Monday, March 3, 2008

6th April 2007: Sword and Sandal double!

The Giant Of Metropolis

Italy 1961 colour

aka Il Gigante Di Metropolis

Director Umberto Scarpelli Writers Sabatino Ciuffini, Ambrogio Molteni, Oreste Palella, Emimmo Salvi, Umberto Scarpelli, Gino Stafford

Cast Gordon Mitchell (Obro), Bella Cortez (Princess Mecede), Roldano Lupi (King Yotar), Liana Orfei (Queen Texen)

Tonight we pose the eternal question: How many weightlifters does it take to change a light bulb? Ten - one to change it, and nine to stand around him saying “You’re looking HUGE, man...” With that, we hit the sword and sandle or “peplum” genre with a vengeance, with The Giant Of Metropolis and The Last Days Of Pompeii.

The international success of Steve Reeves as Hercules, made in Italy in 1958, unleashed a titanic tidal wave of Homerean and Bible-themed epics, most with “Hercules” or the convenient “Sons Of Hercules” in the title. Soon every muscleman in America AND in Europe headed to Italy, wanting to be the next Steve Reeves. Acting ability or not, they believed they could flex their way through these colourful adventure yarns - cheap, tacky, but with genuine scenery, and technicians trained on Hollywood epics shot in Rome’s Cinecitta Studios like Ben Hur and Sodom And Gamorrah.

The lunkhead in Giant Of Metropolis is American B-identity Gordon Mitchell, who toured the US stages behind a rapidly aging Mae West with fellow bodybuilders and future peplum superstars Mickey Hargitay and Brad Harris. Forming a column of human flesh in the background of The Ten Commandments in 1956, he soon jumped on the first plane to Italy and established himself as a B star, first in a toga, then later with a pistol in a series of successful spaghetti westerns. So tight was the Europe-bound bodybuilding fraternity that his funeral service in 2003 was attended by Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Lou Ferrigno and Richard Harrison - who weirdly enough have ALL played Hercules. Small world, and with even less room than usual around the buffet table at the wake. “Zese buggalo wings are sublime...uh uh uh...”

Giant Of Metropolis tries to break out of the Hercules formula and cosies up with a wild science fiction plot reminiscent of Island Of Dr Moreau without the cute pantherwoman. Muscleman Obro played by Mitchell travels to the “sinful” Metropolis - a vaguely disguised version of Atlantis - where Mitchell towers over the local pygmies (relatively speaking of course) and where the evil lord Yotar is searching for immortality. This involves implanting braincells and other odd futuristic nonsense. Speaking of futuristic nonsense, there’s some wild silver-foil sets and ray guns, as well as a gladiator ring where our hero does the inevitable battle.

It all adds up to supremo Italian weirdness played with the straightest of faces - camp without the humour, science without the friction. In the tradition of strange sword and sandal films like Hercules Against The Moon Men, we present the even stranger but weirdly entertaining Giant Of Metropolis.

The Last Days Of Pompeii

Italy 1959 colour

aka Gli Ultimi Giorni Di Pompei

Directors Mario Bonnard, [uncredited] Sergio Leone Associate Producer Lucio Fulci Writers Sergio Corbucci, Ennio De Concini, Luigi Emmanuele, Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari

Cast Steve Reeves (Glaucus), Cristina Kaufmann (Ione), Fernando Rey (Arbac├Ęs), Barbara Carroll (Nydia)

And now a costume epic from the maestro of spaghetti westerns, Sergio “Fistful Of Dollars For A Few Dollars More The Good The Bad And The Ugly Once Upon A Time In The West And America” Leone.

Leone was actually at the start of his career when Last Days Of Pompeii was made in the late Fifties. He was one of several scriptwriters along with future spaghetti western specialists Duccio Tessari and Sergio Corbucci, and ended up directing much of the film uncredited after replacing the original director Mario Bonnard. If you expect the flair and technical prowess of his later westerns with Clint Eastwood or even a “ayee-ayee-yar” when the villain appears you’ll be disappointed, but it’s a solid workman-like effort on Leone’s part.

Last Days Of Pompeii is not your average Sons Of Hercules peplum B-film. It’s actually a big-budget attempt at an A film that somehow becomes more tacky by the presence of its star Steve “Hercules” Reeves. It’s guilt by association; Steve is often accused of being more wooden than the Trojan Horse, but in reality is the best known and possibly the most talented of all the American musclemen working in Italy in the Fifties and Sixties. Here he plays Glaucus, a legionnaire who returns to Pompeii, saves a damsel in distress, finds a string of dead bodies including his father with crosses carved on their chests, and learns of the very anti-Christian activities of the Temple sect of Isis, who are naturally pagan, wear evil black hoods, and plan to throw the Christian population of Pompeii to the lions.

The whole while you’re waiting for Mount Versuvius to errupt, and when it does - well, if you’re a fan of both high school science projects and the term “anti-climax”, you’ll be well catered for. With no one-eyed monsters, cold rays, Moon Men, or even a son of a Son of Hercules, it’s still a pretty swanky, well-oiled sword and sandal “epic”. Ladies and gentlemen, we at Schlock Treatment present to you The Last Ninety Minutes of Pompeii.

No comments: