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...


Maciste In the Valley of the Kings (1960) review


Mark Forest (Maciste), Chelo Alonso (Smedes), Angelo Zanolli (Kenamun)

Directed by Carlo Campogalliani

After the Persians invade Egypt, Amirtee, the Pharaoh wishes to free the slaves of Tanis in an effort to save their city. Queen Smedes has other ideas and assassinates her husband in a plot to sell their lands to the Persian hordes. Kenamun, the son of the Pharoah, returns to Tanis accompanied by the wandering hero, Maciste. The noble strongman leads a revolt along with Kenamun to stop Smedes plans. However, the evil Queen gives Kenamun a magic potion and makes him her slave and uses her seductive charms to enchant Maciste and put an end to the mutiny.

Carlo Campogalliani was one of the genres most competent directors. Having delivered a huge hit with the previous years GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS, Carlo strikes gold again with this big and surprisingly bloody epic. The film contains all the elements that make these movies so much fun to watch. There's a lot of intrigue and subterfuge, lavish sets, gorgeous girls and lots of action set pieces.

Among the technicians behind the scenes, Romolo Girolami (Enzo Castellari's uncle and also a director himself) was an AD on the picture. Stelvio Massi was a cameraman and Carlo Innocenzi lends his orchestral skills to this Italian-French co-production (the DVD box also lists Yugoslavia as part of the financing). Future mega star, Terence Hill (Mario Girotti of GOD FORGIVES...I DON'T and THEY CALL ME TRINITY) has a small role as well.

Mark Forest appears in his second sword & sandal outing and does a fine job, much better than some of his later films where he seems to be just going through the motions. He also seems more kinetic in the fight scenes. In some of his later movies, it would appear he was doubled far more frequently. There are also several humorous moments where it's obvious Forest is posing for the camera to show off his physique even when it's just dialog onscreen.

That hot Latin American sensation, Chelo Alonso strikes fire in the hearts of the Tanisian people in her role as the conniving and evil Smedes. She wastes no time in letting the audience know just how evil she really is ordering her husbands assassination near the beginning of the movie. Alonso is simply gorgeous and it's difficult to take your eyes off of her in any movie she happens to be in. An instant sensation, she had already featured in around six Italian hero movies prior to this one.

One of the most striking aspects of this movie is the level of violence on display, especially for the year in which it was made. It seems much of what is in the original Italian version (referring to the violence) survives in the English dubbed release. The many current PD releases of this film (bearing its English title of THE SON OF SAMSON) runs 87 minutes.

This Spanish DVD (containing both Italian and Spanish language) is 91 minutes which would be around 95 minutes NTSC speed.

There is a handful of additional dialog scenes that adds much to the characters and a shocking brief glimpse of nudity at the beginning which is cut from the US version.

An additional gratuitous shot of Chelo Alonso.

Mark Forest was one of the more popular strongmen in these movies although sometimes he seems a bit disinterested in some of them. One of the best scenes is where a group of slaves nearly kill themselves moving a gigantic pillar onto a construct. Crushing some of them, Maciste saves the slaves by appropriating the heavy and humongous slab. Another choice moment involves Maciste being seduced bythe vicious charms of Smedes. This is where the curvacious body of Chelo Alonso gets to show why she was such a sought after Cuban delight.

MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS is listed at number five (ranked by year of production) on the '26 Best Sword & Sandal Adventures' found elsewhere on this site. If you enjoyed Campogalliani's other movies, than this one is well worth seeking out.

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