Monday, April 13, 2020

By the Gods!

Francisco Rabal (second from left) and cast in this historical epic directed by Blasetti.

I came upon SIMON BOLIVAR (1969) quite by accident this weekend and I'm glad I watched it. When I saw the cast and who directed it, I understood why I was enjoying this historical drama with a decidedly PEPLUM style. Aside from Maximilian School, the rest of the cast is a who's who of PEPLUM cinema.

Rosanna Schiaffino (THE MINOTAUR, ROLAND THE MIGHTY, etc)
Conrado San Martin (COLOSSUS OF RHODES, etc)

Made during the height of the Spaghetti Westerns, this movie shows absolutely no style similar to those movies. It's quite rare to see a movie made in 1969 with soldiers and waring factions be devoid  of the usual scenes and music seen and heard back then. It's probably why the movie is mostly forgotten today. It's more PEPLUM than historical drama or neo-western. The story follows Simon Bolivar's rise from Venezuelan soldier to revolutionist, freeing much of South America from the Spanish empire. The task of covering this massive story would prove daunting but director Alessandro Blasetti didn't care about being accurate or realistic. He created his impression of the Bolivar legend, nothing more, nothing less.

The cast is top notch and it's great seeing so many familiar PEPLUM actors in one movie, certainly Rosanna Schiaffino who nearly steals the movie from Maximilian Schell. She's quite good here.

This historical epic marks the return to the large scale movies for director Alessandro Blasetti, who directed two of my favourites: THE IRON CROWN (1941) and one of the movies which re-ignited the PEPLUM craze, FABIOLA (1949). You can clearly see his style of filmmaking which is pure PEPLUM: fast paced, beautiful cast, a good balance of upbeat tone and tragedy, and large scale scenes. There's even a dance sequence.

The one thing which is incongruous with the setting is the soundtrack. There are three men credited for the score. Aldemaro Romero was Venezuelan, which is apparently something the director wanted but some of the music is at odds with the movie. Part of the soundtrack was also composed (and entirely arranged) by Carlo Savina, a familiar name in PEPLUM music soundtracks, and the best parts of the score are mostly due to him.

Though the director and many in the cast were Italian, this was shot in Spain with a mainly Spanish crew.

My only big complaint about this production is the lack of stunning, memorable scenes. There were so many of them in THE IRON CROWN and FABIOLA that I expected to be dazzled by such scenes here but, alas, there weren't any. This doesn't mean the movie was a let down or it's bad. I just wished the old Blasetti was still present. Sadly, SIMON BOLIVAR was his swansong.

My other (minor) complaint is the dubbing. In the English version, we hear Maximilian's voice but I'm not sure of Rosanna's. She spoke English and made several Hollywood productions but her voice in this is sorta odd. The English dub is not the greatest.

I have an English TV broadcast of it (which is 10 minutes shorter than the original runtime) and the Italian version in widescreen.

7 out of 10.

Maximilian Schell is excellent in the role of the Venezuelan soldier turned revolutionist.

Elisa Cegani and Rosanna Schiaffino. Cegani was memorable in PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1963).

Luis Davila and Maximilian Schell: entire male cast in breeches.

Rosanna Schiaffino is particularly good and beautiful in this movie

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