Friday, March 23, 2012


THE LION OF THEBES starring Mark Forest, Yvonne Furneaux, Pierre Cressoy, Massimo Serato, Rosalba Neri, Alberto Lupo, Nello Pazzafini and Giovanni Cianfriglia. Directed by Giorgio Ferroni.

The great thing about the PEPLUM genre is the fact that many films are speculative or fictional stories based on famous characters. The Iliad is well known but what happened to Helen after the fall of Troy is rather dull so with THE LION OF THEBES we see a speculative story of what happened to Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) and her bodyguard, Aryan (a pectacular Mark Forest). Like so many films of this genre, the story starts with the two washing up on shore in Egypt and after slow start they end up in Thebes where Rameses (Pierre Cressoy) rules and the mere presence of Helen triggers a seemingly endless series of plotlines with people scheming, scheming, scheming against the two newcomers. Helen wants to leave the nest of vipers and in the process of surviving in her new tumultuous home she falls in love with Aryan. This all culminates up to an exciting climax.

If all Italian Sword & Sandal films were this solid the genre probably wouldn't be so neglected as it now. Almost everything works in this. I have almost nothing bad to say about it. It's that good. The liabilities are:

1 - The music is recycled and sometimes treacly during the love scenes.

2 - It's mostly studio bound.

3 - The story (schemings) is a bit facile.

4 - The pacing is a bit slow at first but quickly picks up.

5 - Some obvious anachronisms

That's it. The cast, sets, cinematography, action, stunts, all work wonderfully.

Yvonne Furneaux makes a wonderful Helen and she has great chemistry with Mark, which is one of the film's surprising delights. She has more chemistry here than she did with John Ericson in the equally great SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON. Mark Forest is at ease and physically speaking it in top shape. When his pecs are on screen, they eclipse everything else. Arf. Remarkably, 5 films starring Mark were released in 1964 and this is the best of those 5 films.

The supporting cast is tops: Pierre Cressoy, Massimo Serato, Rosalba Neri and Alberto Lupo. There's also Nello Pazzafini and Giovanni Cianfriglia is Mark's body double/stuntman.

The fights in this film are action packed and believable. The fight during the climax is **simply the best fight** in any PEPLUM film. The cinematography, composition, editing, etc during this scene are stellar. It just rocks. The fights in James Bond films were often said to be the best in those days but alas few have seen this fight even if it's better than any Bond action. The fact that there's little to no music makes this sequence even more exciting.

Giovanni, above, vs Mark, below

The one glaring issue during the fights is the stunt work in the scenes, provided by the peerless Giovanni Cianfriglia. His stunt work in this is even better than the amazing one in HERCULES THE AVENGER or THE TROJAN HORSE. The problem with Giovanni is that his physique simply doesn't match Mark's beefier one. Giovanni is built but he's slim and as agile as a jaguar. When Giovanni walks about it just doesn't match Mark's hulking walk. This is quite apparent during the wrestling scene at the start of the film (above). But the editing and camera movement are so good that unless you're a sharp observer you might not really notice it.

Conclusion: with a pectacular Mark Forest, a beautiful Yvonne Furneaux and Rosalba Neri, great support from the reliable Serato, Cressoy and Lupo, stunning stunt work from Cianfriglia, this cool speculative story of Helen of Troy is colorful, action-packed and sharply directed by Ferroni. What's not to like?

rating: 9 out 10


Giovanni Cianfriglia as Mark's stuntman/body double. The fight at the end is ace!


James E., Parten said...

This was the film that got me into the Peplum genre back around 1971 or so, when I caught the last ten minutes of so while grazing the dial trying to find some alternative to the weak, spavined fare offered by the Major Networks during that dark time in Sat ayem kidvid.

Yes, lots of malice-in-the-palace scheming, and a deathtrap/execution device that is probably as anachronistic as all indoors--but it provides the necessary suspense culminating in the inevitable nick-of-time rescue.

All told, a good 'un.

jim said...

Looks like a great Peplum film.

Wonder if any of Mark's female co-stars objected to him having a bigger (& better!!) chest than they did?? lol

Unknown said...

The quality of this version looks good! which one is it?

Anonymous said...

Here is a Greek drama in which Helen never went to Troy but was in Egypt for the duration of the Trojan War: