorgeous Helene Chanel sweetens the deal for fans of the genre. Freda's movie is number ten (ranked by year) on the '26 Best Sword & Sandal Adventures' featured elsewhere on this site.

This review is representative of the Impulso R2 PAL DVD from Spain. There are no English options, nor Italian subs for the Italian dubbed track.

Coming soon, reviews for these peplums in widescreen...



Samuel Wilson said...

Good to know there's a better version out there. I've seen "Samson and the Seven Miracles" in an incorrectly letterboxed version from a Mill Creek box set. Having seen a properly proportioned trailer, I knew what I was missing. What I saw was good enough (and as spectacular as you say) to make me want more. The best films of this genre deserve better treatment than they generally get in America.

Somebody definitely lit a fire under Gordon Scott when he got to play an intelligent ape-man in Tarzan's Greatest Adventure, because that and the follow-up, Tarzan the Magnificent, are kick-ass films. That Scott earned respect for intensity in his Italian films doesn't suprise me at all.

venoms5 said...

I just happened to stumble upon it when I bought a couple of other movies at this Italian DVD site. A shame none of the so far have English options. Some have Italian subs so that helps in basic translation using babelfish. Gordon Scott is my favorite. I can't wait to see his HERO OF BABYLON wide and complete. I ordered it the other day. I have a couple of his Tarzan movies which I need to sit down and watch, Sam.

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