Wednesday, May 6, 2020

By the Gods!

Maciste (Samson Burke) wants to crush Totokamen (Toto)

Review of TOTO VS MACISTE (1963) starring Toto, Nadia Sanders and Samson Burke as Maciste. Directed by Fernando Cerchio.

The story, if one could call that, centers around mistaken identity. Some unscrupulous high priestess/witch, Faraona (Nadia Sanders) plots against the Pharaoh. She invites Maciste (Samson Burke) to help her with her scheme but Maciste is in love with the Pharaoh’s daughter, Nefertiti (Gabriella Andreini). He refuses to help. So, Faraona makes Maciste drink some potion, prompting him to fall in love with her. He’s now willing to do all of her wishes.

Maciste (Samson Burke) is about to drink a potion created by Faraona (Nadia Sanders). Her assistant, Baitan (Piero Palermini) helps with her scheme.

After this, we see Toto, named Totokamen (haha!), perform as ‘the strongest man in the world’ skit (he’s an actor of sorts) on some stage for an audience. Some actually believe he is very strong.

The desperate Pharaoh needs some 'special' force of nature to combat his enemies. Someone suggests getting Totokamen while Faraona wants Maciste instead. This is the set-up for the eventual confrontation between Maciste and Toto.

Though this is a comedy, a quick glance at it one could determine that it's a standard PEPLUM movie. It’s studio bound with exterior scenes and big crowd scenes taken mainly from THE PHARAOHS’ WOMAN (1960). The desert scenes shot in studio are obvious and are sorta cheap looking. But then again I’ve seen some regular PEPLUM movies with the same obvious studio bound 'exterior' sets.

The movie is fun to watch and personally, I prefer it over TOTO AND CLEOPATRA (1963). It's more successful as a parody of the PEPLUM genre than the CLEOPATRA one, which is kind of a mess. Both movies use the mistaken identity plotline for the storyline. It’s sorta predictable thing in a Toto movie.

The comedy relies mainly on Toto mugging for the camera, moving his head about, and doing physical comedy, like Toto imitating a muscular man. It also relies on people talking fast and over each other. In one scene early in the movie we see Toto and two other characters talk loudly over each other for nearly 2 minutes (over the size of hieroglyphics on a poster!). Is the scene funny? Not really but I have to say that after a minute or so I started laughing. It was over-the-top silly. And that's how the rest of the movie works, which I have to say was fine. This is the stuff Toto is famous for, which is at times difficult to translate. Play with words, fast talking, cross-talking, etc.

Maciste (Burke) sleeps with a large stone 'bed sheet'.

Aside from the studio bound sets and the scenes taken from other movies, the film’s biggest liability is Maciste himself, or Samson Burke. Burke simply cannot act. He keeps looking nervously at the camera and crew members. He overacts his entire role, so much so that some scenes are hard to watch. But then when the entire cast shouts their dialogue, Burke’s take on Maciste is not out of place.

The studio sets are quite obvious in this movie.

One of the odd things about Toto movies is the lack of actual actors of the PEPLUM genre. In this case, aside from Burke, it's fun to watch Nadia Sanders, of THE GIANTS OF THESSALY (1960), in a substantial role. In TOTO AND CLEOPATRA, there was Moira Orfei and that's it. Why were there so few familiar PEPLUM actors in his movies?

Side note: this is the only PEPLUM movie Burke played Maciste.

Director Fernando Cerchio directed many PEPLUM movies, including CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER (1960) and NEFERTITI - QUEEN OF THE NILE (1961). He knew the genre and this one is a good example of this.

I have the original Italian version, one without subtitles and with subtitles, and a French version, fully dubbed in French (without subtitles). This version was very helpful for this review.

I like anything that makes fun of the genre no matter how obvious it is. I give it a generous 7 out of 10.


Scott Ochiltree said...

Sounds pretty dreadful.

I find that comic treatment of Peplum and Arabian Nights type subjects virtually never works well.

Anonymous said...

A personal note on Toto'. He tried to join the prestigious Knights of Malta, which required proof of nobility. Despite proving descent from the Emperors of Byzantium in the Italian courts, he was rejected by the Knights because his profession was regarded as equivalent to that of a jester.

Stephen Flacassier said...

Years ago I was at a movie collectables convention, and found Samson Burke was one of the guests. As he was signing a photo for me I rambled on about how I had films with him in it other than'Three Stooges meet Hercules', like this film 'Toto vs Maciste'. He kind of looked like he had no idea what film I was talking about, while at the same time, glad someone knew who he was. Turns out he was the only peplum star I was ever able to meet in person.

PEPLUM TV said...

Stephen, thanks for the story. I remember seeing Lou Ferrigno at one of those signing conventions and he had stuff for all his TV shows and movies except for the HERCULES movies and that Sinbad movie, which I thought was weird since the HERCULES movies were his first big break in a leading role in an action movie.

And thanks for that interesting Toto personal note.

Salgister said...

If I'm not mistaken, Toto' inherited the title of Baron or something. He was the last in line, and the title ended up with him. Not sure though. As for Samson Burke, he made a better show in L'Odissea the miniseries as the Cyclops. He looked believable and his acting was better than in Toto' contro Maciste the worst of all the peplum movies put together.