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Monday, September 20, 2010

The Lion of St. Mark (1963) review


Gordon Scott (Manrico Venier), Gianna Maria Canale (Rosanna Melzi), Alberto Farnese (Titta), Franca Bettoia (Isabella Fieschi), Rik Battaglia (Giandolo), Mirko Ellis (Civetta)

Directed by Lugi Capuano

The Short Version: This rare Gordon Scott pulp pirate picture is harmless fun for all audiences and the type of movie you'd see at an old style matinee, or on a Saturday afternoon. With lots of action, a lively cast of characters, numerous cliffhanger moments and some low key comedic touches, this high seas adventure is worth storming the castle for its plundered booty.

Turkish pirates raid the Adriatic coast. The buccaneers eventually attract the ire of Manrico Venier during a ballroom dance commemorating the joining of two European families through the marriage of Manrico and the Venetian beauty, Isabella Fieshi. From there, Manrico disguises himself as the 'Lion of St. Mark', a masked hero that protects the downtrodden from the pillaging pirates. During an attack against Titta and his rogues, Manrico comes face to face with the alluring Rosanna. Despite being on opposite sides of the law, the two soon fall in love with one another. While keeping the relationship a secret from both sides, it's eventually discovered leading to an explosive siege on the pirates stronghold.

This Gordon Scott vehicle is a semi ambitious pirate picture helmed by adventure ace, Luigi Capuano. Considering Scott and Steve Reeves were rivals of a sort, it's likely this production was a response to Reeves starring role in MORGAN THE PIRATE from 1960. Whereas that film was lacking in action, Capuano's movie contains a preponderance of it. Also, unlike Reeves, Gordon Scott was far more energetic and imposing in the fighting sequences. Furthermore, Scott was persistent in performing most of his own stunts. Curiously, there's one moment here, the first time we see the masked swordsman, that's it's a double and not Scott in the costume.

Amidst the prolific series of peplum/fusto films, there was a seemingly successful string of costume adventures of pirates and some entries even melded the strongman genre with the swashbuckler. Capuano directed one of the better examples with the escapist fluff that is HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATE (1964). For THE LION OF ST. MARK, Capuano goes for the same, but with a stronger actor in the lead. The story is ZORRO and ROBIN HOOD all rolled up in one. Manrico (Scott) dons a mask and battles the Ozkok pirates under the guise of the 'Lion of St. Mark' and helps the less fortunate people in the surrounding lands.

Rik Battaglia (left) and Gordon Scott (right)

The films plot borrow elements from the legendary story of St. Mark the Apostle whose remains were stolen by three Venetian graverobbers from his tomb in Alexandria, Egypt in the ninth century. Upon returning to Venice, the three men handed over St. Mark's remains to the Doge (military leader). After that, the dead Apostle was made the patron saint and his symbol, a winged lion, became known as the representation of the Republic of Venice.

The film also borrows plot points utilized in Sergio Corbucci's SON OF SPARTACUS from 1962. That film also took inspiration from ZORRO. In both films, the main stars (Steve Reeves in SON) don masks and also implement a decoy disguised as the hero they are accused of being in an effort to keep their identity a secret.

Capuano's movie is aimed at a general audience. At least in the English export version (it's apparently missing over 20 minutes of footage), the violence is mostly tame. Even the villains are not quite as vicious as you'd expect. The pirates seen here are somewhat honorable in that they don't try to kill captives and fight fair when challenged. That doesn't make the film any less enjoyable, just acceptable for younger viewers. The sword fights are fine, if repetitive and plentiful. The sets are mostly authentic and the costumes are extravagant. I am sure a widescreen presentation would only enhance the picture.

This is a must see adventure film for Gordon Scott fans. If you enjoyed his popular interpretation of Tarzan and his imposing roles in scores of torch and toga epics, you'll find this of interest as well. The action is abundant, violence is minimal, but the story is pulpy fun and the script has some enjoyable characters. This is just one of Capuano's many adventure movies on his resume. While I wouldn't say he was a great director, he knew how to deliver popcorn and candy coated entertainment rife for Saturday afternoon viewing.

This DVD-R can be purchased at Sinister Cinema


Fang Shih-yu said...

This might be okay to check out! Gordon Scott did good work in his run of Tarzan movies, especially Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959); one of his co-stars in that film: Sean Connery.

He was also great in the first (unsold) Hercules TV pilot, a.k.a. Hercules and the Princess of Troy. The elaborate mechanical monster used at the end of it cost quite a bit, by 1960's standards!

venoms5 said...

I liked it much better than MORGAN, THE PIRATE despite that film having a feisty Chelo Alonso alongside Steve Reeves.

Gordon Scott is one of my favorite actors and he had an intensity about him rarely seen by other stars in this genre. I agree about HERCULES VS. THE SEA MONSTER aka PRINCESS OF TROY. I remember a gorgeous print of that played on New Years Eve long ago on the TNT network.

Richard said...

I have to see this movie! I've written a novel about the 9th century theft of Mark's relics and am working on getting it published. It's called 'Saint Mark's Body'.

venoms5 said...

They don't focus on the legend of St. Mark, just that Gordon Scott's character dons a mask and fights the pirates under the guise of the Lion. There's some nice shots of them on boats at the end with a golden winged Lion as the masthead. Apparently, the dubbed version is missing close to 20 minutes so it's likely the bulk of that is exposition as is more often the case. It's a fun movie, though, if like these kinds of things and Gordon Scott in particular.

venoms5 said...

Good luck on your novel, Richard!

cuki said...

I have a great passion for this kind of film.

venoms5 said...

Me, too, Cuki. I only wish there were more quality prints of them available here in English friendly editions. The following for these kinds of films is very small here in America at this time. I don't mind settling for the foreign releases so long as I get to see the films the way they were meant to be seen.

Gordon Scott is my favorite out of the actors that did these movies. He had a good degree of charisma lacking in some of the others.

Thanks for stopping by, Cuki!

Richard said...

Thanks Venoms5--I'm glad it's not about the theft of the relics, as far as I can tell no one has told that story before so it's MINE! ALL MINE! :)

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