Attila, the leader of the barbarian Huns and called by the Romans "The Scourge of God", sweeps onto the Italian peninsula, defeating all of the armies of Rome, until he and his men reach the gates of the city itself.
The king of the Huns, whose hordes from various tribes and allies have been sweeping the Asian steppes and both Roman empires, dies, leaving the throne to two sons. Bleda, tired of war and hungry, bloody campaigns, wants to settle as allies of Rome in peace, his brother Attila believes only in the power of the sword. Roman general Aethius, who knows the Huns well as a result of former hostage exchanges, fails to get a true peace but buys a shaky one promising doubled tribute. The court of weakling emperor Valentinianus, moved north from Rome to Ravenna, where the true ruler is empress-mother Galla Placidia, widow of a barbarian king, refuses the terms and imprisons Aethius, who still refuses to seize power with Valentinian's sister Honoria. The ambitious princess now offers her hand and the empire as dowry to Attila, just what Bleda hoped for. Scorning peace, Attila has popular Bleda murdered during a hunt, and persuades the hordes to march with him on the empire. While clueless, ... Written by
Knowing of director Francisci’s subsequent contribution to the peplum genre, I fully expected this to be a low-rent version of SIGN OF THE PAGAN (1954) – which I watched the previous day – but the film ultimately proved fairly interesting in its own right. For one thing, the narrative has at least as many differences as similarities vis-a'-vis the Douglas Sirk epic and, once again, we have an imposing Hollywood star (Anthony Quinn) in the lead. Sophia Loren, then, stands in for Ludmilla Tcherina (though her character is ambitious and deceitful) while Henri Vidal – from the best Italian-made spectacular, FABIOLA (1948) – replaces Jeff Chandler (bafflingly, he dies here while Attila is allowed to live!). Another reversal has the Huns fighting amongst themselves – more specifically, Attila and his peace-craving brother: just as Jack Palance in SIGN OF THE PAGAN was forced to kill his daughter for what he deemed treacherous behavior, so does Quinn in this case with his sibling. In support of them, we have: Claude Laydu (from Robert Bresson’s DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST ), a most surprising choice to play the typically wimpish Emperor; Irene Papas, who takes on the role of Attila’s sole wife (and, conveniently, his astrologer as well); and Eduardo Ciannelli, appearing as a wise old Hun. While Sirk tried – with some measure of success – to put his distinctive mark upon the material, Francisci was content to imitate the Hollywood model (and QUO VADIS  in particular). Consequently, the film features intermittent ponderous narration, gratuitous exotic touches (in the form of a dance sequence and Laydu keeping a pet leopard) and an unlikely – if still effective – spiritual conclusion wherein the Huns are finally driven away thanks to the intervention of Pope Leo and his ‘army’ of cross-wielding supporters. Otherwise, the picture has a handsome look (i.e. bearing soft colors), compelling enough confrontation scenes (within both camps), and a long-in-coming but satisfactory climactic skirmish. The main downside is that the version broadcast on late-night Italian TV is the shorter U.K. cut (running a mere 76 minutes in PAL mode), albeit in its native language, as opposed to the official 100-minute print (which probably explains the references to a couple of minor plot points that are not actually shown)! Incidentally, reading through the credits one recognizes the names of several crew members who would later become directors in their own right: Luciano Ercoli, Christian Marquand, Flavio Mogherini, Luigi Scattini and Primo Zeglio...not to mention some heavyweights in the international film industry like Dino De Laurentiis, Carlo Ponti, Giuseppe Rotunno, Karl Struss and Aldo Tonti!
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