‘They see only giants wherever they look.’
Celebrated warrior Ursus has retired to the quiet life as a farmer after falling in love with his King’s daughter. However, when she passes by on her way to an arranged marriage, she asks to see him so they can say goodbye. As they talk, her caravan comes under attack by bandits…
The second adventure featuring the heroic Ursus, a character lifted from the novel ‘Quo Vadis’, rather than mythology or the pages of the bible. Original actor Ed Fury makes way for Samson Burke (real first name Samuel), and direction and co-writing duties are in the hands of Luigi Capuano. Apart from that, it’s business as usual in the world of sword and sandal.
What on earth are the Kings of the Ancient World playing at? How many of their daughters have to be attacked by bandits on the road before they make alternative travel arrangements? Sure, there’ll likely be a heroic warrior on hand to defeat the rabble single-handed after the armed escort has failed miserably, but it hardly seems like good parenting. Fortunately, for King Alteo (Nerio Bernardi), Burke is on hand to rescue the lovely Princess Sira (Wandisa Guida) from their evil clutches. Our main couple has a history, too, with warrior Burke having forsaken his place at her father’s court when it was clear that the King would never allow them to marry. Not when there’s a chance of a politically advantageous marriage to neighbouring ruler, King Zagro (Livio Lorenzon).
Burke selflessly agrees to escort Guida to her forthcoming nuptials as the party to travel is now greatly reduced. Other members include sexy handmaiden Lidia (Gina Rovere), Burke’s annoying brat of a brother, Dario (Roberto Chevalier) and a few soldiers who are always handy if someone needs to be killed along the way. Arriving at their destination, they find Lorenzon to be a surprisingly pleasant host with a ready laugh for every occasion. However, he is bald and has a short, black beard, so his motives are suspect. Potential problems are also posed by his scheming cousin, Sabra (Nadia Sanders). Back home, Bernardi’s chief advisor Licurgo (Gianni Rizzo) is quick to talk down Burke when he rushes back to warn of a dastardly plot against the throne.
There are places where Capuano’s screenplay, co-written with Roberto Gianviti, manages to deviate from Peplum cliché, but not many. Our golden couple have a prior relationship rather than falling in love within five minutes of their meeting, although the leads have less than zero chemistry (if that’s possible!) No femme fatale swoons over the big man’s muscular torso and attempts to turn him to the dark side, and no slaves toil in the tyrant’s mine on a zero-hours contract with no dental benefits. Also, the rebel forces opposing Lorenzon haven’t been just waiting around for Burke to turn up before taking action. There’s also a good sense of scale to the action, with plenty of extras indulging in some energetic swordplay and combat, even if the fight choreography displays little imagination. Some of the natural locations are impressive too, and cinematographer Oberdan Troiani uses them well. The sweeping music of Carlo Innocenzi also lends the production a stamp of quality that is lacking elsewhere.
It’s no surprise that the main issue here is with the script. It slavishly ticks so many of the usual boxes that events take on a strange anonymity, almost as if the film were a clip-show created from other movies. Burke fights in the arena. The Lost Kingdom Dancing Girls favour us with another routine in gauze and veils as their never-ending tour comes to the court of King Lorenzon. Burke establishes the truth of his words by completing the ‘Trial By Fire’ and the ‘Trial of the Lances’ because honesty is always linked to physical strength, obviously. And I guess anything is more accurate than a polygraph test. Burke also gets to push ‘The Big Wheel’ when he’s a prisoner, although at least the filmmakers don’t even try to pretend that it’s connected to anything for once; it’s just physical effort for the sake of torture.
Another shortfall is with the performances. American Burke is physically impressive, especially in the upper body, but it’s fair to say that he spent far less time in drama class than in the gym. However, it was his first film, and there was a likely language barrier to overcome, and he does handle the action scenes with conviction. His next outing saw him in one of the title roles of ‘The Three Stooges Meet Hercules’ (1962), and he played muscleman Maciste that year in comedy ‘Totò contro Maciste’ (1962). Sporadic roles followed relying on his physical appearance, including the part of the cyclops in scenes directed by Mario Bava for ‘Odissea’ (1968), the epic Italian TV adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey.
After supporting roles in similar ventures and historical dramas, 1961 was the year that saw Guida graduate to leading roles in films such as this and ‘Dracut the Avenger/Dracut il vendicatore’ (1961). But, as the Peplum craze went into decline, her career followed. However, she was still the leading lady for later entries ‘Ercole contro Roma/Hercules Against Rome’ (1964) and ‘Maciste nelle miniere del re Salomone/Samson in King Solomon’s Mines’ (1964).
Lorenzon was a Peplum veteran with many credits that also include ‘Ercole contro Roma/Hercules Against Rome’ (1964). He mainly worked in Spaghetti Westerns in the latter half of the 1960s, making appearances in Mario Bava’s ‘Savage Gringo’ (1966) and Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), among others. He was regularly employed in Italian films up until his early death in 1971.
There is little to make this slice of Peplum stand out from the crowd, but there are still some things to enjoy for fans of the genre.
Samson Against the Black Pirate/Sansone contro il corsaro nero/Hercules and the Black Pirate (1964) – Mark David Welsh