“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.Continue reading
During the summer of 1961 a double feature aimed at children was being distributed in selected cities across the U.S.. If you saw the titles on a theatre marquee, you might think they were Walt Disney releases – Bimbo the Great and The Fabulous World of Jules Verne. But anyone who ventured inside the theatre immediately realized that these films were NOT made in Hollywood. And in the case of The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, it didn’t even look like the film was made in the 20th century!
Westerns not made in the U.S. have always carried a patina of the exotic for fans of the genre. There have been the countless spaghetti westerns from Italy and Spain, Australia has turned out several distinctive efforts (The Man from Snowy River, Mad Dog Morgan, The Proposition) and even Japan has their own brand of western as represented by samurai films like The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. But have you ever seen a western from East Germany during the 1960s when their film industry was under the control of the Socialist government? If not, Westerns with a Twist, a trilogy from DEFA (aka Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft) starring Gojko Mitic is a great place to begin. This trio of “red westerns” includes The Sons of Great Bear (1966), Chingachgook, the Great Snake (1967) and Apaches (1973). Continue reading
The sword and scandal genre rarely got much respect in the U.S. during its heyday and it was easy to see why. Aimed largely at indiscriminate male viewers, these action-adventure sagas were usually imported from Italy, poorly dubbed in English and featured some of the world’s most famous bodybuilders of that era (none of whom were known for their acting prowess) along with exotic female sex sirens. The plots were usually dumbed-down bastardizations of Greek and Roman myths or history and the production values were variable, mixing picturesque Italian locations with laughable special effects or papier-mache props. Due to their derivative nature and lowbrow appeal, few of these faux epics ever achieved classic movie status but occasionally one would stand out for its sheer weirdness alone like The Giant of Metropolis (1961), which is set in the year 20,000 A.C. and often looks like a Flash Gordon-inspired sci-fi adventure. Continue reading
Remember the Italian sword and sandal films (known as peplum in their native land) that enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the U.S. from around 1958 to 1964? There was never any question about the appeal. What’s not to like about muscle-bound super heroes, beautiful, curvaceous slave girls, princesses and evil queens, despicable, hiss-worthy villains, amazing feats of strength, epic battle scenes, exotic dance sequences, bizarre tortures and stylized sadism, picturesque locations, atmospheric set design, and disaster film calamities (earthquakes, volcanoes, storms)? Continue reading