Samson Against the Black Pirate/Sansone contro il corsaro nero/Hercules and the Black Pirate (1964)

‘Your compliments are even more persuasive than your muscles.’

Samson distinguishes himself in battle against the Black Pirate and receives the gratitude of the Governor of San Sebastion. However, the nobleman’s Chief Consul has been working secretly with the evil buccaneer. He isn’t about to let the muscleman interfere with his plans to loot the colony of its fabulous treasure…

Ho-hum Peplum patterned more on a Hollywood swashbuckler than the usual muscleman antics. Sergio Ciani, under his screen name of Alan Steel, is back on leading man duties, working here for director Luigi Capuano.

The Black Pirate (Andrea Aureli) and his ships have long been the scourge of the oceans around the island of San Sebastian. However, an engagement with forces led by Samson (Ciani) proves to be a disaster, with only his flagship escaping to the open sea. The action brings Ciani honours from Governor Don Alonso (Nerio Bernardi), but not the hand of his beautiful daughter Rosira (Rosalba Neri). After all, Ciani is just a fisherman by birth. Disillusioned, he heads for home.

However, all is not well at the Governor’s mansion. Chief Consul Rodrigo Sanchez (Piero Lulli) is Aureli’s silent partner, feeding the buccaneer the secret information that has enabled his reign of terror on the high seas. Together, they plan to kill Bernardi and make Lulli the interim Governor. Once in place, he can loot the treasury and get his greedy paws on Bernadi’s wife, his old love Carmelita (Elisa Mainardi). But when things do not go according to plan, he kidnaps their seven-year-old daughter Alma (Cinzia Bruno) and frames Ciani for the crime.

By 1964, the Peplum craze was running on fumes. The sheer quantity of muscleman features produced in the decade’s early years had drained all ideas and creativity from the concept and left a stale, familiar formula. Although it could be argued that Capuano’s film is attempting something different by co-opting the locale and story from an old Hollywood swashbuckler, it’s far more likely that this was simply an old script retooled for current box office requirements. It wasn’t even a new idea, really, with previous vehicle ‘Samson Against the Pirates/Sansone contro i pirati/Samson and the Sea Beast’ (1963) treading a similar path. Even less effort is made to impose the familiar Peplum tropes here, with very few scenes that involve the character’s superhuman strength, other than an escape from the flooding hold of Aureli’s ship. Mostly, he’s just a heroic chap who’s handy with a sword and good at wrestling.

The film opens with the sea battle between Ciani’s army and the pirate fleet. It’s unclear if our hero is leading the fight or earns Bernardi’s gratitude just because he’s an outstanding soldier, but no one else gets any thanks, so I guess he was in charge. Perhaps the lack of any other credit is down to the fact that the battle seems to be mostly appearing courtesy of another film with a grinning Ciani superimposed over the top waving his sword about. Thankfully, there are better combat scenes as the film progresses, although the fight choreography and swordplay aren’t particularly inspired.

Unfortunately, with events entirely predictable from beginning to end, Capuano needs to deliver spectacle and action rather than plot mechanics, and it’s obvious he didn’t have the resources available to mount much of either. Producers were never going to throw money at a project like this, with the box office beginning to run dry. Indeed, this film was Samson’s last stand-alone adventure, with his only subsequent appearance in the cycle being as part of the tag team in ‘Hercules, Samson, Maciste and Ursus: The Invincibles/Ercole, Sansone, Maciste e Ursus gli invincible/Samson and the Mighty Challenge’ (1964). Almost inevitably, when it was picked up for stateside distribution by American International Pictures, Samson became Hercules and a lacklustre dub track was provided to paper over the substitution.

On the plus side, Ciani does his best Errol Flynn impression when the script permits. The film would have benefited no end from adopting more of a humorous, devil-may-care approach to the material and with more screen personality than most of his muscleman rivals, Ciani might have been equal to the task. Instead, a few moments of lame comedy relief are centred on a henpecked villager and his domineering wife. It is a novelty to see Neri early in her career as a passive Peplum princess, though, and contrast it with the far more assertive roles she played in Italian genre cinema over the next decade. The eagle-eyed may also spot an uncredited Giovanni Cianfriglia, marking time before taking the lead as costumed crimefighter ‘Superargo’ under the somewhat less Italian name of Ken Wood.

Capuano began his screenwriting and directorial career in post-war Italy, racking up a couple of dozen titles before his first, much better, Peplum feature ‘The Revenge of Ursus/The Vengeance of Ursus/La vendetta di Ursus/The Mighty Warrior (1961). It’s clear, however, that he specialised in romantic costume adventures, including ‘Zorro and the Three Musketeers/Zorro e i tre moschettieri’ (1963) and two other features starring the masked rider created by Johnston McCulley. A smattering of American stars graced these projects, such as Guy Madison, ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott, Mickey Hargitay, Ray Danton and another ex-Tarzan, Lex Barker. Toward the end of his career, he made a couple of Spaghetti Westerns and anonymous Eurospy ‘The Big Blackout/Agent Perry Grant/Perry Grant Agente Di Fermo (1966).

There are a few crumbs of interest here and there, but this is one for die-hard Peplum buffs only.

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