Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983)

After soldier of fortune J.T. Striker (four time winner of the title “best name in the business”, Tony Anthony) acquires a mysterious key from a haunted castle/wildlife park, a professor sends him out to steal two of the crowns of Visigoths (yup, the title’s ever so slightly exaggerating), items full of mystical power, to which the key is the, well, the key, from the mountain lair of evil cult leader Brother Jonas (Emiliano Redondo). Of course, one needs to assemble a crack team for this kind of operation, so Striker packs in his wimpy tech guy buddy, an alcoholic mountain climber, a circus strong man with a secret deadly heart disease (Francisco Rabal), and the strong man’s wife Liz (Ana Obregón), trapeze artist. I’m somewhat disappointed he’s not taking clown Popo too, but we just can’t have everything.

The team assembled, it’s off to the heist; though the finale might turn out rather different from Rififi.

Sometimes, it truly can be the first and the last fifteen minutes that make a film special. At least, that is the case in Ferdinando Baldi’s Treasure of the Four Crowns, a Spanish/Italian film (for some reason distributed by Cannon Films, of all companies) made to cash in on the second 3D fad, which means there are way too many moments of pointless pointy things – and plastic snakes, a lot of them – popping into the camera as if there’s not tomorrow.

But oh, that beginning! It shows our hero conquering a castle that acts like the lamest haunted castle ride you can imagine, with first various animals (fake and real) trying to get at that tasty Tony Anthony flesh, a full plate mail and a skeleton playing peek-a-boo with him, and various things catching on fire for no good reason. Everything that happens here is accompanied by the most outrageous cartoon noises the sound department could come up with, with animals that make more improbable noises than Lucio Fulci’s maggots (particularly the non-rubber snake), and only the least frightening giggles and howls. And of course, dear Tony Anthony does contribute his own bit of craziness by making all the rubber faces he can come up with, stoicism not being the strong point of his character, until you can’t help but laugh at the seriously presented insanity happening in front of your eyes. And just because, all this stuff happens to the accompaniment of an absurdly dramatic score by Ennio Morricone, because of course it does.

Unfortunately, once that is over and done with, the film calms down into a bit of an hour-long rut, with way too much exposition (though the mandatory slideshow exposition scene is at least accompanied by some excellent insane rambling from Brother Jonas), and too little happening. Even the craziness can’t help much there, because apart from the bizarre and hilarious scene where the “flying” (on strings visible even in a film as badly treated on home video as this one), whistling key turns the alcoholic mountain climber’s hut to mush in an attempt to “escape” (don’t ask me), and the fact the audience learns of the strong man’s heart problems in a scene between him and Popo in full clown make-up, there’s little of interest happening.

Of course, finally, after too much time spent on our characters avoiding lasers by hanging from a ceiling, and an intercut (stalling for time) sequence of Brother Jonas healing a fake possessed woman, the film finds its feet again when people start dying in hilarious ways, Tony Anthony’s face melts, and he turns into a human flame thrower, melting someone into the kind of skeleton that makes crashing noises like a breaking clay jar.

That’s the sort of thing that really makes up for a pretty dismal middle in a film, at least in my house, and particularly when the film treats the whole mess with a blank faced earnestness that’s only disturbed by Tony Anthony making rubber faces even when he’s not wearing a rubber face, but that’s Tony Anthony for you.

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