From The Warner Archive: Two Italian Sword-And-Sandal Epics

The Warner Archive has just released both Damon and Pythias and Hercules, Samson and Ulysses in newly remastered DVD form. Both films are prime examples of the Italian Sword-and-Sandal genre that was prominent in that country’s film industry in the late-1950s, early-1960s (just before the Spaghetti Western took over). Basically, take all of your favorite characters from ancient Biblical and Greek/Roman times, put them in a blender together and what you get is these ridiculous(ly great) films that do not care if these people could ever really have shared the same space. That is not the point. Just go with it and you will enjoy it, I swear.

I don’t think I’d ever seen a true Italian Sword-and-Sandal movie before watching these two films and now I am so intrigued, I definitely need to see more. These remastered transfer really do the films’ cinematography justice, as you will see in a bit.

I have to admit I wasn’t a big fan of this film. I thought it was kind of a mess. It’s got a pretty good pedigree, though; produced by Sam Jaffe (who started out as an agent for the likes of Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart), directed by Curtis Bernhardt (his work in the late-40s, early-50s is pretty great) and starring Guy Williams, whose career spans many decades and genres. But somehow, all that did not a good film make.

However, Williams and on-screen partner Don Burnett really do work well together. It’s a shame they didn’t share the screen more often.

What is really great about this film is the cinematography of Aldo Tonti, whose work also includes Fellini’s Le notti di Cabiria. Tonti filmed over 130 films in a career that spanned nearly four decades.

So, at the very least, the film is worth a watch for its beautiful shots. And will probably please fans of the genre, even if it may not convert new fans.

Which brings me to Pietro Franciscis’ Hercules, Samson and Ulysses, which I happened to love despite its (many) flaws. Franciscis’ 1958 film Hercules, starring Steve Reeves, is often cited as the film that jump-started the popularity of the genre.

Kirk Morris and Richard Lloyd are really quite wonderful in their roles as Hercules and Samson. They are both so full of muscles it is hard to even pay attention to what they are saying most of the times. It’s best if you just ignore the fact that Hercules and Samson would most likely NOT have existed at the same point in time. Just go with this in a sort of Alien vs. Predator kind of way. It’s fine if you think about it in those terms. I swear.

Also, I gotta give props for the lion-wrestling scene. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

I’m not really sure  why the English title for this film is Hercules, Samson and Ulysses. Sure, Ulysses is in it for a bit. But Delilah (played to perfection by Liana Orfei) has far more screen time and is the more interesting third wheel in this film. Actually, the original title of the film Ercole Sfida Sansone roughly translates to Hercules challenges Samson, so really they should have called it Hercules Vs. Samson. But I digress, Orfei makes a great femme fatale Delilah, although her target in this film is Hercules, not Samson like you think it would be. I need to see more of her films; she has such a dynamic screen presence.

I’m not sure why they threw Penelope and whoever is supposed to be Hercules’ lady in this film as if they were going off to the Torjan war. In this film, Hercules and Ulysses go off to kill a monstrous sea-serpent and wind up shipwrecked in Judea (naturally). But I will say, the shots of the women at the sea waiting for their men to return are all quite beautiful.

I actually took about 50 screencaps of the beautiful cinematography in this film, which was shot by Silvano Ippoliti, whose work also includes Robert Aldrich’s 1963 film Sodom and Gomorrah.

This is definitely a film that is worth your time and will probably get you as interested in the Sword-and-Sandal world as it did for me.

Disclaimer: This review is based on review discs given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on August 11, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. And of course GRG knew all about these movies although I don’t think they showed them at his Jr. Hi. for a nickle a day.

  2. The second film really is an insanely entertaining, albeit wholly ridiculous, film.

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