Sunday, March 1, 2009

Samson and the Seven Miracles of the World (1961)

Director: Reccardo Freda

Starring: Gordon Scott

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: The Mightiest of Them All!

Plot: Sam must rescue a beautiful Chinese princess from a marauding horde of warriors.

My Rating: 6/10

Would I watch it again? Yes, if a better print surfaced.

This isn't exactly a Sword & Sandal (Peplum) picture in the sense that it's an Italian muscleman movie set during The Roman Empire or the time of Greek mythology. This one cheats a bit in time and place by placing it in 13th century China. So why is this a S&S film? Because it's Italian with a muscle-bound dude named Samson (for the States, Maciste in Europe). I know what you're saying, "Say, Scorethefilm, how is that possible that Samson is scrapping his way across the globe like that? Wasn't he alive a couple thousand years earlier?" Well, the opening narration after the credits states that he is the "young giant who is to strike terror into the hearts of the invaders. He assumed the name of Samson to match his size and feats of strength." That's how.

So now we've got the evil Mongol leader (no Genghis here, he's replaced by the meanie Mongol, Garak (I guess they didn't want to upset any living descendants of Genghis Khan) who wants to rule China but to do that Garak must eliminate the young heirs to the throne; the prince, Bayan, and the princess, Lei-ling. Garak and his smokin' hot power-hungry girlfriend hatch a plan to have the prince killed in a tiger hunting accident and the princess murdered by a band of rebels at the convent where she resides. Then Garak would be emperor of China with along with his beautiful bride, living out his days doing what Mongols in movies are best at, looking menacing and styling their crazy-ass manly facial hair.

The tiger hunt is set for the following day (as well as the raid on the convent). Three of Garak's men see to it that the prince is bound and tossed into a tiger pit. They then coax a tiger into the pit to eat the prince. I guess the tiger wasn't ready as he growled long enough for the prince to scream for help a few times which attracted the attention of Samson who just happened to be walking nearby.

That's Samson there, the one sportin' the red trunks and nothing else.

It's cracking me up that Samson is just wandering the countryside, traveling across the globe righting wrongs, wearing nothing but a glorified loin cloth and leather lace up sandals. No food, weapon, currency, nothing. I have to assume that he kills his food with his bare hands and that's enough to survive on. But with wearing so little, wouldn't he be a bit weathered? Maybe scratched up or something? I realize I'm thinking way too much about this during the movie but with him just showing up like that it was really funny and made me contemplate it.

Mongol like candy! Grrrrrr!

So Samson saves the day by killing the three soldiers and taking the prince to a monastery nearby. They let Garak think that the prince is dead (the princess escapes, btw, so she's alive, too). The monastery is built into a mountain and there is a tunnel to the other side where a wise old monk lives. But there's a catch. No one can get to him because of the humongous boulder that blocks the entrance. Any guesses on who takes care of that one? That's right, Sammy in his Speedos. Once there the old geezer fills the next couple of minutes with enough exposition to choke a horse on steroids. After the frail geezer says what he read in the script, he kicks the bucket. Here's how it looks.

Amazing. He brought such depth to the character. I only saw him for a couple of minutes minutes but it was like a lifetime. I felt as if I knew him and his passing was devastating. Whatever. Good riddance. Get on with the ass kicking.

Speaking of ass kicking, there's a great sequence where some rebels/peasants/extras are put in a pit with their heads exposed only to be chopped off by rotating blades powered by a team of horses pulling a chariot. They line up fake heads first to show us and the spectators what's about to happen to the prisoners. The bladed chariot runs around the track to show off a bit and the BAM! Fake heads rolling all over the place. The splinter carnage may be too much for young children. Then they toss the prisoners into the pit with their heads sticking out and it's the same routine but only this time Sam's got to stop it. What we're treated to is a pretty long scene with Sam fighting with the driver, eventually over-taking him and stopping the horses (Flintstones style) with his feet in the ground. Pretty cool scene that would have been great to see in a theater.

Garak captures the princess anyway and makes plans to marry her leaving his hot girlfriend (who's much smarter than he is) out to dry. She's pissed so she finds Samson and tells him where the princess is. Garak finds out about this betrayal and has her tortured and killed. They capture Samson trying to escape with the princess, bind him and store him in a really fucked up fashion.

Imagine a solid block of stone that's something like 12 feet wide, 12 feet thick and stands from the floor to the 30 foot ceiling and beyond. In that stone is carved out (from one end) a space that is not much larger than the inside of a closed coffin. They have a dwarf crawl inside pulling on Samson's chain-bound feet (others are pushing outside) and he locks the chain onto an embedded ring. He does the same to Samson's hands. He crawls out around Samson. Samson's shoulders are barely inches from the sides and his face is inches from the inner ceiling. Then they close it up. How's THAT for fucked up? I'd freak out like nobody's business. It's totally fucked up and made me cringe the entire sequence.

Don't worry 'cause this is the guy who named himself Samson because of his physical appearance and his feats of strength. He hears the voice of the old man that earlier gave us all that exposition about his destiny and the old man speaks of the seventh miracle, that of Samson getting himself and his fancy underpants the hell out of this predicament so he can join the rebels and take China back from the Mongols. This is starting to sound like KILL BILL territory isn't it? He breaks free from the hand shackles and starts to push up on the ceiling. I should mention that the execution of the rebel leader (an Italian actor playing Cho, a Chinese!) is happening directly above where Samson was entombed (by like easily 30-40 feet below). Samson manages to push with such great strength that he creates what seems like an earthquake, turning the arena into a destruction zone, swallowing many evil Mongols in the process.

Within seconds Samson is loose and in the commotion Cho breaks free and lobs a spear at Garak landing in his back and killing him. Apparently that's all that needs to happen for the power struggle to change hands because the next thing we see is the ceremonial wedding of Cho and the princess. WTF? You've got an incredible climax, stretching your suspension of disbelief like few movies have ever done, that lasts maybe two whole minutes and then there's the abrupt end and tag-on of the wedding that has the movie over one and a half minutes later? W...T...F? It totally felt like they ran out of money, needed a quick climax and when they came up with this unbelievable finale they ended the film abruptly and tacked 0n the wedding scene so fast that you could hear the producers saying, "Hurry up and get these people out of the theater before they realize they've been had!"

It's disappointing but then again it's about a guy who calls himself Samson, getting into adventures in 13th century China. They're pushing the limits already. I fell for it and had some good fun and laughs along the way. I can certainly do worse and I aim to.

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