Samson Double Bill - Trailers From Hell (2022)

Pepla! Pepla! Rah Rah Rah! These two remastered Italo muscleman pix could be the start of something big. A pair of relatively early Maciste epics became Samson vehicles in American-International’s Hollywood-ized revisions. Mark Forest & ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott overthrow tyrants in Egypt and Cathay, while hurling boulders and kissing exotic damsels like Chelo Alonso, Yôko Tani and Hélène Chanel. Separate releases from Kino Lorber.

Samson Double Bill - Trailers From Hell (1)


Samson Double Bill
Son of Samson + Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World
Blu-ray Separate Purchases
KL Studio Classics
1960 + 1961 / Color / 2:35 widescreen /
Starring: Mark Forest, Chelo Alonso; Gordon Scott, Yôko Tani, Hélène Chanel, Valéry Inkijinoff.
Cinematography: Riccardo Pallottini
Original Music: Carlo Innocenzi
Produced by Luigi Carpentieri, Ermanno Donati
Directed by
Carlo Campogalliani, Riccardo Freda

Samson Double Bill - Trailers From Hell (2)Is it true? Will the neglected Italian costume pictures known as ‘sword ‘n’ sandals, Pepla & muscleman epics finally be released on disc in editions of worthwhile quality? We ‘fifties kids were raised on a diet of Steve Reeves and his BOOMY dubbed voice; his Hercules pictures were met with cheers of approval from young audiences unaware we were looking at 3-year-old Italo productions chopped, redubbed and marketed for worldwide consumption.

Yes, Italy made dozens of beloved faux-Biblical, faux-mythological and just plain invented muscleman superhero epics. As DVD Savant and CineSavant have been wailing for years, we’re tired of knowing them only as wretched pan-scan abominations on graymarket discs. These two recent Kino Lorber releases are licensed directly from Europe — the companies Unidis and Jolly Film pop up on the copyright line. Marketed as Sampson adventures, they were originally ‘Maciste’ epics. Don’t ask why Samson doesn’t have long hair; the name Goliath also crops up in the re-written, redubbed versions of these pictures, and not as a villain. The first show Son of Samson is rather unfocused and haphazard, and the second offering Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World is acted and directed with considerable style and verve.

Both features were produced by Luigi Carpentieri and Ermanno Donati’s Panda Films, whose other costume adventure pix imported U.S. stars Lex Barker, Gordon Mitchell and Rory Calhoun. The partners also dabbled in the comparatively micro-budgeted Italo horror field, Anglicizing their names into a combined credit: Louis Mann.

Son of Samson
1960 + 1961 / 76 min. / Street Date May 10, 2022 / Maciste della valle dei rei / Available from Kino Lorber / 24.95
Starring: Mark Forest, Chelo Alonso, Vira Silenti, Angelo Zanolli, Carlo Tamberlani, Zvonimir Rogoz, Ignazio Dolce.
Cinematography: Riccardo Pallottini
Art Director: Oscar D’Amico
Film Editor: Roberto Cinquini
Original Music: Carlo Innocenzi
Story and Screenplay by Oreste Biancoli, Enno De Concini
Produced by Luigi Carpentieri, Ermanno Donati
Directed by
Carlo Campogalliani

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With this first feature Panda Films resurrects silent Italo cinema’s Maciste, turning a specific character into a generic fight-for-right liberator and admirer of adoring women. This ’60s-era Maciste just ‘appears’ in different historical situations, as if he had free access to Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine.

Son of Samson (Maciste della valle dei rei) is a middling entry in the muscleman sweepstakes. Mark Forest is one of the less exciting muscleman heroes, but 12 costume films in 5 years attest to his popularity, as Hercules, Maciste, Goliath and Samson. The show is distinguished by attractive locations and the presence of an A+ femme fatale leading lady, Chelo Alonso. The Cuban fireball worked almost exclusively in sword ‘n’ sandal pix, yet is now best known for a brief but impressive appearance in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The story takes place in Egypt, thanks to plenty of second-unit views of Pyramids and ancient ruins. An assassination brings to an end the peace-loving, humanitarian dynasty of Pharaoh Armiteo (Carlo Tamberlani). The coup is directed by Queen Smedes (Chelo Alonso) and the Grand Vizir (Zvonimir Rogoz) as part of a Persian bid for conquest. Armiteo’s son Kenamun (Angelo Zanoli) comes to power. An idealistic ‘Pharaoh of the People,’ Kenamun loves the innocent peasant Nofret (Frederica Ranchi), who he meets while recovering from wounds of battle. But when he returns to bury his father, The Vizier & Queen Smedes employ a ‘Necklace of Forgetfulness’ that places the new Pharaoh under their sinister control moowhwahhahahaw.

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Fortunately, Maciste appears out of nowhere. He repeatedly rescues Nofret’s village from Persian slavers, attracting the affection of Nofret’s BGF Takaet (Vira Silenti, the wife of producer Ermanno Donati). Maciste and Kenamun became fast friends by saving one another from ferocious tigers, but Kenamun’s amnesia has blotted out that memory. The comic-relief camel driver/merchant Senneca (Nino Musco) helps Maciste enter the oppressed city of Tanis, where he avoids capture while doing heroic things like saving a man being whipped, helping the slaves erect a giant obelisk and escaping Queen Smedes’ horrid ‘cell of death.’ Conveniently located just off the main hall of the palace, the cell of death has hungry crocodiles and mechanical crushing walls a la Fu Manchu or the Imperial Death Star’s trash compactor.

Mark Forest has expert control of two facial expressions. When relaxed and pleasant he’s a good-looking guy. When serious and concerned he looks like a schoolboy whose lunch money has just been stolen. He walks through more than one scene as if trying to be natural while waiting for direction that never comes. Maciste’s musclepower is definitely more potent than kung fu — there are plenty of large objects for him to hurl at hostile opponents, who thoughtfully clump together for him. Giving a single feeble enemy spear-carrier a good shove invariably flattens a wave of cohorts behind him, like bowling tenpins.

The production values are not the greatest, and much of the film has a plain-wrap look. The most impressive scenes are the raising of the obelisk, followed by the chariot race where Maciste stages his peasant revolt — and frees the enslaved Nofret and Takaet at the same time. Then Maciste defeats the royal army by knocking down a bridge.

Even in ancient Egypt our hero finds time for muscleman R&R — in Queen Smedes’ boudoir. The camp highlight of the show is Chelo Alonso’s seductive veil dance. Ms. Alsonso looks terrific, and appears to be the only actor given specially-designed costumes. She gyrates and twists while shooting 100-proof come-hither glances at Maciste. Mister Rogers would be thinking unclean thoughts, but Maciste just stares with a pleased smile. When he and Smedes get down to a real bedside chat, the byplay is refreshingly direct:

Maciste: “Women are for love, not for death.”
Queen Smedes: “You mustn’t think about other girls.”

So our hero with the big chest ends up horizontal on a sofa with a scheming babe. She makes all the moves and he’s totally passive, which in muscleman terms means he’s being faithful to the sweet and trusting Takaet. A few scenes earlier Takaet enthusiastically expressed her readiness to settle down and raise a litter of muscle-babies. She’s primed and ready to jump Maciste, but he gently explains his destiny as a ramblin’ man, saying he’ll return some day:

“You’ll be a sweet memory.”

Gee, thanks, Maciste. Is Takaet supposed to get in line with the other 20 women waiting in vain for Mister Big Muscles?

Otherwise, Son of Samson labors under a by-the-numbers storyline and the generally tepid direction of Carlo Campogalliani. Scenes are blocked without a lot of imagination or dynamic story sense. Action set-pieces lack energy and editorial momentum. In the battles, extras wave swords at each other, run and fall. When Campogalliani cuts in close, it’s for gruesome combat details, such as a graphic image of a pitchfork stabbing a guy in the mouth. They could be easily removed should some censor squawk.

The final showdown in the throne room reminded me of a B&W still I’d seen in an early ’70s film book, so I tracked it down. Sure enough, Peter Wollen in Signs and Meaning in the Cinema uses photos from genre pix to call for criticism to take in the entire spectrum of film entertainment, not just ‘respectable’ pictures.

Mislabeled ‘Maciste the Mighty,’ a photo of Mark Forest hurling a spear is set next to Toho’s Rodan and Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz. Wollen’s book was the first time I read a critic claiming that lowly genre fare was worthy of serious study.

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KL Studio Classics’ Blu-ray of Son of Samson is an excellent transfer of what looks to be an export copy of the Italian version of the film. The one language choice is English, but titles and text all refer to Maciste, not Samson. Color and sharpness are excellent throughout. The Totalscope anamorphic lens system either has issues or the camera crew took a while to get the hang of its adjustments, because the field of vision often has noticeable distortion, especially visible during camera pans.

The settings are decent enough, yet sufficiently generic to make us wonder whether Panda Films constructed new sets, or rented standing items. We at CineSavant are attuned to detecting repurposed sets, costumes and stock shots in sci-fi pictures, but this genre isn’t so familiar. By 1960 several big ‘Egyptian’ themed shows had been filmed in and around Rome . . .

Kino gives Son of Samson an audio commentary by David Del Valle, assisted by Michael Varrati. They convey nostalgia for the Peplum genre and talk about seeing some first on a big screen and others mangled for television. Del Valle ID’s this show as the first Maciste picture of Peplum era. He recounts having met Mr. Forest at a fan convention, where the actor told him that he used his muscleman films to finance his opera career.

We learn that Mark Forest was Brooklyn-born and also known by his birth name Lou Degni; he had an advantage over other American import actors because he spoke fluent Italian.

Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World
1961 (U.S. 1962) / 96, 76 min. / Street Date August 16, 2022 / Maciste alla corte del Gran Khan / Available from Kino Lorber / 24.95
Starring: Gordon Scott, Yôko Tani, Hélène Chanel, Dante DiPaolo, Valéry Inkijinoff, Franco Ressel, Chu Lai Chit.
Cinematography: Riccardo Pallotini
Art Director: Piero Filippone
Film Editor: Ornella Micheli
Original Music: Carlo Innocenzi
Screenplay by Oreste Biancoli, Duccio Tessari, story by Biancoli
Produced by Luigi Carpentieri, Ermanno Donati
Directed by
Riccardo Freda

Samson Double Bill - Trailers From Hell (4)

Kino comes through with a very good Blu-ray package for Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World (Maciste alla corte del Gran Khan). As frequently noted, in this adventure Maciste takes a leap through time and space to land in 13th century China. And for this Panda Pepla, Maciste waxes heroic amid unexpectedly high production values — truly impressive sets, hundreds of Asian extras and almost as many elaborate, beautiful costumes. This reportedly came about because Carpentieri and Donati reused everything from their previous epic Marco Polo with Rory Calhoun (The Colossus of Rhodes) and Yôko Tani (The Savage Innocents). They even brought back Ms. Tani.

Setting this Maciste ahead of the pack is the energetic, charismatic Gordon Scott, the five-time Tarzan who managed to make audiences forget the impact of Johnny Weismuller. Intelligent and poised, Scott just looks like a perfect human specimen with really big muscles.

Scott’s athletic abilities are way above those of the average body-builder. All of them looked rugged but their body-building careers had mainly given them practice in posing gracefully and smiling hearty Muscle Beach smiles.

For this feature Panda Films engaged the fine director Riccardo Freda, a stylist famed for lavish costume dramas, in a career that stretched back to the days of Fascist Italy. Roman producers made package deals just as did Hollywood agents; we don’t know if Freda wanted to do this show more than Panda’s follow-up horror item The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, but both are pictures to be proud of.

Kino’s disc presentation gives us two versions of the picture, distributor Unidis’s English export item Maciste alla corte del Gran Khan and American-International’s much-condensed revision Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World. (A couple of years ago, Bill Shaffer traced the crazy title changes the show underwent at A.I.P., in the CineSavant article Where Were You In ’62, A.I.P.?)

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The involved story concocted by Oreste Biancoli and Duccio Tessari is yet another account of intrigue and treachery in a far-flung kingdom. When the Tatars invade Cathay, the Mongol Khan Garak (Leonardo Severini) comes to the rescue of the Emperor. But Garak then connives to have the Emperor assassinated, and makes himself royal custodian of the heirs to the throne, Prince Tai Sung and Princess Lei-ling. Ten years later, the royal siblings are now adults (Chu Lai Lit & Yôko Tani) ready to take the reins of rule. With the conniving of his courtesan Liu Tai (Hélène Chanel), Garak Khan orders his henchman Bayan (Dante DiPaolo) to kill them, too, placing blame for the crime on ‘insidious rebels.’

Literally out of nowhere comes Maciste, to rescue the Prince from a tiger pit; Lei-ling escapes and is protected by the leader of the anti-Garak resistance, Cho (Gabriele Antonini of the original Hercules). Assisting these rebels is a spy in Garak’s camp, his own high priest. He’s played by Valéry Inkijinikoff, an actor whose face became legend in Vsevolod Pudovkin’s silent Soviet classic Storm over Asia.

Garak Khan recaptures Lei-ling. To avoid giving the impression that he’s murdering his way to the throne, he decides to marry her instead of killing her. Garak doesn’t realize that his action will give Maciste and Cho one more ally at court: the jealous Liu Tai resents being pushed aside, and has no difficulty switching loyalties.

Nobody ID’s exactly what the film’s ‘7 Miracles’ are — but we are told that China lacks a ‘great man’ who can ring a certain ‘Bell of Freedom.’ But the entertainment quotient is high in Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World. Each scene is visually distinctive, and the many action sequences are well above average. Riccardo Freda’s direction gives the pageant-like activities at court shape and style. He moves the camera through elaborate scenes with purposeful grace, composing in depth. Transitions are pretty nimble as well. A tiger dance cuts directly to the Prince’s tiger hunt. A cruel beheading cuts to a scene with an entertainer juggling balls for the amused Khan.

Previous graymarket pan-scan editions might well be responsible for the film’s low rating and reputation, but in widescreen the show has the feel of a more prestigious epic, telling a story of some consequence. It never merely goes through the motions.

The actors respond to the good direction by sketching stock characters with more vitality than is the norm. Repeating from Marco Polo, Yôko Tani is a bright royal heroine, cleverly agreeing to accept Khan Garak’s oily offer of marriage. Both Tani and the gorgeous Hélène Chanel are afforded stunning costumes; Ms. Chanel’s blue eyes make an impression as well. The distinctive Valéry Inkijinikoff also boosts the court intrigue beyond the norm. Fritz Lang had recently put Inkijinikoff to good use in his celebrated Indian Films.

It’s too bad that scurvy henchmen don’t dance, as Bayan is played by Dante Paolo, one of the woodsy clansmen in MGM’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Seven Brides for Seven Miracles?

A lavish arena scene shows Bayan preparing to execute five rebels in a showy public spectacle. A chariot pulled by eight horses (!) is rigged with a scythe blade that will sever all their heads, like a lawnmower. We’re relieved to see that, in shots of the chariot circling the buried victims, the actors at risk look like they can pull their heads down if something goes wrong.

Gordon Scott’s stuntwork is way above the call of duty. Muscleman movies don’t normally use doubles, owing to the stars’ distinctive physiques. But we’re more than surprised to see Gordon Scott leap out in front of those eight charging horses and climb onto the harness fork while the chariot is in motion. It’s really Scott risking life and limb. He’s practically naked as well, which is astonishing — even a minor fall could result in some serious abrasions.

Scott does his own fight scenes too, and nimbly tosses timbers, furniture and various extras. In a fight at an Inn, he leaps off a nine-foot balcony and lands on his feet in one take. That’s more impressive than Marvel pixel-people any day.

KL Studio Classics’ Blu-ray of Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World looks just as good as the first Samson disc, released several months earlier. The good color and increased sharpness help us appreciate the higher level of detail in the sets and costumes. We also gain a greater appreciation for Gordon Scott’s performance — it’s really him out there risking his hide. Did eight years of Tar-zanning it among the mosquitos and leeches prepare him for dodging all these spears and taking falls on rough surfaces? It sounds like Scott was a real trouper.

(Video) SWORD AND SANDAL DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE - HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN and THE WITCH'S CURSE

We would someday like to compare these export English and A.I.P. reworked audio tracks to Italian versions — the audio is clear and punchy but not all of it is artfully mixed. Carlo Innocenzi’s music scores are serviceable, not memorable. Numerous scenes in Son of Samson are covered by somebody on an electric keyboard. The audio track in the obelisk construction scene, the ‘crowd walla’ sound loop cycles several times. We very clearly hear repeats of the same guard yelling “All right we’re doing this!”

We also note the impressive, dynamic poster design for 7 Miracles — it’s by Reynold Brown.

Chelo Alonso / Yôko Tani / Hélène Chanel

Kino includes a second encoding of the A.I.P. ‘Samson’ cut, which is greatly simplified and 18 minutes shorter. Both Scott and Ms. Tani enter the story a full reel earlier than in the Italo original. Dropped are the entire backstory with the royals as children, and almost every transition scene of Maciste. The first introductory shot of Gordon Scott is gone as well, so our hero just shows up in the middle of an action scene, without a ‘here I am’ close-up to cue cheers at kiddie matinees.

This second American-International version appears to have begun as a surviving pan-scan film copy, most likely in 16mm. Kino has overcut good restored widescreen video from the complete version, to excellent effect. As A.I.P.’s reworked title sequences cannot be replaced, they are left in ragged pan-scan condition. The ‘Samson’ redub job uses different voice talent and a different script, cutting down the verbosity in the Unidis’ ‘Maciste’ export version.

A big boost comes from Tim Lucas’s very helpful audio commentary — he gets right to work explaining the whys and hows of what we’re looking at in the two versions. We are given a run-down of early Peplum-era costume pictures, and a full explanation of the Maciste series’ ‘chain of title.’ Tim really comes through explaining A.I.P.’s edits and revisions. The American cut jettisons all but one of the film’s impressive dance scenes at court. He relates this show to Riccardo Freda’s earlier, more prestigious costume movies, and recounts a tiger-scene filming mishap that indeed adds to Gordon Scott’s real-life hero cred.

The reconstituted A.I.P. version ends with extra added credits. They include a glaring text typo: according to the American titles, Riccardo Freda didn’t direct the movie, he ‘Dircted’ it.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Samson Double Bill - Trailers From Hell (5)

Samson Double Bill
Blu-ray rates:

Movies: Samson Son Good +/-, Samson Miracles Very Good / Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Very Good
Supplements:
Son of Samson:
Audio commentary by David Del Valle and Michael Varrati
Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World:
Audio commentary by Tim Lucas
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (all features)
Separate purchases
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case each
Reviewed:
August 17, 2022
(6775sams)
Samson Double Bill - Trailers From Hell (6)

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Text © Copyright 2022 Glenn Erickson

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