Once Upon a Time in Russia

“Hordes storm fortress!” “Tartars Abduct Viking beauty!” “Orgy celebrates conquest!” These were some of the tag lines used to promote the period epic The Tartars (1961), one of many European imports that reached American shores during a brief “sword and sandal” craze in the late fifties/early sixties. Hercules, the 1959 peplum sensation starring Steve Reeves, started it all. Producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the rights and distributed it in the U.S. in 1959, transforming it into a box office hit. After that, every major studio was scrambling to duplicate that success and MGM was no exception, importing such muscle-bound contenders as The Giant of Marathon (1960), Morgan the Pirate (1961) and The Son of Spartacus (aka The Slave, 1963) – all of them starring Steve Reeves. The Tartars, however, had a different pedigree and a more distinctive one. Not only was it helmed by Richard Thorpe, one of MGM’s most dependable directors of costume epics (Ivanhoe (1952), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Knights of the Round Table, 1953), but it sported two high profile marquee names – Victor Mature and Orson Welles.  

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Martyrdom, Italian Style

Ingrid Bergman in Europe ’51 (1952), directed by Roberto Rossellini.

The second film collaboration between Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Europe ’51 (1952) might be the most overlooked and misunderstood feature of the famous director-actress team during their turbulent and controversial relationship. Between 1950 and 1955, the couple made five features together and one episode for the five chapter compilation film, We, the Women (1953). Although most film critics seem to regard 1954’s Journey to Italy as their peak achievement, Europe ’51 (aka Europa ’51) received a second chance at reappraisal in September 2013, thanks to The Criterion Collection, which released the film on Blu-Ray and DVD in a set with Stromboli (the first Bergman-Rossellini film from 1950) and Journey to Italy (aka Viaggio in Italia, 1953) .     Continue reading