Monday, January 30, 2012

20 of the Worst Sword & Sandal Adventures


This is a selection of what I consider the worst examples of the Sword & Sandal genre. Granted, there's most likely a handful of other movies one could place here (just about anything with Kirk Morris or bearing a directing credit for Guido Malatesta would fit comfortably on this list), but these are among the cream of the crappy crop when it comes to muscleman movie madness; that's not to say some of these films listed here don't have a 'Beef for Brains' level of entertainment value because of their insurmountable awfulness. Some of these budget deprived adventures of mythological mayhem are just plain difficult to sit through. Others have pulpy, adventurous storylines, but obvious limitations both in front of and behind the cameras keep those examples from attaining anything but a place at the bottom of the beefcake barrel.


Directed by Piero Pierotti

THE PLOT! The dread pirate Drakut seizes secret military documents on their way to Rhodes unknowingly carried by Bianca, the daughter of the Rhodes governor. The jailed adventurer, Captain Diego offers his service to take Drakut's ship, recover the stolen plans and free the governor's daughter. With no other options, the governor accepts this proposal. Pretending to become a hand aboard Drakut's vessel, Diego has plans of his own including stealing Drakut's woman, Miriam, right out from under him.

Visually colorful, lavishly costumed, intricately plotted, but hopelessly anemic non action opus set on the high seas holds great promise in its storyline but can't even be bothered to deliver the required action sequences that's the life blood of these kinds of movies. The only stroke of genius (or mind boggling scripting snafu) is seeing Lex Barker as the villain (especially after playing Tarzan in the earlier part of the 1950s) and Massimo Serato as the hero! Chelo Alonso, in her second such role, sizzles without doing much at all and helps to make this pitiful pirate picture moderately bearable. Future peplum pirate participant, Daniela Vargas is also on hand as one of the bad guys. When the finale mercifully arrives, the whimpering excuse of buckle swashing takes place on what looks like a hurriedly scraped together set from a traveling drama troupe. It's not even realistic on an operatic level--the type of studio bound set you know is fake, but there's a dream-like quality about it. Coming during a time when this genre was thriving and enjoying a great number of quality productions, it's sad that this one is such a lackluster affair especially considering the cast. We don't even get any half baked battles at sea. It's all very tedious and possibly the most boring film on this list.


Directed by Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia

THE PLOT! Hercules seeks revenge against those who killed his wife and people, but finds and falls in love with Jayne Mansfield instead. Throne usurping, a three headed monster and an evil amazonian sorceress figure into this camp classic.

Mickey Hargitay stars alongside his wife, Jayne "the massive" Mansfield, who tackles a dual role here. More accurately, Jayne's breasts have a dual role here vying for screen supremacy, so it's four times the Jayne for your buck. SEE! boobs versus biceps as a dumbfounded Hercules gets hypnotized by the magical allure of Mansfield's mammaries in this camp classic that also features a giant Macy's Day Parade three headed Hydra. SEE! a cave dwelling apeman and a forest of "wooden men" who bleed when you cut their (tree) limbs off. Hargitay is one of the least interesting men to ever appear in one of these movies and he surely looks lost the duration of the picture possibly mesmerized by the Herculean frame of his wife, the real star of the show.


Directed by Vittorio Sala

THE PLOT! Strong arm Glauco and his sidekick Pirro embark on a seafaring journey and end up in a kingdom of amazons where they engage in a lot of goofy adventures including a search for a sacred girdle.

Rod Taylor's co-starring credit may be the "best" thing about this occasionally hilarious, but still atrocious Herculean battle of the sexes from 1960. The familiar genre tropes are inverted here with the women dominating the men--they make both love and war and duel in the arena and pick the men of their choosing for the night. There's even a dance number of male dandies! Speaking of queer behavior, the men inhabiting the kingdom of the amazons have taken on effeminate traits which Taylor's character displays intermittently throughout. One minute he's slobbering over the lovely frame of Daniella Rocca and in another he possesses the mannerisms of a sissy. The film loses much of its steam about an hour in and the English dubbing is one of the worst ever applied to a foreign production. Still, the dubbing does have its moments such as a line from a slave with a southern accent--"Let's be off, my baybiz. Ya'll is my women now." Then there's the bastardized pronouncement of the "Queendom of the Amazons" and a talking parrot. Gianna Maria Canale is incredibly sexy here as the lustful ruler in the "Queendom" who protests she will die a virgin. The jazzy musical score is a total misfire, yet the picture seems to have inspired a series of similar movies in the coming years from both Italian and Chinese movie producers. The last sequence is gorgeously captured amidst a backdrop of majestic waterfalls.


Directed by Antonio Leonviola

THE PLOT! The cruel Queen Capys kidnaps women and children of Sadok to appease the flesh hungry appetite of the giant cave dwelling cyclops, Polifemo. Maciste steps in to rescue a young heir from the beast.

Yet another Italian He-Man movie that crushes itself under its own weight and squandered potential. Possibly the lackluster presentation is due to the handicapped direction of Antonio Leonviola, the "specialist" behind such endearingly awful films such as MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961), TAUR, THE MIGHTY (1963) and THOR & THE AMAZON WOMEN (1963). Gordon Mitchell's first interpretation of an ancient strongman hero is naive in execution and would thankfully end here. Mitchell, while vastly more impressive as an antagonist, appears totally out of place as the hero. He would rectify this with an amazing performance in THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962) and would perfect the sinister bad guy laugh that became part and peplum parcel in this genre. The action scenes are poor, although Mitchell is anxious to get in their and rough everybody up. The stunt crew appear shy or scared of him. This is also one of many times Gordon Mitchell is billed as 'Mitchell Gordon'. Aside from an impressive showing by a flesh eating giant cyclops, there's a scant few sequences that arouse interest. Speaking of arousal, Cuban moneymaker shaker, Chelo Alonso plays the stock evil queen who ends up falling for granite faced Maciste.


Directed by Antonio Leonviola

THE PLOT! Maciste and his sidekick enter the lair of the mole men and the Queen that rules them. There they turn a massive wheel that seems to operate a bunch of conveyor belts with an unexplained function. Eventually, they mastermind an uprising to free the slaves of the mole men and their Queen.

Mark Forest puts his head in the dirt starring in this beyond ridiculous, though moderately entertaining fluff wherein Ma-cheese-ta and his equally 'roided out black companion do battle with the "mole men", a race of shoddily made up albino skinny guys decked out in white feathers and bed sheets. I defy any viewer to look at these flamboyantly dressed, bizarro villains and not raise an eyebrow and say "Are you serious?" Moira Orfei (as the evil Queen whose name sounds like somebody talking with their mouth full of food) escapes with her dignity intact. She lords over the malcontent mole men and keeps that old peplum stand by, a shaggy gorilla, locked up in a cage which ends up butting heads with Maciste when little else is happening onscreen. Spaghetti Western cult favorite, Gianni (WAR OF THE TROJANS) Garko, who went on to play magician gunslinger Sartana and the even more gimmicky Holy Ghost plays one of the head mole men. The mole men must have had some measure of cult appeal in Europe as they would return in an entertaining sub plot in the lively, late blooming gladiator serio-comedy, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS (1965). Watch that one instead. It's intentionally funny and far more entertaining.


Directed by Guido Malatesta

THE PLOT! Maciste, that worldy, super heroic Italian traveler, finds himself in prehistoric times right in the middle of a war between the Sun and Moon tribes. The Moon men revel in that old peplum standby, the virgin sacrifice; these women being the members of the Sun tribe. Clean shaven Ma-cheese-ta lends a hand in between bouts with assorted lizard monsters.

This bone headed, stone age grunt-and-groaner stars Mae West protege and former Mr. America, Reg Lewis. Looking like he stepped out of a modern day BEACH PARTY movie with his slicked back, rockabilly hairstyle, Maciste battles various neolithic adversaries and several reptilian monsters. This riotously bad caveman era example in prehistoric filmmaking loses more points by making the pouty allure of Margaret Lee terribly unattractive. It's inadvertently funnier than CAVEMAN (1980), though. Lewis had minor roles in the star studded DON'T MAKE WAVES (1967) and fleetingly in the unintentionally hilarious Mae West flick, SEXTETTE (1978). Lewis's brief film career has largely been forgotten, but his years as a professional bodybuilder maintains a following. Note the accompanying poster lists Alan Steel among the credits although he is nowhere to be found here. Not only that, but he's top billed over the real star of the show and his name is spelled wrong as Red Lewis!


Directed by Emimmo Salvi

THE PLOT! Vulcan is a blacksmith at Mt. Olympus. The lovely, sex hungry Venus vies for his affection, but he isn't interested. He prefers the even more bodacious form of the mortal frame of Bella Cortez. As in the real world, Venus can't take rejection and a lot of subterfuge, jealousy, pony riding midgets, guys in lousy monster costumes and bad optical effects ensue.

Seldom do movies get much more torturously awful than this one and this list here is a veritable maelstrom of mediocrity. This Olympian sized bowel movement won't relieve you of the upset stomach you'll receive enduring the high school level of set design that passes for Mt. Olympus, nor the atrocious costumes and action scenes. But bad movie aficionados will get well more than their money's worth here. This is arguably the single worst movie on this list, but is likely the most "enjoyable" for its overwhelming level of rancidness. This one is highly unusual as it deals predominantly with the gods and their battle, and or banishment over the lovely Venus. Two beefy contestants on the ancient Grecian version of Love Connection duke it out with fists and bad optical effects to make Venus the love slave of one lucky winner. In between that is a surprisingly thick air of subterfuge and treachery and some hilariously ridiculous looking "monsters". There's also a lot of midget action here. The little guy even gets a pony this time! Rod Flash(?), a moniker better suited for a porn star, took the stage name of Richard Lloyd by the following year. Under that name, he co-starred with box office poison, Kirk Morris in the goof-tacular HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES (1963) released here in 1965. Roger Browne co-stars and Gordon Mitchell is on hand to look sinister and laugh a lot. Bella Cortez is the real showstopper here in an unusually sexy dance number giving La Caliente Cubana Chelo Alonso a run for her tamales.


Directed by Guido Malatesta

THE PLOT! Maciste and some shipwreck survivors end up on an island ruled by a clan of headhunters and the remnants of the Urias tribe who are terrorized by them. Maciste must endure paper mache sets and bad dancing when not engaged in lame battles with the neolithic noggin removers.

This is one of the worst movies on this list and one of the funniest. Guido Malatesta apparently thought he hadn't done enough damage with the comedic frivolity of MACISTE & THE MONSTERS (there's stock footage here from that film briefly showing Reg Lewis carrying off a cavegirl during a volcanic eruption). He returns to deliver double damage with his second Ma-cheese-sta adventure in this no budget clunker that stars one of the genres least emotive, least interesting "actors"--Kirk Morris, alias Adriano Bellini. The offscreen decapitations and one fellows face pushed into a fire pit can't prepare you for the belly buster that is the absolute worst dancing girl sequence ever captured on film. You get that plus Kirk Morris pretending to look strained by hurling and knocking over balsa wood objects. These are the only times he ever shows any emotional response is when he contorts his facial muscles. If one could win an award for that, he'd be in the running. Seeing Morris in the lead role, it's pretty much a safe bet the movie is going to be either lousy, or one helluva rib-tickler. This film is both. You can read the review HERE.


Directed by Tanio Boccia

THE PLOT! Murad the pirate raids the Antilles sinking ships and stealing their resources as well as kidnapping women to sell as slaves. One of his female captives manages to escape to seek the help of Samson, who also happens to be sailing the high seas.

More brawn and brainless shenanigans with Kirk Morris leading the high seas pack in one of numerous cross pollinations of strongman movies with pirate swashbucklers. Tanio Boccia's movie fails at both but at least there's the fetching Margaret Lee to look at--her eyes and full lip smirk doing far more to maintain viewer interest than any of the half baked hero theatrics of Morris. The one "feat of strength" sequence is exciting for the first few minutes, but then it keeps going and going...Morris the Mighty also tangles with an immobile, plush alligator. HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATE (1964) is much more successful at buckling swashes and He-Man bravado. Your tolerance for bad movies will weigh heavily on whether or not you wish to salvage the booty from this sinking ship. Tanio Boccia also guided the bland, but handsome Morris in the mildly entertaining TRIUMPH OF MACISTE (1961) aka TRIUMPH OF THE SON OF HERCULES. You can read the review for SAMSON & THE SEA BEASTS HERE.


Directed by Giorgio Ferroni

THE PLOT! The cruel city of Mycenae is lorded over by a vicious and disfigured ruler thought to be the living embodiment of the god Moloch. Oppressing the surrounding provinces, Moloch and the Mycenians force tributes in the form of sacrifices to satisfy his bloodlust.

While it's terribly difficult putting a Gordon Scott peplum movie on a 'Worst Of' list, this one is arguably the single most disappointing movie he did during his tenure in Italian genre cinema. The lack of action hinders the film, but the abundance of court intrigue also fails to be an adequate substitute. Scott does his best with this material and his charisma makes this at least watchable. However, during the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA style cave/dungeon sequences, there's a Bavian air about them even if these scant few scenes merely tease the audience with some bonafide horror thrills. Rosalba Neri plays the evil queen and cult favorite Arturo Dominici is the equally evil Penthius, leader of the Mycenian forces. The lovely Alessandro Panara offers some added distraction. Despite having the director of both the intriguing MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960) and the classic epic THE TROJAN HORSE (1961) at the helm, this Giorgio Ferroni flick fails as a Sword & Sandal adventure tinted with horror movie overtones.


Directed by Antonio Leonviola

THE PLOT! It's a battle of the sexes as Thor and his sidekick Ubaratutu Barada Nikto attempt to overthrow Queen Nera and her army of amazons beneath some Yugoslavian caverns.

The typical throne usurping plot is used here again, only now there's no recognizable actors or actresses to make this sexist tedium of even mild interest. You will however recognize stock footage of Maciste battling the caged gorilla from Leonviola's MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES. The women are attractive and this is yet another battling bitches flick akin to the similarly titled and much more enjoyable COLOSSUS & THE AMAZON QUEEN (1960). In a change of pace, the evil queen is a black woman. Thor isn't even in this mess all that much and shows what a wimp he is when he's introduced. He's attacked by a group of Nera's amazons and with a slingshot, Thor is sent tumbling over a cliff. He spends the next thirty minutes (it seems like 30 minutes) or so in a cave being nursed back to health by his newfound friend, Ubaratutu. However, Ubaratutu (what the hell kind of a name is that?) is later captured and becomes the love slave of Queen Tera...until such time as she grows weary of him. This is a perpetually stupid movie rife with cheap sets, bad acting and even worse dialog. The action scenes (yeah, right) are horrible and the women have this ridiculous "battle cry" that sounds like the word "Elk" being shouted several times. The limp duels to the death even manage to make impalements and painful sword stabbings boring. There were a number of these ancient times/barbarian age women's lib movies and most others are far better than this one. For a more tolerable Italian variant, check out Brescia's (What? Brescia made a "good" movie?) BATTLE OF THE AMAZONS from 1974 or the wackiest example of all, Ou Yang Chun's COUNTRY OF BEAUTIES from 1984.


Directed by Antonio Margheriti

THE PLOT! A wicked sorceress turns men into werewolves with a magical potion and sets them against a rival tribe of traveling gypsies. Hercules is among them and must fight against the witch and keep from becoming a monster himself.

This woefully disappointing misanthropic movie with a Lycanthropic slant from Antonio Margheriti (with assist from Ruggero Deodato) possesses a pulpy storyline with an incredible amount of potential, but fails miserably to realize any of it. This adventure/horror non event has a beardless Reg Park essaying Ursus, another Euro hero creation that began with URSUS (1961) starring Ed Fury. Of the five he starred in, Reg Park's first two fusto films were highly enjoyable, well made productions. From there, Park lost his footing and stumbled clumsily down the great Olympian staircase--the three films after being progressively worse. The "werewolves" here look more like muscular guys with a bad skin condition than the typical Lycanthrope. The spotty patches of hair (they couldn't afford a full hairy suit at least?) appear and disappear from one scene to the next. Think WEREWOLF WOMAN from 1976 and you'll have some idea of what to expect here. This is all the more disappointing in that Margheriti was behind it. Bad movie buffs will likely find a lot to make them howl here, but genre fans will want to pack some silver and wolf bane if tempted to indulge in a viewing of this mons-turd movie.


Directed by Alberto De Martino

THE PLOT! The king is assassinated by his nephew and an evil sorceress. Hercules is asked to aid in eradicating yet another throne usurper, but must also battle the beautiful witch's seven golden automatons. But what's Herc to do when Zeus takes his strength away after going insane in the membrane prior to destroying a small village over a woman?

This movie might be bad, but it's an awful lot of fun. Dan Vadis was one of the most agile and acrobatic of the slew of muscleman movie actors that flexed their pecs in European adventure movies in the 1960s. His debut in the Mark Forest gladiator picture, COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA (1962) no doubt opened a few producers eyes with his role as one of the main villains. For this Alberto De Martino Hercules beef jerky, the movie really shows you where its brain is during the opening few minutes when Hercules attempts to save his friend from quicksand. Instead of throwing the poor man a rope, Hercules decides to toss it over a tree limb and swing like a monkey back and forth across the pit while the fellow sinks further and further into the muck while screaming for help! Still, the picture does manage to weave in some of the actual Hercules mythology into its script and a fair number of cliffhanger moments. There's also the mesmerizing Moira Orfei as the evil sorceress, Piero Lulli as a good guy, an army of bronze automatons and the lovely Marilu Tolo in much distress.


Directed by Giorgio Capitani

THE PLOT! Plot? What plot?

How could a film with such a title be so childishly atrocious? This peplum parody is anything but funny. Alan Steel (Sergio Ciani) is Hercules, Howard Ross (Renato Rossini) tackles the role of Maciste and two unknowns essay Samson and Ursus. That's four times the grunts and four times the groans--sadly, those are coming from the audience watching this wretched mess. However, the stunning Helene Chanel (as an oracle in a skimpy outfit) and the bewitching Moira Orfei (as Samson's wife) are the best special effects in this no budget intentional comedy with an unintentional lack of laughs. This mix and match mythological mayhem rallies all the major movie characters and does little with them aside from weak THREE STOOGES interplay that would be adopted by a handful of westerns till Enzo Barboni took such shenanigans to new levels. Only one gag is genuinely funny (a jealous Delilah cutting a promiscuous Samson's hair) and there's absolutely zero plot. Livio Lorenzon plays a late entry villain and that lovable and very busy midget, Arnaldo Fabrizio also has a supporting role.


Directed by Piero Regnoli

THE PLOT! Maciste, now living in Africa, must save the people of Zimba from the vicious Queen Fazira who has enslaved the populace forcing them to dig gold from the fabled King Solomon's Mines.

By 1964 the legs of the genre were getting wobbly and especially tired considering how often the same story was being told. Now, the scriptwriters were scouring the globe for exotic locales. This time the setting is Africa and yet again we're dealing with another throne usurper, only this time, it's a conspiracy between a military legionnaire and a battling vixen that leads a tribe of barbarians. Maciste doesn't even enter the film till 30 minutes into the flick. It's not explained (at least in the English dubbed version), but that globetrotting people's champion, Maciste has been living with a passive African tribe. Shooting in Africa no doubt pleased Reg Park considering he made Johannesburg his home. This movie isn't horrible by any means, it's just that Reg Park, who was so energetic in his first two fusto movies, appears to be under a spell here and not the one Fazira puts him under with her magical ankle bracelet. Park had a massive physique and gets ample opportunities to flex his pecs and toss heavy things around, but by this point, he seems thoroughly disinterested; not only that, but the script gives him little to do aside from moving, carrying, tossing the required enormous objects. He barely gets any dialog, too, in what amounts to the peplum version of a Hammer Dracula movie. This is more Dan Harrison's movie than Park's. Wandisa Guida as the barbarian Queen Fazira comes off as far more interesting. When you're an evil Queen in a muscleman movie, two things are going to happen--you're gonna fall for the hunky hero and be dead by the end. Guida's Fazira is one of the most memorable bitches in the whole genre. She commands a slew of tortures such as whippings, impalements, the rack and a gruesome fate for Eleonora Bianchi. This one is worth watching, just that Dan Harrison usurps the movie away from Reg Park.


Directed by Osvaldo Civirani

THE PLOT! Hercules washes ashore in South America and helps the Incas topple an evil ruler who sacrifices victims to the sun god, Viracocha.

Arguably the sole highlight of this slowly paced Italian adventure is seeing future mega star, Giuliano Gemma dressed up (or barely dressed depending on your point of view) in Incan garb alongside Mark Forest. Yes, it's throne usurping and gods galore as Hercules is washed ashore in South America after a shipwreck. Gemma is prince Mytha who quickly befriends Hercules and asks his help in rescuing his captured sister. Whereas Forest mingled with albinos decked out in white, fluffy feathered outfits for MACISTE AGAINST THE MOLE MEN (1961), he finds himself siding with tanned tribes of Incas decked out in multi-colored, extra feathered attire in this one. Hercules, like his frequently title altered cinematic colleague Maciste, was apparently a worldly individual who was likewise exposed to numerous fashion statements in global cultures. While the costumes are diverse, this is the same old Sword & Sandal tropes just with the traditional Rome locales swapped with South American ones. The direction and action is fairly static so there's really nothing to make it stand out. By 1965, Gemma was a household name after starring in a series of Euro westerns like ADIOS, GRINGO (1965) and the box office hits A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965) and its loose sequel RETURN OF RINGO (1966). It's also interesting to note how the advertising for this movie advertised Gemma as the main star in some territories.


Directed by Emimmo Salvi

THE PLOT! More throne theft ensues as a seemingly teenaged Sinbad attempts to bring down a maniacally cackling bad guy named Omar played by Gordon Mitchell. Gorgeous women and midget action also included. Plot is not.

Emimmo Salvi, one of the most reliable directors of bad movies, dabbled in Sword & Sandal cinema with a few quick flicks like the indescribably bad VULCAN, SON OF JOVE aka VULCAN, GOD OF FIRE (1962). One of his other pulpy pieces of pap include this low grade, kindergarten level adventure movie. The reasons to watch are for Gordon Mitchell as the lead bad guy and the bosomy Bella Cortez, a Cuban hot tamale modeled on the undeniably sexy charms and physique of the irreplaceable Chelo Alonso. This is an unusually stupid movie that manages to be terribly entertaining in the most childish fashion even managing to showcase what has to be the weakest big screen Sinbad of all time (even though Patrick Wayne made a concentrated effort to take the title in SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE TIGER from 1977). The set design, while cheap, is vibrantly colorful. Salvi would also direct some lower tier westerns and would apparently forget he wasn't in Rome anymore as his oaters resembled his pitiful attempts at mythological movies in tone and plot devices. As for this particular picture, it's a SIN that it's this BAD.


Directed by Alfonso Brescia

THE PLOT! Attalus is captured by Roman soldiers and becomes the people's hero battling within the gladiatorial arena and also gains favor with the emperor. Attalus falls in love with the emperor's daughter, but a jealous suitor orchestrates a plot to get rid of both Attalus and the emperor. Much court intrigue and stock footage ensues.

At the bottom of the barrel and nowhere to go, this obscure last gasp of the genre features Mark Forest in his last sword and sandal role. What's so peplumatic about this movie is the over abundance of stock footage from another Forest flick, the superior THE TERROR OF ROME AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES. This (mis)use of recycled scenes works in the films favor in that much of the principal cast from TERROR OF ROME are on hand for the new footage seen here. A bizarre, 'booga booga' jazz style score is terribly out of place. When it came to pocket change for a budget, Alfonso Brescia could be counted on to turn in a torturous stew of cinematic junk. There's nothing any genre fan hasn't seen before and if you've seen TERROR OF ROME, than you've already seen a huge chunk of THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR. What's left isn't worth traveling to ancient Greece over.


Directed by Maurizio Lucidi

THE PLOT! Hercules must save his son after Gia, the Earth Goddess steals his soul. While Herc is in the Cenerean Marsh to rescue him, Gia sends her own evil offspring, Antius, masquerading as Hercules, to enslave, torture and kill the people of Syracuse.

Just like in the ancient myth, Hercules had lost his strength by 1965. That is clearly in evidence in this limp Reg Park feature. Giovanni Cianfriglia (as Antius) at least got a couple lead roles after appearing in this dreck. The entertaining opulence of HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD and HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN is on hand here, but only in a strong-arm full of stock footage that sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the desolate cave settings of the original footage. Watch one of those two instead. The plot is unusually good here, but unfortunately, it's hindered amidst all the stock footage that's employed from the result of what must have been a miniscule budget. The brutality level is high, though, such as animal violence (a chariot chase involving a pride of lions ends with one of the beasts being fatally speared) and assorted misogyny including a woman tortured by being suspended by her hair. With so much recycled footage, this Hercu-sleaze was a last gasp that signaled the death knell for the genre.


Directed by Osvaldo Civirani

THE PLOT! An ancient prophecy foretells of an invincible man born of lightning who will one day save the people of Euthor. Only a fabled red rose can harm him. Kidnapped by a marauding bandit at birth, Kindar grows up to learn the truth of his family and the fate of his home village.

KINDAR, THE UNBEARABLE is a more apt title. Even with an intriguing superhero storyline, this clumsy Mark Forest flick comes to you from the director of the tepid HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN (1964) and the action scenes, particularly those that take place on horseback, are even more lazily accomplished. Mimmo Palmara consumes what scenery there is among the desert locations and Rosalba Neri provides some added eye candy as the scheming villains. The few decent ones appear to be undercranked. The late blooming peplum actor, Renato Rossini has a throwaway role here as Kindar's brother, but he's almost unrecognizable without facial hair of any kind. The filmmakers have transposed the usual fusto trappings to the sand swept dunes of the desert, but the script quickly becomes dehydrated whenever the lackluster action is onscreen. For a far better Forest film, check out MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1961) or GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963).


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shaw Brothers Spy Thrillers, Capers & Crime Pictures Part 3


Like the Italian crime pictures that exploded in the 1970s, Hong Kong eventually bred their own similarly gritty interpretations of the seedier side of life in what was once a British colony. This style of film would eventually transform into something more grim and hideous as the decade wore on and entered the 1980s and beyond. Just as the Italian variants were most often ripped straight from newspaper headlines, so too were the Chinese crime pictures. Interestingly enough, the Asian versions were more like morality plays oftentimes ending with a voice-over warning the viewer of the dangers of resorting to unlawful activities. HK crime was a mixed bag at the start of the decade. Some of these films were bloody post revolution martial arts actioners woven around a crime film template (THE DUEL) while others were modern variants with a heavy slant towards a fist and kick brutality (THE DELINQUENT, THE ANGRY GUEST). Then there were a few that heralded the decade prior with a playful sense of escapism, adventure and suspense (THE LIZARD, THE LADY PROFESSIONAL).

While many of these later detective/crime thrillers were serious affairs dealing with all too real societal problems, there was a cross pollination of styles that crept in at the dawn of the 1970s just as the previous decades sort of quaint, "old fashioned" style of picture had all but vanished. Kung Fu and Karate style martial arts had become the new rage by this point having usurped swordplay for the next few years as the dominant force at the box office. The typical crime plots were recycled to make room for some flying fists and feet and the settings were sometimes transposed to post Revolution China. Chang Cheh turned criminality into award winning, and or box office gold with such films as VENGEANCE! (1970) and THE DUEL (1971) to name two. Those latter two gangster/revenge pictures solidified 'The Iron Triangle' (director Cheh and his two biggest discoveries, David Chiang
and Ti Lung)
as a dominant force with ticket buyers in a modern setting as well as a period one. BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972) was an exceptional and massive box office success that made Chen Kuan Tai (who played the real life Ma Yung Chen) an overnight sensation and also paved the way for an onslaught of Shanghai gangster pictures. As with his swordplays, Cheh's post revolution action-crime-dramas had a heavier accent towards spectacularly gory action set pieces which were bolstered by moments of melodramatic bravado. Cheh had dabbled in slightly less violent crime pictures with the experimental fluff that was THE SINGING THIEF (1969) and the more rebellious redo that was THE SINGING KILLER in 1971. For more on Chang Cheh's Youth Rebellion-Delinquent movies, click HERE.

His double act of Chiang and Lung also tried their hand at directing modern day crime and youth rebellion in several films including YOUNG LOVERS ON FLYING WHEELS (1974) and THE DRUG ADDICTS (1974), but few of these were successful, at least in HK theaters. Cheh would also tackle the dangers of drug use in the fan favorite, THE CHINATOWN KID in 1977; a revamping of his earlier BOXER FROM SHANTUNG. If not for some clumsy sequences, this could have been a serious look at both the upper and lower class dichotomy in relation to public perception of the haves and have nots. The subject of addiction and the perils at the top of successes ladder is broached, but lost amidst a flurry of bloody confrontations between rival gangs. But early in the 1970s, the subject of crime would get deadly serious with some 'Blood & Concrete' productions that would reflect the chaos on the streets of Hong Kong. However, before the grim reality set in, there were some hybrids that offered some nice escapist entertainment in the interim.


Some of these even had a bit of comedy thrown into the mix to occasionally lighten things up. Chu Yuan's 1972 picture, THE LIZARD (which began production as THE NIGHT STALKER) was one such movie. Ostensibly an action film, the crime conventions are in abundance here ably embodied by Lo Lieh as the unscrupulous and corrupt Chief Constable Chen Kan who secretly runs gambling dens and slavery rings. Yueh Hua is the title 'Lizard', a Robin Hood/Zorro type character who steals from wealthy foreign dignitaries and fights against the oppression of his Chinese countrymen from foreign invaders including those dreaded Japanese. This film was essentially a more modern take on the 1967 movie SWEET IS REVENGE in which Yueh played basically the same character. THE LIZARD brought with it a greater pedigree, though. This was both cinema darling Connie Chen Po Chu's return and farewell to the movie world and the film attracted an enormous amount of publicity not the least of which was Bruce Lee's visit to the Shaw studio. Connie had been away in America for school studies the two years prior so her return to Hong Kong was highly publicized attracting hundreds of fans who were frantic to get a look at the popular actress. The film itself was one of Shaw's most highly touted pictures. After completing THE LIZARD, Connie returned to San Francisco to finish her studies. Watching this film alongside some of the other more grim movies that were coming down the pike, THE LIZARD seems more like a throwback to the adventurous capers that prospered during the latter part of the 1960s.

Lo Lieh could possibly be described as the John Carradine of Asian cinema. The man seemed to appear in just about anything whether in a major or a supporting role. He starred in many of Asia's biggest films during the 1960s and 70s as well as a rice factory's worth of dreck. Lo was a rare actor in that he was given the opportunity to headline a handful of international productions. Granted, some of these were pretty juvenile such as THE THREE SUPERMEN AGAINST THE ORIENT (1974) co-starring Shih Szu. Lo's most upscale of these pictures would have to be THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER also from 1974. Shot on location in Spain, this picture had Lo sharing the screen with Lee Van Cleef. Originally, Lo was to have been among the cast in the HK-Germany co-pro VIRGINS OF THE SEVEN SEAS (1974), but for whatever reason, he was replaced along with some other performers including Chen Ping. From Indonesia, Lo Lieh joined Shaw's in the early 60s and was steadily groomed for leading man status. Arguably his biggest break came in 1972 with the film KING BOXER, a movie that, ironically, broke records everywhere but in Hong Kong. From here on out, Lo's career was dotted with far more villain roles than Heroic Ones.

His turn as the evil Priest White Brows in EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1976) reinvigorated his career as well as jump-started a legion of movies featuring white haired villains. He did relatively few crime pictures, but he starred in one of the most financially successful ones of the 1970s--KIDNAP (1974) from director Cheng Kang. Lo also featured in one of the better segments of the anthology hit THE CRIMINALS (1976) and also as a guileful gambler in Sun Chung's THE NOTORIOUS EIGHT (1981). In early 1976, Lo married Grace Tang, his second wife. By this point in his career, Lo Lieh had come a long way and was living a comfortable life. He was also allowed to freelance for other companies as well as satisfy his desire to direct. His most accomplished effort would arguably be CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS from 1979. He also directed the ridiculously insane Hong Kong horror that is BLACK MAGIC WITH BUDDHA (1983) starring a seemingly embarrassed Chen Kuan Tai.

While some may label THE LIZARD as a kung fu movie, it has a bit more going on in its storyline devoid of the typical revenge scenario that would be the most oft used plot device for literally hundreds of those movies a few years down the road. It's a fairly light-hearted romp, but is slightly uncomfortable with a bit of gratuitous nudity and a modestly bloody and decidedly serious finale. It also carries with it some political subtext; not quite as blatantly in your face as many of the far left wing extremism found in numerous Italian westerns and crime films, but it's there hidden beneath the action sequences. Yueh Hua tackles one of his best roles as a stuttering policeman by day and the erudite Lizard thief by night. Connie Chen puts her dancing skills to good use here and looks surprisingly adept in her action scenes. Chu Yuan would soon find himself as the eminent filmmaker of wuxia productions towards the end of the decade, but some of his early Shaw work is of interest in how different it is from what he would be doing a few years later. One of these earlier pictures was yet another post revolution dramatic feature. This one is a little more blatant with its socio-political machinations and western influences. It's also distinguished by being extremely rare as it was never made available on DVD nor on the ZiiEagle Movie Box. It's about a reputable family that crumbles under the weight of wealth and power leading to violence, banditry and tragedy.


This other cross over production from Chu Yuan that melded action, crime and drama was the extremely rare and brutal THE VILLAINS (1973). The plot revolves around two brothers, one played by Yueh Hua and the other played by Chen Hung Lieh. This picture leans more heavily towards the drama and westernized conventions with its strong familial turmoil and political underpinnings involving the upper class and the calamity that ensues from blind faith and monetary power. It has the feeling of an Eastern Western in some respects such as the inclusion of some bank robberies and shoot outs. Like Cheh's IRON BODYGUARD (1973) from the same year, THE VILLAINS is a tense drama accentuated by scenes of action. Fang Zheng (Yueh Hua) awaits the arrival of his cousin Lin Hsiao Hong (Shih Szu) by train. Fang's father takes an immediate dislike to Lin since she is the daughter of his enemy. It is quickly revealed that Fang Zheng's brother, Fang Feng is a rabid gambler and ruffian who uses his family's stature as a means to run roughshod over anyone he so chooses. The elder Fang even favors his youngest over the more mature older son because a fortuneteller let it be known that Fang Feng would become established in the future. The stubborn patriarch also has a high position in the province that even supersedes the magistrate, so this young wild card has free reign to wreak havoc. Both the older Fang and Lin start to fall in love, but he's forced to leave home when his father becomes convinced he is out for his money. With Fang gone, his brother rapes Lin and she becomes pregnant. Lin is viciously beaten by Fang's father upon this news and refuses to believe his son is responsible.

Chu Yuan goes over a scene with Chen Hung Lieh

After a series of mounting crimes that culminates in murder, Fang Feng is unable to avoid being branded a bandit. He gathers his friends and they embark on a crime spree. Meanwhile, Fang Zheng has become a police commissioner and is assigned to bring his brother in dead or alive. This leads to an exciting gun battle with Fang's gang trapped inside a raggedy shack while hundreds of armed soldiers surround them. It should be noted that Chen Hung Lieh plays possibly the most despicable character on his long resume of villains and Yueh Hua is exceptional as the lead hero. There's no kung fu fight between either brother during the closing moments, but their final confrontation is incredibly poignant bringing this 81 minute feature to a satisfying end. Easily one of Chu Yuan's best and most unusual movies, the western sensibilities are hammered home with very good usage of Morricone themes particularly 'Jill's Theme' from the classic ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) and even the main theme music for the American soap opera AS THE WORLD TURNS! It's a true shame this film remains unavailable on DVD.

Yueh Hua (Liang Le-hua) was quite the leading man at Shaw Brothers studio accruing a substantial list of fine performances during his time there. A graduate of Shaw's Southern Film Training School, he was schoolmates with colleagues Lo Lieh and baby queen Li Ching. Gifted with charisma and true thespian skills, he has acted in some of the company's most prestigious movies. He appeared quite often with Cheng Pei Pei first in LOVERS' ROCK in 1964 prior to garnering a co-starring credit in COME DRINK WITH ME in 1966 which put him on the road to stardom in swordplay cinema. During this time he also starred in Ho Meng Hua's classic fantasy THE MONKEY GOES WEST also in 1966. From there, Yueh began appearing in a steady stream of swordplay epics such as the hugely successful THE TWELVE GOLD MEDALLIONS (1970) from Cheng Kang, THE LONG CHASE (1971) by Ho Meng Hua and PURSUIT (1972) again from Cheng Kang. Yueh Hua also was among the massive cast in Chang Cheh's THE WATER MARGIN and again for Cheng Kang in the equally enormous THE 14 AMAZONS (both 1972). Among his numerous wuxia epics was at least one unfinished production. That aborted film was THE DRINKING KNIGHT, a movie that went through two directors and a recasting. For more information on this films troubled production, click HERE.

As the 70s wore on, Yueh appeared in movies of a more gritty and exploitational vintage including crime pictures such as the elusive PAYMENT IN BLOOD (1973) from Kuei Chi Hung and the melodramatic crime film THE BIG HOLD-UP (1975) from Chu Yuan. He also co-starred in the trashy revenge thriller THE SEXY KILLER (1976) and its more action packed sequel, THE LADY EXTERMINATOR (1977) both helmed by Sun Chung. He was supposed to have made his debut as a villain in the latter movie, but apparently a last minute script change did away with that decision. Despite his debonaire disposition, Yueh carried the mantle of Shaw sleaze king with such films as the co-productions VIRGINS OF THE SEVEN SEAS (1974) and the horrendous AMAZONS & SUPERMEN (1975). He also starred in a string of erotic movies including titles such as ILLICIT DESIRE (1973), THAT'S ADULTERY! (1975) and the unavailable on disc WEDDING NIGHTS (1976), all of which were for the much respected Li Han Hsiang. Like some other of Shaw's talent pool, Yueh Hua was loaned out to independent companies to do films for them. Coincidentally, many of these were eventually distributed by Shaw Brothers such as THE DREAM SWORD (1979) and SIX DIRECTIONS OF BOXING (1980). One of his funniest roles is a cameo in MONKEY FIST, FLOATING SNAKE (1979) wherein he plays this supposed supreme kung fu master. Everywhere he walks, he has his own theme music. In between all of these roles, Yueh married Shaw actress Tanny Tien Ni in 1975 and the two remain a happy couple to this day.


As already discussed in parts ONE and TWO, women played an intrinsic part in Asian cinema. Not just in martial arts pictures, but also in the spy capers and suspense movies. Sometimes projected as damsels in distress and other times as sex kittens with sharp claws, the tough girl persona was in thin supply in 70s HK crime movies. While they still headlined assorted kung fu and swordplay epics, the roles of women in gritty crime thrillers was mostly relegated to victim status. There were a few exceptions. While Chen Ping dominated the decade as the Queen of Exploitation, Shih Szu made a brief transition to tough girl status with her own DIRTY HARRY vehicle, the Shaw production of THE WARRANT (1973). The plot of this rare film is about a determined policewoman who must protect a small child from an escaped convict. The film was promoted within Shaw's movie publications such as Southern Screen (see images above), yet was among numerous titles that weren't announced as part of Celestial's restorations nor did the title show up within the ZiiEagle Movie Box which contained close to 70 additional titles not released to DVD. The film is available on VHS within fan circles, however. While this was Shih Szu's one shining moment as a tough lead in a modern setting (that we know about), she later portrayed a terrorized victim in the first segment of Shaw's seedy, and increasingly sleazy CRIMINALS series.

Shih Szu (real name Lei Chiu-shih) joined Shaw Brothers in mid 1969 at age 16. The youngest of a batch of eleven aspiring Taiwanese actors and actresses (Wang Ping was among the group), she was proficient in dancing with ballet being a specialty; just like her contemporary, Cheng Pei pei before her. Shih Szu would put these skills to good use in a steady string of swordplay extravaganzas such as THE LADY HERMIT (1971), its loose sequel THE BLACK TAVERN (1972) and the gory THE RESCUE from 1971. She also made the transition to post revolution fist and feet films like THE THUNDERBOLT FIST (1972) and THE CHAMPION (1973), which also goes by the name of SHANGHAI LIL & THE SUNLUCK KID. Shih Szu also joined both Lo Lieh and David Chiang on the international circuit with both SUPERMEN AGAINST THE ORIENT and LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (both 1974) respectively. Curiously, she's the one major female player at Shaw's that wasn't featured in Cheng Kang's sprawling epic, THE 14 AMAZONS (1972). By 1975, her roles as a fighting tigress at Shaw Brothers were seemingly non existent, but she did obtain some martial arts parts in some independent films towards the close of her career. Her last major fighting role in a Shaw Brothers movie was the troubled production of THE FLYING GUILLOTINE 2 (1978), a film that began under the direction of Cheng Kang, and was taken over by Hua Shan among other problems. Click the link above for the complete rundown. Aside from the new to the screen Shih Szu, there was another starlet who maintained her star power during the first quarter of the 1970s.

Lily Ho, who was one of Shaw's biggest stars the previous decade, was still a viable commodity in the 1970s. The leggy actress is never spoken of in the same breadth as some of the other female action stars like her colleague Cheng Pei pei, but she was just as varied in her roles when it came to swordplay and modern action films. Her 1971 secret agent/revenge thriller THE LADY PROFESSIONAL was a curious movie that seems slightly out of place amidst the action films coming out in Hong Kong during this time. It's a co-directed effort between Matsuo Akinori (Mai Chi Ho) and up and coming director Kuei Chi Hung. Lily stars as a hitwoman who is hired for a job only for her employers to attempt to snuff her out afterward. The obligatory revenge scenario takes over in what is an occasionally stylish thriller with a few touches that are indigenous to Japanese action movies of the day. Lily Ho's striking black leather outfits recall the FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION movies that would appear the following year. Some of the villains seen here also have a Japanese flavor about them such as a knife throwing acrobat and two bodybuilding killers (one of which is played by Bolo Yeung aka Yang Tze). Lily's character has a nifty gadget with which to kill her targets and the opening roller coaster sequence and the gory, over the top construction yard scenes are highlights. There's also a car chase that's pretty intense and well photographed to boot.

Flyer advertising THE LADY PROFESSIONAL at a theater near you!

Next for this beautiful actress was a peculiar mix of swordplay, sex and sleaze with Chu Yuan's groundbreaking INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN (1972). The lesbianism, while tame by today's standards, was taboo breaking in Hong Kong at the time. Sexual situations were a touchy area where censorship was concerned in certain Asian territories. This film, while a swordplay feature, also contained a heavy crime style backstory. A woman is abducted and sold into prostitution to a vicious, yet sex starved madam along with her numerous wealthy and wholly sadistic and perverted clientele. It's one of the earliest forms of a rape-revenge movie, but draped in wuxia trappings. After this hit, Lily Ho remained a top draw. She did appear in two more post revolution era crime-drama-combat movies--THE CASINO (1972) and RIVER OF FURY (1973) both for director Chang Tseng Chai, but these relegated her to supporting status and not quite the fighting femme fatale of her other pictures. She rather abruptly quit the film business in 1974 to concentrate on raising a family. She is undoubtedly an unsung heroine of Hong Kong cinema's vast heritage.


Directors of THE 14 AMAZONS--Cheng Kang (far right) and Tong Shao Yung (far left)

Throughout the 1970s, there were five major directors at Shaw Brothers making modern day crime thrillers--Cheng Kang, Kuei Chi Hung and award winning director Chang Tseng Chai were at the front lines. Hua Shan and Mou Tun fei were the other two, but their time wouldn't come till late in the decade. Cheng Kang was a diminutive, yet well respected writer-director who came to prominence after helming the mega hit TWELVE GOLD MEDALLIONS (1970). After that swordplay smash, Cheng took two years shooting the big budget THE 14 AMAZONS (1972). He was well known for taking an extremely long time both writing and shooting his movies which would often go over schedule and budget. The reward was worth it more times than not and Shaw's didn't seem to mind allowing him the extra time and money.

Immediately after completing the massive and expensive Amazon epic, Cheng Kang began working on his first modern day crime picture. Reportedly inspired by an incident that occurred early in the 1960s by a group of gangsters known as 'The Three Wolves', the crime involved the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a wealthy Chinese businessman. The ambitious film this was to be based on was entitled KIDNAP (1974). In it, a disgruntled gas station attendant named Lung Wei (Lo Lieh) and three greedy accomplices decide to kidnap Lung's wealthy young boss, Lo Pen-li, after he humiliates him in front of a gold-digging girl he so desperately wanted to impress. Capturing the young braggart, the nervous and bumbling criminals nearly allow Lo to escape. He's killed with a shovel to his skull and the group decide to carry on with the ransom anyway. So they cut off the corpses ear and send it to his father demanding $500,000. The young man's dad ends up getting kidnapped in the exchange and our four cretins get a little more smarter in how to carry out this new job. The ransom is upped to 3 million for the return of the old man. Eventually he's released and they get 1 million instead, but things get even more complicated for our less than honorable crooks. Their greed gets the best of them and they are ultimately all captured after one of them blabbers to the police for a lighter sentence. Condemned to death, the last half of the film is a volcanic eruption of melodrama of the highest tear-jerking order. It's a powerful coda, well shot and edited, but it piles on the gloomy repentance to such a degree, the final minutes take on this dream-like quality bordering on avant garde.

The sadness we feel for these characters--mostly their families that are left behind--is somewhat over-
whelming even though they've committed barbarous crimes and are generally seedy individuals. Lo Lieh's character is especially pitiable. Some of them do have strong, respectable familial ties and one wonders just where it all went wrong. During the last thirty minutes or so, we get to learn more about 'The Three Wolves', our intrepid and quite greedy kidnappers. Cheng Kang wrote the screenplay and showcases his penchant for creating sympathetic characters despite the misery they have wrought. Society nonetheless breeds violence and frequently spits up what we give it. Even if we are all born with our minds to think and make decisions, not everybody has the strength and power of will to do the right thing. Greed and jealousy are powerful tools that, if you're not careful, you'll easily smash your fingers, or outright lose them. Ultimately, we can't blame society, but blame the person--if they are of sound mind and body--for they are the ones responsible for their actions. It is still disheartening to see these men beg, plead and ultimately regret for all they've done and the hurt they've brought to their loved ones. This is one of the directors most accomplished and poignant works and one that was rewarded with a tidy box office profit. It's also quite possibly the best example of HK's cinematic crimewave during the 70s. Cheng Kang's movie, while opening and ending with a moralistic voice-over, essentially preaches the very simplistic and long standing message that in the end, 'Crime Doesn't Pay'. For the men in KIDNAP (1974) and in many other similar movies, the perpetrators never learn till it's too late.

While the story of KIDNAP may have been based on a much earlier crime, comparisons can be drawn to a more recent incident that occurred on October 2nd, 1971. Four criminals attempted to kidnap Run Run Shaw's son, Harold Shaw, near his home in Singapore. Like a scene from one of their movies, a struggle ensued and Shaw was shot in the hand, but managed to escape his captors and call the police. Amazingly, three days later the greedy thugs phoned Harold's older brother, Vee Meng and demanded what was referred to as a "token ransom". A meeting place was set at the Shangri La Hotel for the exchange only instead of a member of Shaw's family, it was an undercover policeman that showed up. When the stupefied crook realized it was a trap, a scuffle resulted in the criminal being shot only to die after being taken to the hospital. The dead man was identified as belonging to a local underground gang. Harold Shaw quickly left Singapore with his family for the apparent safer climate of Hong Kong. As early as the 1970s, the Triad organizations were seeping into the film industry and would reach a critical level by the 1990s. Kidnappings, death threats and murders would become alarmingly commonplace with victims nowhere near as lucky as Harold Shaw was in this attempt in 1971. From here on out, the HK silver screen would become a dark reflection of the the squalor and despondence the cold, cruel streets would spit up.


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