Thursday, September 17, 2020

By the Gods!

Yvonne Furneaux as Semiramis in SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON (1963)

SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON (1963) staring Yvonne Furneaux (Semiramis), John Ericson (Kir), Germano Longo (Onnos), Gianni Rizzo (Ghelas), Renzo Ricci (Minurte), Nino Di Napoli (Adath), Harold Bradley, Ugo Sasso, Umberto Silvestri and Annamaria Ubaldi. Directed by Primo Zeglio.

There's a good number of PEPLUM movies set in Babylon. Are most of them historically accurate? Not really but who cares certainly with this one which is so good. The story is that of Semiramis, the legendary Queen of Babylon and wife of Ninus. The script doesn't really follow history. The King is called Minurte not Ninus. In this story, Semiramis is a scheming woman who marries the King for power, is courted by Omnos (Germano Longo) but she falls in love with a Dardanian King, Kir (John Ericson) who is enslaved by power hungry Onnos, only to become a rebel. The movie is all about power, greed and love.

John Ericson as Kir, the Dardanian King turned rebel. Ericsson recently passed away.

Right off the bat, I have to say that this PEPLUM movie is one of my favourites and it's one of the movies which made fall in love with the genre. The acting from all actors is top notch, even with the dubbing. John Ericson is a bit stiff but he's good looking enough to overlook this but the other actors, Furneaux, Rizzo, and Longo turn in all solid performances. Things are made better with Furneaux doing her line reading in English. The dubbing in many scenes is at times flawless.

Germano Longo is so good I believe this is a star making performance. He tries so hard to plot schemes only to be outdone by Semiramis, who out schemes him at every turn. Gianni Rizzo probably gives his best performance in a PEPLUM movie. He's a really good actor. And Yvonne is mesmerizing as Semiramis. Her constant attempt to manipulate everyone and everything is fun to watch. Everyone wants to get rid of Minurte (Semiramis, Onnos and Kir). The story is bathed with power hungry people trying to outdo each other.
Semiramis (Yvonne Furneaux), Adath (Nino di Napoli), Ghelas (Gianni Rizzo) and Minurte (Renzo Ricci)

The best thing about SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON, aside from the acting, is the dialogue. Like REVENGE OF THE BARBARIANS (1960), the dialogue is very good, is endlessly quotable and nearly makes the movie.

"It's in the darkness that treachery hides itself. And it's in the dark that we can disarm an enemy who would otherwise destroy us!" Semiramis says to Minurte. 

Omnos (Germano Longo) longs for Semiramis (Furneaux) who is actually in love with another man.

The one thing that sorta difficult to grasp is the relationship between Semiramis and Kir. It's a love/hate relationship since the moment they first met but by the end Kir becomes a villain of sorts (after suffering from being a slave so it's sorta understandable...) and this makes you wonder why Semiramis is always infatuated with him. Yes, Ericsson is a good looking man but Kir hardly hides his disdain for a things Babylonian from the get go so Semiramis seemed really hard up for love after falling for someone who hates everything about her world.

The action scenes are good with obvious stuntwork coordinated by Alfio Caltabiano, who also has a small role in it. The movie is a combination romance / action. 

And the ending, which I won't spoil, is quite memorable. I must admit it feels a bit rushed but the final shot is effective thanks to Primo Zeglio's direction. 

Nearly nude and in lust! Kir defies a bathing Semiramis. Beefcake and cheesecake galore. 

John Ericson, who mainly worked on television in the US, displays his physique in one of the most daring way. The camera doesn't shy away from scrutinizing his athletic physique. Even today, it's quite bold. Furneaux is seen swimming in the nude but very little skin is actually shown. The focus is clearly on the leggy Ericson.

Umberto Silvestri, Furneaux and Annamaria Ubaldi. And brick wallpaper.

The weakest aspect of the movie is the production, mainly the costumes and some of the props, sets. This being a TWIN PRODUCTION with WAR GODS OF BABYLON (1962), see article I wrote on this, the movie obviously cut corners on the costumes which seems to be a hodge podge of every costumes from previous movies. Mind you, it still looks good. It's just that it looks all over the place. There's very little Babylonian aspect to the costumes. Some props look tacky and out of place. But the movie was shot in actual Cinemascope format which gives the production a top notch quality. The two major sets, that of the exterior of the big temple, and the main interior set (with the honeycomb windows) are also seen prominently in WAR GODS OF BABYLON. Both are great. Not so great are the many interior sets with obvious wallpaper standing in for brickwork. Half of the production is great, and the half it's sorta appears to have been made rather quickly. 

Of the two films from this TWIN PRODUCTION, SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON easily surpasses WAR GODS OF BABYLON. WAR GOOD is good but the acting and dialogue are solid in SLAVE QUEEN.

Fun note: the pronunciation of Semiramis in this movie is my favourite (here's how it sounds). Many pronounce it SEM-MY-RA-MISS which drives me crazy. It's SI-MIR-UH-MIS.

The movie is also filled with numerous familiar faces, like Jeff Cameron, Harold Bradley, Umberto Silvestri, Fortunato Arena, Amerigo Santarelli, etc, which, for fans of PEPLUM movies like me, is fun to spot. 

I have a gazillion different versions of this: I have a Spanish and French versions, and an old US TV version. I also have two Italian versions, one from a TV broadcast and one from a DVD source. The most important one though is the Fan Dub I created (one of the first I've ever made) and which I've uploaded recently to PEPLUM TV Youtube channel. I used the audio from the US TV broadcast copy and it's the most complete English version available anywhere. 

I give it a solid 8.5 out of 10. 

I would have rated it higher if the production, mainly the costumes, had been more consistent with actual Babylonian culture.

The stunning eyes of Yvonne Furneaux!


Tim Mayer said...

Excellent movie! I wonder if a cinemascope print of this still exists? To see that on the big screen....

Tim Mayer said...

Watched it again. Yes, the Babalonia in this movie leaves a lot to be desired. Downer ending too. Still a great film!