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Friday, May 20, 2011

Hero of Babylon (1962) review


Gordon Scott (Nipur), Genevieve Grad (Tamira), Andrea Scotti (Namar), Celina Celi (Agar), Moira Orfei (Ura), Mario Petri (Cyrus), Piero Lulli (Balthazar), Andrea Aurelli (Anarse), Giuseppe Addobbati (Licardio), Harold Bradley (Mursuk), Paola Petrini

Directed by Siro Marcellini

The Short Version: Action packed pseudo biblical era Sword & Sandal picture stars the great Gordon Scott in a rather exciting and intermittently brutal adventure. The usual peplum tropes are on hand, but with some surprising differences. Some character inconsistencies hamper things slightly, but the pace is so fast, the popcorn thrills help keep this breezy entertainment afloat.

"Why can't those miserable idiots just die quietly without disturbing our pleasure?!"--Balthazar trying to enjoy a feast with his company

Living among Persians and being educated under the service of Cyrus, king of Persia, Nipur returns to Babylon to take his rightful place on the throne. Upon his arrival, the evil Balthazar carries the scepter belonging to Nipur's father, the former ruler of Babylon, who has mysteriously disappeared. Fearing the tyrant, the surrounding villagers are enslaved and the young Jewish daughters regularly sacrificed to Ishtar, the goddess of fire. Nipur revolts against Balthazar's despicable deeds and attempts to halt the sacrifice of his friends fiance, Agar. He fails and is injured escaping the city. Returning to the camp of Cyrus, the Persian king and Nipur launch an attack to bring down the cruelty of Balthazar and restore the throne to its rightful heir.

Siro Marcellini isn't a name that crops up very often in the most familiar Italian genre movies, but his frequently grim entry in the Sword and Sandal sweepstakes is one of the most enjoyable and flamboyantly garish of the entire run of these ancient history adventure tales. Ancient Babylon has many legends tied to it and many of these translate well to mythological and biblical tales of heroism and villainy. This Italian-French co-production (shot on left over sets from THE FURY OF ACHILLES) is one of the best the genre has to offer, and while it has a mis-step or two from budgetary limitations, it's still a great deal of fun.

The camera pans back and you see this stuntman hit hard on the ground. This scene is a night time scene in the non restored export dubbed version.

The plot is similar to the one in another Gordon Scott vehicle, THE TYRANT OF LYDIA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963), but that film highlights the court intrigue, while here, action is the order of the day. These action scenes are exciting and well staged. There's one incredible stunt seen early on that's just as impressive now as it must have been at the time. In it, Nipur's friend, Namar, is being chased by soldiers atop the roofs of the Babylonian city. With nowhere to go, Namar leaps from the top of one of the buildings down onto two of men waiting below. There's no airbag, no cushioning hidden beneath the dirt, nothing. It's an amazing daredevil stunt perfectly captured by the camera. Furthermore, in the English dubbed version, this scene is day-for-night, but in the restored print, it's a daytime sequence.

It's of the popular opinion that Steve Reeves is the king of the Sword & Sandal movies and while his popularity for propelling the genre to herculean heights is unquestionable, Gordon Scott (the most famous next to Reeves) should be the rightful heir to the cinematic Torch & Toga throne. He's easily the best actor of the bunch and was incredibly energetic in his action scenes. He was also adamant about doing his own stunts and throughout his career, Scott pulled off some extremely dangerous and life threatening examples of derring do. All of Scott's sword fights and brawls here are done by him and his hyperactive movements are undeniable. There's even a couple of occasions where Scott slows down to allow for one of the poor extras to keep up with his sword strikes. One impressive shot sees two automatons throw spears at Scott and he knocks them away with his blade. No stuntman, just Gordon Scott, a terribly underrated matinee action star.

Piero Lulli as Balthazar is one of the most sadistically evil characters that ever usurped a throne in a Torch & Toga movie. He orders the deaths of female Jewish slaves whether by fire or strangulation, has children captured, orders an envoy from Cyrus to have his hand chopped off and other unpleasantries. In an unusual touch that was rarely, if ever seen again, Balthazar takes a sword and challenges Nipur during the conclusion. In nearly all these movies, the tyrant king sends his minions to their deaths against the hero, or uses the lead damsel in distress as a shield, or bartering tool. Not this time as both protagonist and antagonist engage in a sword duel. Such a thing is very refreshing in a genre that infrequently deterred from 'by the numbers' genre conventions.

Moira Orfei sizzles as the evil and duplicitous Ura. Most peplums have a calculating female and she was one of the best at essaying a double dealing, scheming woman, or sorceress of some kind. Here, she learns of Nipur's true intentions of avenging his father's death as well as rescuing the fiance of his friend, Namar. She pledges that she wishes to join Nipur as Queen should he assassinate Balthazar. In reality, she cares for no man, just whoever can help her attain her aspirations. This, too, is different. In many other similar movies, the evil Queen, or villainess, falls for the hero and ends up dying at the end. The character of Ura, while showing a sexual desire for Nipur, is pure evil right to the end. Her cold utterance of "The first one", as she points out which frightened slave to throw to the fire is memorable.

The crucifixion-whipping scene is heavily trimmed in the US version

The English version under the SONS OF HERCULES moniker differs slightly and eliminates any mention of Jews and also shortens the scenes of violence. The only other major difference is the added opening narration that links the film to the other re-edited 'Sons of Hercules' films that were popular in America once upon a time. Some of the dubbed dialog is outrageous especially the lines from Balthazar and his minions reveling in their cruelty in the most over the top fashion.

It's not all perfect in Babylon, though. Possibly the biggest plot hole is the failed rescue of Agar, Namar's future wife. Initially, Nipur requests her as his slave after she's chosen to be sacrificed. Balthazar agrees, but Ura knows Agar belongs to Nepir's friend, realizing he is merely saving her from death so that the two may be together. When Nepir refuses Ura's offer to rule together, Agar is chosen to be killed anyway. Nepir attempts to thwart the sacrifice, but is forced to run instead. Meanwhile, Namar, who is among the witnesses, is kept from saving his lover who ends up being thrown into the fire pit. After this terrible incident, Namar appears unaffected the rest of the movie and isn't in the film that much afterward.

Without the intense power of Gordon Scott, this wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable. With the added attraction of both Orfei and an evil relishing Lulli adorned in several flamboyant costumes, this is a no brainer for brawny movie lovers.

This review is representative of the Impulso R2 Spanish DVD. Italian and Spanish tracks only. No English options.

1 comment:

reanaclaire said...

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