Thursday, October 8, 2020

By the Gods!

SON OF SAMSON (1960) starring Mark Forest (Maciste), Chelo Alonso (Queen Smedes), Angelo Zanolli (Pharaoh Kenamun), Carlo Tamberlani, and Vira Silenti. Directed by Carlo Campogalliani. Italian title: Maciste nella valle dei Re (Maciste in the Valley of the Kings).

Evil Queen Smedes (played to perfection by Chelo Alonso) wants to control the throne. She casts a spell on the ruling Pharaoh (Angelo Zanolli) in the form of a powerful necklace with a scarab. The Queen and her evil men are set to control the Kingdom but the appearance of Maciste makes this coup not as easy as it should have been since the Pharaoh, with bow and arrow, saved Maciste's life by killing a lion who was about to attack the sleeping/sunbathing hero. The ever grateful Maciste and the Pharaoh form an instant deep bond and Maciste's eventual infiltration of the Kingdom puts the Queen's plans into turmoil. She sets her eyes on the muscular Maciste. When Maciste refuses to help her she tries to kill him by tossing him in a pool with crocodiles. 

This is a great PEPLUM, one of the best. It looks great on all fronts: cast, locations, production, etc. Directed by Carlo Campogalliani, who had directed Steve Reeves in GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS (1959), sets up the stage for a spectacular PEPLUM and a spectacular return of Maciste, who hadn't appeared in a movie since the silent era. The movie was a smash hit and dozens of other Maciste movies were made in its wake.

Chelo Alonso as Queen Smedes. One of her most memorable roles.

The movie is filled with clichés, Feats of Strength, everything that a PEPLUM fan like me looks for in a PEPLUM movie. On this aspect alone, the movie rocks. It doesn't disappoint. Campogalliani doesn't shy away from showcasing Mark Forest and his physique in a plethora of scenes where his body is the main focus. Forest appears only in his yellow loincloth-style wrap throughout the movie. At one point they even make fun of this by covering him up as he infiltrates the city since his body made him stand out from ordinary citizens. But the cover don't last long and Maciste takes it off quickly saying "I don't want to wear a mask!". Aside from Steve Reeves movies, and Kirk Morris in MACISTE IN HELL, I don't think there's another movie which displays the bodybuilder/actor front and centre like what Campogalliani did here. It's quite eye catching, even in 2020. 

This was Mark's first movie. You'd think his performance would have suffered from this but it doesn't. Mark looks like a seasoned pro. His physique also differed quite a lot from those at the time, including that of Steve Reeves. Forest, née Lou Degni, went on to make a dozen or so other PEPLUM movies before becoming an Opera singer/teacher.

Chelo had starred in GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS for director Campogalliani so it's not surprising the director wanted to work with the Cuban born star again. She looks like a Queen, even though I doubt Queen's would dance like Chelo danced.

Queen Smedes controls the gentle Pharaoh Kenamum (Angelo Zanolli). The Pharaoh's true nature surfaces after being cast in a spell.

Maciste (Forest) is displayed to the Queen (Alonso) and the Pharaoh (Zanolli). Beautiful set and photography.

The rising of an obelisk sets the stage for a spectacular Feat of Strength for our hero Maciste.

This is one sexy film. From beefy Forest and slinky Alonso, to their eventual 'courtship' which includes a sultry dance number from Alonso, sex is on the forefront throughout. One has to be reminded that this was made in 1960.

The Queen tries to control Maciste with the reliable drink laced with some potion.

What makes this movie more interesting than the average PEPLUM movie are the relationships. Yes, the Queen tries to seduce Maciste and have him under her thumb, which is pretty much the standard thing in all PEPLUM movies with evil female rulers but the one character which is sorta unique is Pharaoh Kenamum, played with appropriate sensitivity by Angelo Zanolli. At the start of the film, the Pharaoh is shown to be in a relationship with a woman but once he becomes ensnared in the spell, his character changes. His love interest is nowhere to be seen until the very end and even then the Pharaoh doesn't pay any attention to her. It seems the director wanted the Pharaoh's true nature to surface once he was being controlled by the evil Queen which makes this character change interesting. There's plenty of subtext going on and it's quite obvious the director intended to be more underlying aspects between the Pharaoh and Maciste. This makes the movie look/feel more contemporary than many other movies made of the same period. 

The Pharaoh (Zanolli) doesn't recognized Maciste (Forest) even though the two quickly became friends after the Pharaoh saved Maciste's life.

The movie is filled with some surprisingly shocking moments, of violence and nudity. At the very start we see men buried up to their heads, dying in the desert. At one point, a slave, believed to be a man, rips the clothes off to show female breasts. I still can't believe this scene was left in the final cut. Some prints crop out the breasts or cut out altogether (it's cut in the Retromedia DVD print) but even in that version it's still surprising to see a female flash herself like that. Kudos to the movie!

One of many spectacular scenes in the movie.

The film is eye filling, in more ways than one. For an Italian PEPLUM, there are some quasi-Hollywood big scenes in it, including a deadly chariot race, the obelisk scene, big crowds scenes throughout. This movie wasn't cheap.

Issues with the movie:

- the lion tamer is obviously not Mark Forest. With his beer gut and clumsy movements, the HD image makes this scene even more apparent.
- I always get the two female characters confused (below). They wear the same wig and the same clothes and they look like identical twins. I can never set them apart. Even in HD. It's very confusing.

- The pacing is very relaxed and casual. There's nothing wrong with this (I actually like it) but I think the story needed a bit more urgency at some point.
- The big battle at the climax. We're obviously not in Egypt anymore. I always wonder why they filmed in that location. Oh well...

Side note: the obelisk scene makes an appearance in MACISTE IN HELL (1962)

Side note: the original Italian poster is stunning. I recently bought it.

Obvious lion tamer made more obvious with the crystal clear HD image.

I have multiple versions of this movie, so many that I've lost count. In fact, I acquired this copy and another one which was also pretty good but not as good as this one in just a few months. The main one I've had for many years was the Retromedia DVD version. This version was ok but it was murky, grubby and well, not really good. In contrast, the new RAI HD broadcast really shows how poor the Retromedia print was. These screengrabs are from the RAI HD broadcast.

At the IMDb profile of the movie, the original runtime was 94 minutes at 24 FPS (frames per second). The Retromedia DVD version is 86 minutes long at 24 FPS which means 8 minutes were cut from it. This new RAI HD version is 90 minutes long but at 25 FPS. A French version of this movie I recently acquired is also at 90 minutes at 25 FPS. So this RAI HD version is uncut since 94 minutes at 24 FPS is 90 minutes at 25 FPS.

I give this movie 9 out of 10. One of the top PEPLUM flicks.

Mark Forest looks great in it!

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