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Maciste contro i mostri (1962)
A Hot Reg lewis Makes this worthwhile!
Forget the papier mache monsters and the terrible costumes of the cast. Feast your eyes on Mae West's favorite muscle hunk--Reg Lewis--in his only foray into the explosion of muscle men movies made in Italy during the early 60s. Lewis had a glorious, muscled body that was full and sensuous. Beautifully portioned, there was nothing lean or overly chiseled on this Adonis. With his hair bleached blonde, this enhanced his sexy personae and his mouth was both cynical and humorous. I loved the brief, hip-baring loincloth he wore since nearly all the musclemen from that area kept their loin clothes securely wrapped around their waists. Lewis exuded a raw masculinity, especially when he's with his heroine, who wastes no time climbing into those brawney arms for a deep kiss. No wonder Mae West was nuts about him. My only complaint is there's not enough of Lewis since so much of the film is devoted between the battles of two warring tribes, neither of whom boasts any hot looking hunks. In fact, I think they were chosen for their flat chested looks so that Lewis would appear heroic in comparison and that he does in spades. Perhaps Lewis was dismayed by the very low budget of this movie and the rubber hydra they devised for his mighty battle underwater. We can only wish Italian producers had found something worthy to showcase his sexy torso like they did with Steve Reeves in "Giant of Marathon" in which he appears nearly naked in most of this vastly entertaining swords and sandals epic.
La vendetta di Ercole (1960)
Fabulous Mark the MIghty!
Mark Forest, aka Lou Degni from the Bronx, made his movie debut in this colorful swords and sandals saga and became an overnight sensation. No one had ever seen muscles that big--or beautiful--with a body and a sensually beautiful face to go along with it. No, not even Steve Reeves could match Forest in this department. His torso is incredible. With the biggest pectorals and lats in the business and a justly famed ridged stomach. Although born in the Bronx, he became the most sought after physique model of the 50s and later won Mr. America and Mr. Universe. Everyone agreed it wasn't just his stupendous physique that made him a sensation. He had a smile and charisma to burn. This is captured in this film and he went on to make a string of highly successful muscle men features, the best of them, "Kindar the Invulnerable" and "Hercules versus the Mongols" and "Hercules versus the Barbarians." Forest left Italy at the peak of his career to return to America to study opera and performed all over Europe. Today, he still teaches voice and sings and works--surprise--as a personal trainer to a handful of lucky stars in Los Angeles.. Reeves may have been the king of Italy's muscle movies during the 60s but his prince was Mark Forest--perhaps the biggest and most fabulous of them all.
I pirati della Malesia (1964)
If you're looking for Steve Reeves to unveil that magnificent torso of his in this movie, then skip it. He's clad from head to toe throughout a decent adventure film that could have starred any number of action stars. Reeves trademark: his phenomenal body remains hidden throughout. Even in the scenes where other men are barechested, Reeves coyly keeps his shirt on. This is akin to movie producers putting Marilyn Monroe in potato sacks to prove her dramatic talents. I loved the earlier Reeves movies, especially his masterpiece, "Giant of Marathon" because it was like studying a marvel of nature: a phenomenal physique with charisma to spare. Perhaps Reeves thought it a good idea to downplay his body to show the world that he could act. In any case, this isn't a typical Reeves movie. In fact, it seems that the more movies he made over the years, the more he tried to hide his torso by cloaking it in capes and tunics and cloaks. So enjoy "Hercules," "Hercules Unbound" and "Giant of Marathon" while you can because his body-beautiful movies began wounding down soon after.
Leone di Tebe (1964)
Mark the Magnificent!
Mark Forest was probably the most magnificent of all the Hercules heroes, even more so than the God-like Steve Reeves. In his farewell movie, "Lion of Thebes," Forest has never looked more incredible, with his phenomenal torso on full display and his beautifully expressive face--sensuous lips, slanted eyes, chiseled features--all photographed to maximum advantage. Starting out as a physique model, Lou Degni from the Bronx, Forest went on to win Mr. America and it was only fitting that he was brought in on the coattails of the beautiful Reeves to make his share of muscle movies. No one had pecs as enormous as Forest or a ridged stomach that was justly famous. HIs whole torso was a work of wonder and thankfully, we have him on film during his peak to show the world just how phenomenal a speciman of manhood he was. Probably his best movie, "Kindar the Invincible" is included in the 50-movie package, "Warriors", that has ALL the musclemen who portrayed Hercules, Atlas, Samson and so on. But it was Mark Forest and his extraordinary torso and charisma that makes your mouth drop when he appears nearly naked except for a brief loincloth in most of his film work. He conveys a smoldering sensuality lacking in Reeves and you envy the number of actresses who had love scenes with him and were able to squeeze those powerful shoulders and arms. If Hollywood had any brains at that time, Forest would have been a Number One leading man. Male beauty, such as that enjoyed by Reeves and Forest, comes along only once in a century and in these vastly enjoyable "sword and sandal" entertainments, we can enjoy them forever. And wish we had movie heroes today who come anywhere close to Forest and Reeves.
La battaglia di Maratona (1959)
Ravishing Valentine to Steve Reeves
This is the ultimate tribute to Steve Reeve's phenomenal male beauty, captured in all its glory at the peak of his powers in l959. "Giant of Marathon" is given an exhilarating beginning with the powerful music score of Roberto Nicolosi, whose symphonic theme, underscores a nearly naked Reeves in brief scenes that showcase his power in the beginning of this vastly entertaining swords and sandals saga. When he swims towards the camera and comes up for air, the music swells and we see a rare glimpse of Reeves laughing. In another snippet, he's shown wrestling with another athlete and both are clad in very brief white loin clothes. It's sexual connotations is definitely there but Reeves looks so god-like you can't imagine him doing anything so earthy as coupling with another handsome jock. Throughout the running time, Reeves magnificent torso and charisma are given the star treatment, especially in the final portion where he and his warriors swim underwater to sabotage the enemy. In their flimsy briefs, this proves to be a beefcake bonanza, featuring not only Reeves but numerous handsome Italian extras. Mario Bava and Jacques Tourneur directed this classic adventure tale with Bava also responsible for the outstanding photography. From this film, he was launched into his legendary series of horror classics, creating such classics as "Kill, Baby, Kill," "Black Sabbath" and others. Reeves is beardless in this adventure and it adds to his boyish charm. At the beginning, he is crowned with a wreath of olive leaves and wearing only his loin cloth, his incredible torso is displayed in all its glory. If you're a Steve Reeves fan--which I definitely am--you might also explore the series of muscle man moveis made by Reeves American cohort, Lou Degni, re-named Mark Forest from the Bronx and a Mr. America winner. His physique is also stunning with a handsome face and acting ability to go with it. "Giant of Marathon" should be restored to its full technicolor glory. Even more than "Hercules Unchained," this is the Steve Reeves movie that fully exploits his extraordinary beauty.
The Brides of Dracula (1960)
"Brides of Dracula" is the best vampire movie ever made. Nothing like it ever appeared before or after and this is thanks to an extraordinary group of cast and crew. When I first saw this in a theater in l960, I was knocked out by the stunning use of color, lighting, costumes, story and of course the knock-out performances by a cast that gives it their all. What's stayed in my mind over the years is the terrifying relationship between Count Meinster (David Peele) and his mother (Martita Hunt). She keeps him locked up and scrounges up young girls to visit him so he can drink their blood. When the newest victim, the beauteous Yvonne Monlaur, frees him, the baron goes looking for his mother. Then he turns her into a vampire. Everything about this movie is touched by brilliance--from the sinister tracking shot of a carriage racing through the forest to reach the inn before sundown, to its incredible final sequence with the windmill. This movie delivers in every department, and especially in the sequences involving the fabulous Martita Hunt (who was also unforgettable in David Lean's "Great Expectations"), who portrays Mama Vampire and the count's lunatic nurse, old Greta, played unforgettably by Freda Jackson. Just study the scene where she lays on the ground, next to a freshly buried young vampire woman, and coaxes her out of the ground! The fact that "Brides" will finally be released on DVD is a cause for rejoicing. My VHS tape is worn and drab and I can hardly wait to see those beautiful hues and costumes and sets again on disc. Jery Tillotson
Tell Your Children (1936)
Low-Budget but Good Work!
Thelma White is the actress who really makes this anti-drug flick memorable. She portrays "Mae", who runs a drug den out of her late 30s apartment. Most of her scenes are shallow and brief but at the end she redeems herself in a memorable confession scene. The camera moves up close to catch her emotions and she really delivers when she says she didn't mean to hurt anybody to the DA. I don't know what happened to Thelma White before or after but she and the rest of the cast try valiantly to make this low-budget exploitation film work. "Reefer Madness" has become a joke movie--one everyone is expected to howl at and parody. That's unfortunate but understandable. I love to watch these roadshow exploitation movies from the 30s and early 40s and wonder about the fate of the cast and the crew, wonder about where they got their wardrobes and how were they hired? Was their a "Want Ad" in the Hollywood Reporter or did the film makers use their own friends, neighbors?
I became obsessed with this movie two years ago after checking it out of our great NYC library. I rave about it to my friends. To think that this full-length feature was made in l915 is astounding. Maybe it's because of its amazing star, Rockliffe Fellowes, who looks so much like Marlon Brando you'll be double-takes. That he never became a legendary star is a real tragedy but when you think of it, almost none of the film actors from that era survived into the 20s except for Mary Pickford and a few comedians. Rockcliffe is so natural, as is his co-star, the beautiful Anna Q. Nillsen, you have to remind yourself that they were acting. This movie should be studied in film courses to show today's younger movie buffs what dynamic work was being done back int he "dinosaur" age of films. And maybe, like myself, they'll never forget the fantastic Rockliffe Fellowes. This guy "coulda been a contendah!"
King of the Carnival (1955)
"King of the Carnival" is the nadir of the once fabulous Republic Studio serial machine that turned out true masterpieces of action during the late 30s and early 40s. Made in l950, this ultra cheapie is a disgrace. I'm sure that the brilliant Republic serial directors like William Witney and John English were mortified to discover their studio had unleashed this incredibly bad, tawdry product onto movie screens. This story has something to do with a circus and criminals. I couldn't figure it out. One of the circus dressing rooms is set up against the corner of a sound stage with draperies to hide the wall. The draperies constantly ripple from a draft. In some of the underwater sequences, the performers pretend to be in the water by moving in s-l-o-w motion. Yet, they don't get wet. One plus: the tape box that this came in has to be one of the most beautifully created containers I've ever seen. Someone did a brilliant job designing this little work of art. Brilliant and vibrant yellows, greens and reds and blues jump off the box. I would give the tape box an A+. The serial gets an O--as in off the radar screen for lousy entertainment. Watch it out of curiosity. And then watch one of Republic's greatest serials: the l942 masterpiece, "G-Men vs. The Black Dragon" with one of the most dynamic female performances in serials: the fabulous Constance Worth. Just watch her use the machine guns, revolvers to help out her boss, rugged Rod Cameron.
King of the Texas Rangers (1941)
This is one of the greatest of Hollywood's serials and made by the Tiffany of serial studios: the great Republic Studio. Made in l941, this is a classic serial to watch if you've never seen one. 'Slingin' Sammy Baugh, a real-life football hero back in the early 40s is the hero. Fascinating B-actress, Pauline Moore, is his plucky companion. Together they tear through this movie, dodging exploding oil wells, car wrecks, blazing fires, floods. Wonderful production values, super music and editing. The kiddies should have the thrill of their lives with this knockout entertainment