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It's kind of silly to realize that Achillies -- played here by Gordon Mitchell, one of the demigods of cult cinema -- was also personified at one point by twig-boy turned actor Brad Pitt (in Wolfgang "One-Shot" Peterson's TROY, which basically tells the same story), who's career zenith still remains the stoner roommate from TRUE ROMANCE. The two performers and the two performances are incomparable, as are the two films, made four decades and a couple of continents apart. One is a silly computer enhanced vanity piece for a number of special interest causes, the other a low budget yet undeniably powerful genre film that was far better than it ever had to be. I will let you figure out which was which.
One should never confuse movies or their content with the "real world" (hello, Michael Moore!) since movies are ultimately meant to entertain those who watch them rather than serve as literal interpretations of history, facts, even legend or myth. A good working example is the ongoing debate amongst fans of the Western as to who was a better shot -- John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, or Lee Van Cleef. The answer is of course neither (Anthony Steffen gets my vote) since they were all actors and the gunplay was special effects work. BUT, if there was one film from the Peplum era of Italian sword & sandal films that I would recommend to a history professor who wants to help make Greek mythological history come to life, I'd pick FURY OF ACHILLIES. This is such a well-written and well acted film -- even when dubbed into English -- that the history it tells really does come to life. Much of that credit should go to Marino Girolami (father of Enzo G. Castellari, god bless him) and his choice of muscle-man turned genre star Gordon Mitchell as Achillies. Standing 6'3" and about 225lbs of sheer attitude, Mitchell is quite believable as the invulnerable, ultimate warrior of Greek mythology, and I will hazard to opine that Mr. Pitt was too busy having his nails buffed to bother watching this film to realize that the trick is not just in Mitchell's bulk but the way that he carries himself that makes his character SO much larger than life. Mitchell really carries this movie, which might be his finest hour behind the shield.
And as any performer will attest, if it isn't on the page it isn't on the stage: writer Gino De Santis' surprisingly poetic and verse oriented script is wonderfully faithful to the literary traditions that gave birth to such names as Achillies, Hector, Troy, and Odysseus. Special mention should be made of familiar genre face Mario Petri's portrayal of the agonized King Agamemnon, driven mad for power by the sacrifice of his young daughter to the gods. It is Agamemnon's agonized vanity that results in the film's dramatic meat & potatoes, highlighted by a number of genuinely moving funerary scenes, dramatic speeches, fights to the death, vows of allegiance or damnation. Here actually is the stuff of legends, realized on film with a sort of restrained grandeur by director Girolami who worked within the modest budget allotted to create a masterful telling of myth that is still quite human.
Most of these Peplum thrillers are silly spectacle films centered around a muscle-man hero, special effects set-pieces, sexy Veil Dances and maybe a duplicitous scheming Caesar or sorcerer pulling the strings of our hero. This time our hero is on his own, sort of thrust into his role of savior of his army & people's with little or no regards to how he may feel about it. That is what is often referred to as "fate", and if Mr. Peterson's film had managed to capture such universal indifference to our own petty concerns as mere mortals it might be remembered as something more than the film where Gladiators finally came out of their collective closet. Another point missed by TROY, HANNIBAL, the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and some of the other epic sweeping historical budget/event films of the mid 2000's is that these Italian Peplum potboilers were made with such low budgets that their directors, writers, set designers and performers had to rely on their wits, imagination, resourcefulness and iron necks to make what could have and often did result in films that were absurd. Here is one that didn't, and might be the best example of the Peplum thriller as a take on history that I at least have ever encountered. And is a wonderful example of humanity's penchant for story telling without the need for computer animated effects, which for my money always take the fun out of stuff like this by allowing you to bypass your own sense of imagination. This one engages it and is almost as good as the myths upon which it was based.
9/10, and very worthy of a proper restoration.
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