APES ON FILM: Hold that Tiger!

By Chris Herzog
Contributing Writer

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems, and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD – 1961
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring
: Gordon Scott, Yoko Tani, Hélène Chanel
Director
: Riccardo Freda
Rated
: No rating
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region
: A
BRD Release Date: 8-16-2022
Audio Formats: English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio:  Widescreen (2.35:1)
Run Time: 98/76 Min.
Click Here to Order

 

For decades, the Italian Sword-and-Sandal film (aka the “peplum”) has been an object of frequent ridicule, even among cult cinema afficionados. This is largely because these ‘60s epics have been primarily seen in edited, panned-and-scanned U.S. television cuts with washed out color, damaged prints, and of course, ridiculous dialogue dubbing choices. Such critical external faults can also make internal issues like phony-looking monsters all the more detrimental. Happily, the digital home video era has provided more opportunity to see such films as they were meant to be viewed, in nice looking prints with proper widescreen aspect ratios and sometimes even in the original Italian. While such upgrades don’t exactly cure all of the ills inherent in low-budget fantasy flicks cranked out by the dozen, they can reduce the giggle factor considerably.

This is the case with SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, a 1961 saga helmed by Riccardo Freda, one of Italy’s most highly regarded genre directors. Freda had already enjoyed a 20-year career as a writer/director when he made SAMSON, and would soon go on to direct such favorite gothic horrors as THE GHOST (1963) and THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK (1962) with Barbara Steele. Just a few months prior, he had completed work on GIANTS OF THESSALY (1960), widely considered a top-tier peplum. SAMSON is also one of his better efforts, as Kino Lorber’s nice looking new Blu-Ray makes abundantly clear.

Our hero for this one (called “Maciste” in the original Italian version) is played by stoic-and-shredded Gordon Scott, star of arguably the best cycle of TARZAN films after the Johnny Weismuller MGM run. In fact, Scott looks as if he just walked over from the TARZAN set, loincloth-and-all, playing essentially the same character. The biggest differences, really, are that this picture is set in ancient China and that SAMSON has a degree of super strength, at least enough to do things like pushing trees over, tossing boulders around, and showing teams of horses who’s boss. In fact, Samson’s unnatural strength appears to be just about the only truly fantastic element in the picture, which may disappoint those viewers (like me) who prefer a high monster quotient in their pepla. The more papier-mâché dragons and ragged ape suits, the better, as far as I’m concerned. The closest we get here, however, is a wrestling match with a tiger, played by a stuffed tiger in close-ups and an alarmingly drugged tiger in the long shots. Nevertheless, SAMSON proves to be an entertaining experience on its own terms, as a colorful, action-packed historical epic with a smattering of super heroics.

The plot here is the very familiar mixture of court intrigue, evil despots, and enslaved populations that we find in most examples of the genre. Less familiar is the medieval Chinese setting, although it’s well-mounted and could occasionally pass for something the Shaw Brothers cooked up. Samson comes to town to help get rid of the evil Mongol warlord who has usurped the throne, hopefully restoring the rightful royal family to power in the process. Along the way, he fights the above-mentioned tiger, survives the perils of the warlord’s arena, engages in multiple battles and bar fights, and helps foment a revolution. You know the drill. There’s nothing particularly original or surprising here, but there is plenty of spectacle. This one at least looks like it has a higher budget than the average Hercules/Maciste picture, and that’s all that counts. Freda and his colleagues knew how to put every lira of the production budget on the screen, and this film is a great case in point.

Kino’s transfer looks great, with the often-opulent art direction really popping when it needs to and more realistic imagery like surfaces and skin tones registering naturally for the most part. The film is presented in two versions, the 98-minute original Italian cut and the 76-minute AIP cut which was the version commonly seen in the United States. Note that both cuts feature only English-language soundtracks. The chief extra is a commentary track from film historian Tim Lucas which accompanies the AIP cut. Lucas, of course, is a world-class authority on Italian genre cinema, and the track provides a wealth of production information and analysis. It’s difficult to imagine how this commentary could be any better. A sampling of trailers for other fantasy films available from Kino is also included.

 

 

When he’s not casually shuffling across dry creek beds, Chris Herzog is a writer, researcher, and teacher. His film criticism can also be found in Screem magazine and back issues of the late, lamented Video WatcH*Dog.

 

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

© 2022 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress