Friday, November 28, 2008

Conqueror of Atlantis (1965)

Hercules (Kirk Morris, this time dubbed into Heracles, which makes sense) is the victim of a shipwreck. Fortunate as he is, he washes up on a desert beach, right in front of beautiful princess Virna (Luciana Gilli). Obviously she can't take her eyes off the mostly naked male beauty before her and promptly falls in love with Herc as does he with her - at least as much as he is able to, having by my count had about 123 girlfriends before her. It doesn't seem to matter much anyway. She has to get to her father's camp, while Hercules should better trot into the other direction. All the longing glances let the two forget things like giving Hercules water and food to help him survive a walk through the desert, but don't fear for him. This is the kind of desert people routinely cross in broad daylight without water or shelter, as we'll see throughout the rest of the film. After Virna and her entourage are already gone, our hero finds a ring belonging to the princess lying in the sand, so he starts to wander through the desert after her caravan. He finds a group of nomads under attack by bandits instead. Being Hercules, he of course helps the nomads fight off their attackers.

His new friends take him to their leader Karr (Andrea Scotti) and after some male bonding procedures no tent can survive (damn, is there a homoerotic subtext here!?) the two become fast friends.

Another bandit attack, during which Herc shows a surprising amount of tactical acumen, and Karr tells the sad tale of his peace-loving people, who are regularly attacked by the men of evil nomad king Assour (Mahmoud El-Sabbaa). Assour is of course Virna's father.

Hercules (after showing un-American insight into the uselessness of torture) promises Karr that he'll take care of Assour.

A visit to Assour is rather fruitful - his attacks are revenge for supposed raids by Karr, raids that only leave dead bodies and stolen gold in their wake.

When Assour, Karr and Hercules finally understand that this is just a plan by a different enemy to keep them separated, said enemy attacks. If Assour and Karr had just talked with each other before. Or had sent each other messages...

The true enemy of the desert people are the Atlanteans, the last survivors of Atlantis, now residing in an underground city on top of a volcano.

The Atlanteans are in dire need of a queen and Virna looks fit enough for the job, so they kidnap her. Hercules and Karr pursue them and stumble into a Flash Gordon serial: The golden skinned men in the blue rompers who kidnapped Virna aren't exactly Atlanteans. They are instead the reanimated and gold-plated corpses of asphyxiated desert nomads, whom the only surviving male Atlantean Ramir (Piero Lulli), obviously the twin brother of Ming the Merciless, uses as mindless slaves.

The Atlanteans have a problem, you see: They are immortal, yet there aren't many of them left - besides Ramir, there is only the queen and barely a dozen female "warriors" with psychedelically coloured whigs. Personally, I wouldn't try to solve my population problem by kidnapping another queen, but what do I know about things like that.

Many (or competent) they are not, but they have great plans. They want to build an army of Golden Phantoms (the official name of the gold-skinned guys) to CONQUER THE WORLD!

A devious plan that would probably succeed if not for Hercules. Or Ramir's hobby to show prisoners around his lab and explain his fantastic contraptions, like a blaster (which Hercules will later put to good use), a machine that robs people of their will or gives it back again (which Hercules will later put to good use) and a machine that regulates the gas streams of the volcano (which Hercules will later - you get the gist).

Before the movie is over the excited viewer will experience many things, including: Feats of strength! Men fighting golden phantoms with the large iron ball and chains that they use like bolas! The explosive truth about cities build over volcanoes! The fact that Atlanteans lose their immortality when they fall in love (because it's forbidden and they get shot afterwards)! Daring escapes! A cackling mad scientist! And more!


Young Alfonso Brescia doesn't disappoint. As we all should know, Brescia would later go on to film a few mad and/or dadaist SF films and invent the SF porn genre and has a big place in my heart as one of the great holy fools of cinema.

At the point in his career when he made Conqueror of Atlantis he seems to have been still rather sane. Someone with my lowered expectations regarding logic can't help but call the plot here sensible, even logical, as if Brescia had actually tried to make a film that does make a certain amount of sense. Well, if you are able to overlook a few pesky things, like the dubious intelligence of the bad guys, or the bizarre nature of their culture or their plans, but really, who cares about those things when there is a wonderful lab to look at, and women wearing, um, things and undead cyborgs with golden skin dressed like toddlers and soldiers who use spears when they could use blasters. And so on and so on. Which is my longwinded way of saying that the script is absolutely awesome in its wrongheadedness and that the pulpy nonchalance with which it switches from peplum in the desert into Flash Gordon mode is a true joy to behold.

What else can I say about a Brescia film I have not already said elsewhere? The editing is either grotesquely inept or brilliant: There are important transitions missing and everything seems to move just outside the normal way time and space work. There are actors, some of them even seem to have an idea what they are supposed to be doing. Kirk Morris makes a fine Flash Hercules, even if the does not let him throw any pillars around and Piero Lulli knows what's important when playing an evil genius: Ranting, cackling and ominously staring into the camera.

Conqueror of Atlantis is a fine film when you want to relive some of the beauties of classic serials, or if you want to start your education in the works of maestro Brescia, but don't want to dive into the headier stuff at once. Or if you want to have an exceedingly fun time.


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