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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Maciste In the Land of the Cyclops (1961) review


Gordon Mitchell (Maciste), Chelo Alonso (Queen Capys), Aldo Bufi Landi (Sirone), Paul Wynter (Mumba), Germano Longo (Agisandro), Tullio Altamura

Directed by Antonio Leonviola

The Short Version: Mundane mythological epic has great potential, but a lousy director keeps the film from being prime matinee fare.
There are a couple good sequences and the massive chests of both Gordon Mitchell and Chelo Alonso are larger than life. The film has its fans, but coming this early in the cycle, there are far better movies in the underrated genre of Sword & Sandal pictures.

The ancestors of the evil ruler Circe plot a brutal revenge on the family of Ulysses for their defeat. The villainous Queen Capys targets the kingdom of Sadok, razing the village and kidnapping the women and children for sacrifice to the flesh eating cyclops, Polifemo. Capys has her sights set on the future king of Sadok, a small infant boy as the next to be killed. Maciste intervenes to save both the young heir and the captured women from being Polifemo's next meal.

Antonio Leonviola has directed some of the worst muscleman movies ever conceived almost rivaling the non epics from the erudite (and I mean that sarcastically) hack filmmaker, Guido Malatesta (COLOSSUS & THE HEADHUNTERS). A shame the imposing Gordon Mitchell's first fusto film was one such as this, despite the script possessing grand potential for popcorn thrills. Numerous scenes (especially action scenes) appear awkward and sometimes sluggish. Mitchell seems naive in his first outing as a super hero strongman, but outside of Chelo Alonso's magnificent chest, he's the most liveliest thing in the movie.

The action sequences are, for the most part, sloppily rendered. It's as if the participants are afraid to get into the spirit of things. Mitchell is given lots to do here such as bending bars, hurling huge boulders, fighting a lion, lifting an enormous cart from a crushed centurion and swooning over the allure of Cuban caliente Alonso. It's unfortunate a much better movie couldn't be built around these things. Mitchell only played a good guy a scant few times before assuming antagonistic personages that fit his leathery looks more than the heroic stable of mythological do-gooders occupied by the likes of Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott.

Gordon Mitchell truly lit up the screen in his second such role, the classic historical epic, THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962), one of the best the genre has to offer. Mitchell is the epitome of intensity in that film directed by Enzo Castellari's father, Marino Girolami. A genre defining and bigger budgeted production, it showed off what Mitchell was made of and a number of similar roles followed where Mitchell was totally villainous, or something in between. Another of his most memorable sword & sandal roles was as Arminio in Michele Lupo's THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964).

Two sequences do stand out, managing to save this movie from the bowels of the 'Dis List'. One is where Maciste is suspended above a pit of ravenous lions, his only footing being two thin planks. On both sides of him are a group of slaves who must play tug-of-war for the amusement of Capys and her subordinate, Agisandro. Earlier in the film, it's obvious a stuntman is battling a lion in close quarters, but here, it appears evident that Mitchell is situated high above this pride of lions with only two thin boards keeping him from the company of the beasts.

The other impressive scene(s) are those involving the cyclops, Polifemo. Future cinematographer-poliziesco director, Stelvio Massi was a cameraman on this picture and if he was responsible for the creature scenes, they are antiquated, but noticeably effective for their time. The impression of giganticism is successfully realized during the opening moments and especially at the ending when Maciste confronts the one eyed man-eater. Interestingly, this is also the only such film in memory where the hero doesn't walk/carry off a beautiful woman as the music swells during the closing moments.

The famous Cuban dancing sensation, Chelo Alonso, plays against type here as Queen Capys, an atypical character in so many of these films. She starts out as evil, but eventually succumbs to the wiles of the hero. Sadly, Alonso never shakes her moneymaker as she always did in this productions. She displayed her ample and amorous talents in such films as the dramatic peplum SIGN OF ROME, the bland, but colorful THE PIRATE & THE SLAVE GIRL, the violent GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (all 1959) and her hot salsa role in MORGAN, THE PIRATE (1960). Alonso also lit a fire in the pants of boys everywhere with her sizzle and shake in the brutal MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1960).

While it's not nearly as laughable as the equally absurd Leonviola mess, MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1962), Mitchell's maiden torch & toga showcase is a below average fusto adventure that could have cooked with better action sequences and a spicier Chelo Alonso. Fans of the genre will likely want to see it and it's a no brainer for Mitchell completists, despite it being one of the big guys least impressive productions.

This review is representative of the Medusa Italian PAL R2 DVD. There are no English options.


Dennis said...

I recently watched this again (the washed-out PD bad pan&scan version), and it's really not too bad of a film, that I'm sure would be rated a bit higher by most peplum fans if it were available in a widescreen English-language dub.

As you say, the main faults are the less-than riveting action sequences and the criminal underusage of Chelo Alonso's sensual charms as queen of the erotic dance sequence.

Still, the script is mostly good, and a peplum always gets extra points from me when the script utilizes elements tied to Greek mythology.

Another similiar film that has a decent script but suffers from poor action scenes is ULYSSES VS. THE SON OF HERCULES. Viewed as a Hercules film, it's definitely one of the worst (Herc is characterized as a complete tool of the gods, and casting the wooden Mike Lane helped not a bit). Yet the script is mostly good, especially in the characterization of Ulysses (it almost works as a "lost chapter" of Homer's Odyssey) as is the performance of Georges Marchal as the title character. With a better budget and costumes (most of the budget seemed to have been spent on the costumes for the bird-men and their queen), better casting and beefing-up the part of Hercules, and some decent action sequences, this could have been something memorable. Sadly, Hercules (or should I say Heracles) in this film is so weak he can't even break the 1/4-inch ropes used to bind him captive!

venoms5 said...

Hi, Dennis. I found this one, for all its potential, to be deadly dull in both washed out and wide versions. Mitchell is totally miscast as the lead. He's better when he's an anti hero or the villain. FURY OF ACHILLES is one of his best, if not his best performance. He's on fire in that one.

On an unrelated note, I watched a wide version of REVOLT OF THE SLAVES this evening and it's an incredible film.

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