Saturday, August 17, 2013

In short: Swordsman of Siena (1962)

Original title: La congiura dei dieci

Italy, in the second half of the 16th Century. British mercenary and charming rogue Thomas Stanswood (Stewart Granger) is moving (with quite a few horsemen trying to catch him in tow) from his former employ to work for the Spanish governor Don Carlos (Riccardo Garrone) of occupied Siena. As it turns out, Don Carlos is quite the fiend, as is his torture-loving (note to my American readers: in civilized countries, torturing people makes you the bad guy) cousin Hugo (Fausto Tozzi), chief of the guard aka main thug.

Don Carlos needs Stanswood as bodyguard for his fiancée, Orietta Arconti (Sylva Koscina), member of a renowned family of the city. Surprisingly enough, Orietta actually wants to marry Don Carlos, despite his responsibility for the death of her father, and the heavy patriotic misgivings of her younger sister Serenella (Christine Kaufmann). What Orietta doesn't want is a bodyguard, particularly not a charming and roguish bodyguard her sister falls for head over heels.

Soon, Stanswood finds himself entangled in the conflict between the Spaniards and Siena's very own band of terrorists/freedom fighters known as the Ten, and, having a chivalrous heart and a soft spot for Serenella, rather doubts his Spanish employers are the right side to work for in this conflict. Why, he might even end up joining the rebels, and winning a brutal horse race for them to incite a more large-scale rebellion.

Etienne Périer's (the IMDB lists one Baccio Bandini as co-director, but the film doesn't, and you know how notoriously trustworthy the site is in these things) Swordsman of Siena is a fine piece of swashbuckling adventure, the sort of film tailor-made to let Stewart Granger do the charming rogue bit he does so effortlessly and convincingly.

All too often, supposed charming rogues in movies really rather come over as smarmy, self-centred bastards, something Granger usually manages to avoid with natural charisma, unless he's in a film where him being a self-centred bastard is exactly the point. In Swordsman's case, Granger also has help by a script that knows the difference between being a rogue and being an asshole (there's a particularly great scene in which Stanswood refuses Serenella's teenage crush because he's "ten years too old or ten years too young"), a fact that makes Stanswood a particularly enjoyable hero.

As is more often than you'd expect the case in swashbucklers, the female characters have a bit more to do than just stare adoringly at Granger or do that bit where their particularly heavy dislike is meant to hide their attraction (something which actually makes logical sense for one of the female characters in this particular film), though they do get to do these things too, of course. It's as if the swashbuckler as a genre, unlike other genres working in the historical past, could actually accept that women, despite being constrained by the mores of their times, still were actual human beings and certainly were doing more with their time than just standing whimpering on the side-lines. Or I'm just particularly lucky with the swashbucklers I watch in this regard.

Everything else about Swordsman of Siena is very much like you'd expect of a good example of its form: it's fast paced, full of colourful costumes, rather exciting fencing, a smidgen of romance and some melodrama to properly prepare the finale. That's a good thing, mind you, particularly since Périer really does know how to keep things moving (and exciting) throughout, and how to transition from the film's light-hearted core to the more dramatic bits.

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