A crown, supposedly made from a nail out of the Cross of Christ and the metal of Roman swords, becomes a legend and a symbol of justice.A crown, supposedly made from a nail out of the Cross of Christ and the metal of Roman swords, becomes a legend and a symbol of justice.A crown, supposedly made from a nail out of the Cross of Christ and the metal of Roman swords, becomes a legend and a symbol of justice.
And what a look it turned out to be: this must certainly belong among the most sumptuous and ornately mounted fantasies ever put on film and, in hindsight, it's interesting that each major country involved in the ongoing struggle up to that time invested in a splendidly escapist (but not apolitical) extravaganza - the others being, of course, England's THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) and Germany's MUNCHHAUSEN (1943), which I had rewatched last year.
Anyway, the plot is a convoluted mix of The Nibelungen (its Teutonic visuals), William Tell (the protagonists' prowess with weapons), Macbeth (the doom-laden prophecies of a soothsayer in the forest) and even Tarzan (the son of a slain king, abandoned in the woods as a child, is eventually raised by lions and reappears after many years donning a loincloth!) but, thankfully, it moves at such a lightning pace that what one remembers most is not the court machinations but the splendid pageantry and impressively-staged action and crowd scenes, never more so than during the remarkable, extended jousting sequence.
The performers are also notable: Massimo Girotti as the afore-mentioned "Tarzan" figure (who is also prone to giant leaps a' la The Incredible Hulk!), Elisa Cegani (as a princess imprisoned in her own castle by her despotic father), Osvaldo Valenti (as a seemingly unbeatable knight at the joust whose winner will take the princess for his wife), Rina Morelli as the omnipresent soothsayer, famed wrestler Primo Carnera as a long-suffering he-man and, most of all, the larger-than-life villainy of Gino Cervi (as the illegitimate ruler, having killed his own brother to claim the throne, and calls everyone around him "beast"!) and Luisa Ferida (as Tundra, a sort of blood-thirsty Jungle Girl who is eventually reformed by her love for Girotti); it's worth noting here that the three leads each have dual roles playing the parent of the character they portray later on in the film.
Surprisingly enough for such a commercial (if undoubtedly artistically valid) venture, the film emerged the winner of the Venice Film Festival where, ironically, it was greeted with contempt by the guest of honor, the Nazi Propaganda Minister Dr. Josef Goebbels! Incidentally, another person who was unimpressed with the film was director Riccardo Freda - who should know a thing or two about fantasy film-making, being the helmer of several "sword-and-sandal" epics in his time.
Director Blasetti would go on to make another celebrated milestone of Italian cinema, the even more elaborate FABIOLA (1949) and, unfortunately, given their considerable reputation, both of these marvelous films are as yet unavailable on DVD even in Italy - although, the same can be said of several other little-seen but equally outstanding Italian epics including LA NAVE DELLE DONNE MALEDETTE (1953) and VIVA L'ITALIA! (1961)...
- Apr 5, 2007