Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ark of the Sungod (1983)

aka Temple of Hell

The gentleman burglar Rick Spear (David Warbeck) has come to Turkey to combine a pleasurable holiday with his girlfriend Carol (Susie Sudlow) with a little light burglarizing. Keeping Carol out of the loop of what he's doing for a living is surprisingly easy. The woman's a real airhead, but at least she will turn out to be a very practical airhead without much of a propensity to scream during the course of the movie, so the film already has one better on the middle part of the Indiana Jones trilogy (there is no fourth film).

Rick's burglary business is easy work for a professional, even with a random cultist trying to kill him while he is acquiring the tools of his trade from the shady Mohammed (Ricardo Palacios), but it also turns out to be a benign sort of trap laid by Rick's old buddy Lord Dean (John Steiner). Dean wants Rick to find and steal the scepter of king Gilgamesh for him. The artifact is securely tucked away in a lost temple somewhere in the mountains of what should be Iraq. An expedition in the 30s found it, but didn't manage to open the large, golden door leading into it. Obviously, an expert burglar will succeed where archeologists have failed.

Finding the last survivor of the old expedition (our dear old friend Luigi Pigozzi aka Alan Collins) to learn where exactly the temple is located will be the least of Rick's problems. He'll also have to cope with more cultists and the bumbling henchmen of a certain Prince Abdullah (Aytekin Akkaya, if you believe the IMDB the man who played Captain America in 3 Dev Adam) who is planning on using the scepter to...rule the world. Mwahahaha. I see kidnappings in Carol's future.

Ark of the Sungod (and might I mention the complete lack of an ark in the film?) shows director Antonio Margheriti in full cheap-skate Spielberg mode, although I would argue that while Indiana Jones might be the commercial reason for the film's existence, the serials the Lucas/Spielberg films were based on are the company in which the Italian film really belongs in spirit of quick and dirty fun and by virtue of its cheap but effective production values.

The archeological adventure part isn't as important for the film as one might think. Mostly it is a very (yes, pulpy and serial-like) succession of fistfights, stunts, model-driven car chases (in fact one of the best model-driven car chases in movie history), and gleefully absurd humor.

Some would call the plot and the plotting here dumb and juvenile, but I find the lightness of touch this film shares with Margheriti's other adventure movies much too knowing and endearing to be this humorless about it. There's also a friendly little bunch of stereotypes to offend the easily offended, but taking offense here would mean putting a weight on a film it never was meant to take.

What Ark of the Sungod has going for it is an infectious feeling of fun and enthusiasm that comes through in Warbeck's sarcastic swagger, Akkaya's insane ranting, the relish with which Margheriti presents the location shots made in Turkey and the shrugging disinterest for common sense that runs through much of the film.

Like many of the director's best films from this phase of his career, Ark of the Sungod possesses a slightly post-modern feel. It is a movie very conscious of being a movie and of being stitched together out of parts of other movies. Margheriti is of course very adept at being irresponsible and playful about it without the need of great gestures to demonstrate how clever he is.

Ark of the Sungod is a boy's own adventure with all the problems that entails, but it seems to know that these problems are mostly dangerous for and in those boy's own adventures that decide to take themselves much too seriously. The only thing Margheriti takes seriously is having some fun while making his film, which in his case more often than not produced a fun film.



Keith said...

I really like both this and Hunters of the Golden Cobra. David do I miss that guy.

houseinrlyeh said...

Yes, Warbeck and Margheriti were one hell of a team.