Damon Knight

Mark Damon, now a producer (MONSTER), then a rakishly handsome movie star big in Italy, stars in Vittorio Cottafavi’s last feature, I CENTI CAVALIERI (THE HUNDRED HORSEMEN, 1964), screened in Bologna in Techniscope and Technicolor, looking fantastic.

After an ennervating start (the traditional bickering lovers turned up to eleven, Italian style) this turned out to be really interesting. Cottafavi appears in Richard Roud’s cinema dictionary alongside Bava, suggesting one who presents as an amusing pictorialist, so it was a surprise to find him quoted in the festival programme describing his Brechtian intentions, and almost a bigger surprise to find them carried out in this jaunty peplum-type historical romp.

The Moors ride into a neutral Spanish town and take over, behaving like Nazis (they’re led by Dr. Mabuse, Wolfgang Preiss). Farmmboy Damon becomes a warrior, aided by his militaristic uncle, the mayor’s feisty daughter, a bandit gang led by a comedy dwarf (verfremdungseffekt!), and a wily priest (Gaston Moschin, of whom we needed more).

Well, there’s a lot of dumb comedy and action in this film, but also strange thoughtful moments. As a for-instance: when someone demonstrates a newly invented suit of armour, visor down, a priest speculates that the warrior of the future will be even more unseen, striking at a distance, with civilians, property, whole cities destroyed in this “clean” manner. And before the spirited Robin Hoodery gets going, we pay a visit to a spectacular castle (the scenery in this is Lean-worthy, animated by Cottafavi’s athletic camerawork) populated entirely by amputees, shut away in anticipation of war, lest the sight of their varied mutilations sap the peasants’ martial spirit. This skeptical attitude to war seems forgotten until the climax, another clangorous, Wellesian montage, suddenly plunged into monochrome with chilling effect…

Not as successful overall as DONNE E SOLDATI (the comedy too broad and not often funny — but arguably its true purpose is to disrupt, not amuse) this incredible bargain-bin EL CID is still fascinating and betrays an intellectual ambition utterly lacking in Cinecitta’s usual he-man spectacles.

5 Responses to “Damon Knight”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Cottafavi is a MacMahonist God. His masterpiece: “Hercules Conquers Atlantis”

  2. Which I must now see! It looks ludicrous, but based on this it must also be really interesting.

    Seen glimpses of VC’s TV work and there’s always something going on visually.

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    It’s most definitely interesting particularly in the way Cottafavi uses screen space(a MacMahonist obsession). I suspect it influenced Godard’s “Contempt” to a considerable degree.

    A still from “The Hundred Horseman” adorns the cover of Michel Mourlet’s MacMahonist Bible “La mise en scene comme langage”

  4. David Ehrenstein Says:

    The MacMahonist esthetic is resolutely anti-montage. For them the essence of cinema is the screen and how it is filled. Consequently their favored directors are Lang (particularly the late “Indian” films) Preminger, Walsh, Don Weis, Cottafavi and (surprise) Eric Rohmer

  5. Cottafavi is a bit Wellesian on this evidence, in that he prefers long, fluid takes, but can also let fly with a rapid-fire montage as the occasion demands.

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