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For a low-budget Biblical epic from the Sam Katzman stable, this is
decidedly above-average and definitely superior to the turgid (and
recently-viewed) SINS OF JEZEBEL from the same year. It deals with only
a partially-familiar episode in the Old Testament (that of Daniel and
the Lions) working it into a plot wherein the Jews, somewhat
surprisingly, intend to overthrow the Pagan realm of Babylon!
Typically, it features an incongruous lead in Richard Conte (who is perhaps too good an actor to be entirely defeated by the genre trappings, though his hairstyle is unforgivably unflattering!) who is chosen by the placid Daniel figure to escape from captivity and go seek and indoctrinate a boy shepherd (actually a royal off-spring) whom Divine inspiration has decreed as the Savior of His People. Incidentally, Daniel is favored by King Nebuchadnezzar but his son (played by Michael Ansara) is jealous of his influence over Dad and decides to strike at him where it hurts the most i.e. persuading the King to order the (previously-tolerated) worshipping of gods other than those of Babylon as forbidden. When the Holy Man keeps at his daily piety (easily detected by the fuming Ansara), he is thrown into prison and left at the mercy of a bunch of lions that are unleashed upon him; arriving the next day and jokingly querying whether there will be enough of him to be identified, the King's son is shocked to find Daniel is still alive (the latter simply walks out of the cell, leaving Ansara to pick up his jaw from the floor)! The young man is adamant, however, and he throws three other Jews who have dared defy the restricted practice of religion, into a furnace this time around and, once again, he has to witness their unscathed and nonchalant exit from the flames (though the special-effects in this scene leave a lot to be desired)!
On the heroic front, however, things are not rosy either as Conte's efforts to elevate the shepherd-boy's status are largely unappreciated by the brash kid. Things come to a head when the latter entrusts the protagonist with taking a princess (lovely and well-cast Linda Christian, better-known as Mrs. Tyrone Power) he had abducted while on her way to marry newly-appointed Babylonian king Ansara to the city for himself(!) needless to say, she prefers her rugged escort to both his immature 'leader' and the scowling ruler of her new home! Anyway, Daniel's prophecy comes true at the end the catch being that his ultimate intention was not to gain Babylon but to liberate the Jews, and we are shown a more modest exodus to the more famous one co-ordinated by Moses out of Egypt. While the film is relatively sober for the duration, a howler is nonetheless reserved for the finale: Conte, who had in any case already been betrothed to a rather frumpy Jewish woman, exits the gates of Babylon without having deigned his intended of a word or even a look as she has to earnestly call out to him amidst the crowds in order to be re-united with her lover and ensure the obligatory (and, under the circumstances, inevitably lame) fade-out clinch!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One more "pearl" I found in my collection. I got it many years ago and,
of course, I forgot it. One more expendable Sam Katzman product,
although it is not the worst. It is enjoyable, for laugh. No more. Bad
acting, bad setting, tepid, flat, you can spend time in looking for
historical incoherences. And there are many, in this biblical tale of
Nebuchadnezzar, king, master of Babylon, fighting Israelites who want
to throw him from his throne.
Again, there is another Sam Katzman production which you can live without.
Concerning the director, the great William Castle, you can witness his really gifts in his latest movies, in the sixties, as the master of cheap horror. Films every movie lover knows: HOUSE ON THE HAUNTED HILL, THE TINGLER, MACABRE, HOMICIDAL, STRAIGHT JACKET...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I remember seeing William Castle's "Slaves of Babylon" at the local
cinema on a Saturday afternoon during the 1950's; it was one I looked
Viewing it after 60 years is a bit like revisiting the place you lived in when you were a child everything seems much smaller.
The film is set around 550 BC, after the Jews have been enslaved in Babylon for many decades. Their leader, Daniel, has a certain influence with King Nebuchadnezzar, but the Babylonians are cracking down on the worship of any god but their own, a dude called Bel Marduk "Slaves of Babylon" may have relevance for today after all.
Daniel has a vision that the only way the Jews can return to Jerusalem is to find a young shepherd named Cyrus who is destined to become the king of Persia and defeat the Babylonians. Daniel dispatches a trusted follower, Nahum (Richard Conte) to locate the lad.
Nahum discovers that Cyrus is a callow youth who will no doubt end up drag racing donkeys unless taken in hand. Nahum also learns that Cyrus is keen on a princess named Panthera.
Linda Christian plays Panthera, and she is still one of the few reasons to see this movie. A minor actress maybe, but her off-screen life was far more interesting than any character she ever played. She was a magnet for rich and famous men and it's easy to see why, she was gorgeous.
Meanwhile Daniel has spent the night in the lion's den on the orders of Nebuchadnezzar. However when the door is opened, Daniel is standing unharmed, bathed in a shaft of light surrounded by purring lions, a tableau straight out of Illustrated Stories from the Bible.
Panthera falls for Nahum, but he has a plan for her so complex that you really need to see the movie to comprehend it all. What isn't complex in "Slaves of Babylon" are the sets; that sage advice to young actors about not bumping into the scenery applies doubly here because they would probably burst through it if they did.
After some lacklustre battles fought in front of those Californian rocks familiar from scores of movies and television shows Cyrus attacks Babylon, and Daniel's prophecies come true.
I enjoyed seeing "Slaves" again, but nostalgia played a part in that for sure. The whole film has a quality not unlike the naïve tapestries that we see when Nahum visits Cyrus' foster parents.
This was William Castles last foray back into ancient times he already had "Serpent of the Nile" under his belt. From here he went on to more contemporary pieces such as "Homicidal" no doubt serious historians everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.
Like many of the Katzman-Castle films of this era, Slaves of Babylon renders the color process a gimmick by purveying it through a hollow vehicle. This film is the hole in the biblical doughnut. The acting is poor (comical, in fact) and the dialogue is wasteful in service of irritating 'bible-speak' quips. I won't split hairs on the use of Stars of David embroidery for all Jewish characters, but will mention that the history is off by over a thousand years. As for Castle's direction, there are some moments of mobile framing and oblique staging, but they seem to remain in service of promoting the color process itself (Nahum at the river). Dramatic scenes are continuously cut short or dealt with indifferently from the point of direction. The most absurd example of this indifferent direction is when future King Cyrus is told by his father that his mother was raped to conceive him... we don't even get a front view of Cyrus at any point during this reveal! Continuous high and low angle framing never clarifies its purpose as being that of a transcendental historical subject or a diegetic critic of the relationship of servant and master. Needless to say, this film is the epitome of anti-dramatic and is conflated with inconsistency in tone, pace and sense of itself as a text. The mise-en-scene is too tableau to be considered painterly. The painted backdrops are positioned to announce themselves confidently as fake. There is a theme of tapestry in this film and that is perhaps the only true thing about the story. With no depth perceivable, I would have to remark the only single vanishing point as being the interest of the audience member.
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