Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In short: Zorro Contro Maciste (1963)

aka Samson and the Slave Queen

(This write-up is based on the Italian language version of the movie, so I have no idea what that "slave queen" business is all about.)

It's the 17th (or 18th?) Century in the kingdom of Norgara (also known as not-Spain). The king of Norgara dies of an illness while visiting an island that's part of his country, leaving two female cousins as hot candidates for his succession. In the white corner is the saintly blonde Isabella (Maria Grazia Spina), and in the grimdark one stands the evil-bad non-blonde Malva (Moira Orfei). Only the king's testament can decide who will succeed him, so the girls are understandably excited to get their hands on it while it makes its way home from said island. Am I the only one disturbed by the idea the king only made his testament when he was ready to croak and far from home when there's no actual line of succession? The queen can only be better than him.

Anyhow, Malva is convinced the king would never leave the kingdom to her, so she - and her lover, captain of the guard Garcia (Massimo Serato) - decide to get a hold of the document beforehand and change it; of course, they'll need a man who is at once a competent hero and a total idiot to get the will for them. Fortunately, Maciste (Sergio Ciani) has stepped out of the TARDIS (warning: movie may not contain TARDIS) without even a shirt to wear and is now - still shirtless, though at times at least wearing a leather vest to protect his nipples - working as a strongman in Norgara, without a clue about the actual political situation, but at once willing to help when he's asked to steal a document. Stealing the will is going to proof more difficult for the dumb slab of meat than he expected, for not only has a bandit named Rabek (Andrea Aureli) already taken possession of it, there's also the fact that Isabella has asked Zorro (Pierre Brice) for help protecting it from her evil cousin.

The heroes will clash repeatedly until Maciste finally gets a clue, and in the end team-up against the true villains of the piece. It's Marvel Team-Up, Italian style.

Leave it to the wonderful and awesome (in every sense of the word) Italian genre film industry at the height of its powers to come up with a crossover possibly more bizarre than Maciste's run-in with Genghis Khan. If you're like me, you will find it a bit unfortunate that the actual execution of the film (directed by Umberto Lenzi in one of his more entertaining moods) is not as bizarre as the title makes one hope for, for while Zorro and Maciste really do fight each other for large parts of the movie, a man of my tastes can't help but hope for some hot Zorro against mythological monster action, too.

That's not what Zorro contro Maciste offers at all, though, because Lenzi's film prefers to put Maciste into a more classic, monsterless (except for a crocodile) swashbuckler of the sort Zorro is usually more at home in, instead of creating a peplum that just happens to feature Zorro, too. Even though that's a bit of a disappointment, the film at hand makes up for it by being a darn entertaining swashbuckler full of swashing and buckling and the expected demonstrations of derring-do, filmed with more spirit than Lenzi's films usually show.

It's a movie that fulfils all the expectation one has for a film of its genre without actually doing much new or exciting with it, yet that is also so good-natured and well done it's impossible not to like it.


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