Sunday, September 22, 2013

In short: Il boai di Venezia (1963)

aka The Executioner of Venice

aka The Blood of the Executioner

Luigi Capuano's gondolabuckler is a particularly fine example of the form, shot (rather lavishly) on location in Venice, full of probably not historically correct yet convincing and colourful costumes, and sets that fit the style of the real life locations well. There's a real sense of place to admire that results in a feeling of reality (not realism, mind you) not even the film's story can destroy.

Said story is of course the usual melodramatic silliness with an old and ill doge undermined by a capital E evil Grand Inquisitor (Guy Madison) who uses the doge's son (Lex Barker) to strike at him in particularly nasty ways. There is of course also a disrupted marriage (to Alessandra Panaro), whose disruption drives the poor girl involved in the direction of a convent and a sadistic evil master plan that suffers a bit from the needlessly sadistic and dangerous attempt of using a pirate captain to kill his own lost son. Evildoers, that stuff never works, particularly in Swashbucklandia, where people all too happily brand their little kids with tattoos of the Virgin Mary. Though, really, the custom seems rather useful when seen in a context like this.

Capuano presents all this with so much verve he even distracts from the fact that Lex Barker isn't particularly charismatic (sorry, guy whose performance as Old Shatterhand in the German Karl May adaptations was an important part of my childhood). The action sequences - ranging from duelling to brawls to a little bit of acrobatics - are generally imaginative and colourful, while the melodrama is as over the top as it should be. This is the sort of film where locking oneself up in a convent when one's lover has been killed looks like a completely appropriate reaction because everyone acts dramatically all the time, which probably comes with the lavish dress, now that I think about it.

Capuano adds to these simple yet inspiring delights (seriously, watching this, I hardly could keep myself from either jumping from balconies brandishing my imaginary epee, or from joining a convent, or from tattooing random babies) with an ability to squeeze even the last bit of local atmosphere out of his Venice shots, and a willingness to add telling, colourful details to the film whenever possible, very much in the style of the best literary swashbucklers. A typical example of the last is the leader of hero Sandrigo's friends in low places, Bartolo (Giulio Marchetti), whose blindness adds little to the plot but makes the character that much more memorable than if he were the usual grumpy old man or (always worse) the comic relief commoner.

Taken alone, little things like this don't sound like much, but they add up during the course of a movie and give Il boia di Venezia a nice warm place in the part of my heart I keep reserved for swashbucklers.

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