Archive for January 1, 2023

Peplum Pudding

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2023 by dcairns

Anne Heywood is an inflection point of cinematic eroticism. Like the late Catherine Spaak. Nudity had only just gone mainstream in 1968, and immediately Spaak was being full-frontal, and getting up to all manner of kinky BDSM stuff in THE LIBERTINE. And she had just made a bland Hollywood movie, HOTEL. How did she know this was a good idea? How did she know it wouldn’t hurt her career, as actors have found in the years since, when they go just a little bit too far?

Heywood has always been saucy. She made her debut as a beauty contestant in LADY GODIVA RIDES AGAIN, spent most of FLOODS OF FEAR soaking wet and some of it barely clothed, and then here she is in CARTHAGE IN FLAMES, a hokey peplum, apparently about to be be human-sacrificed in a blatant riff on CABIRIA (our old friend Moloch). Since, unlike Cabiria, her character’s not a little kid, someone’s decided she might as well play it in diaphanous veils and a thong. So she does. In 1960. The nudity is fleeting, but it basically kept me watching to the end of the movie in (vain) hopes she might do it again.

She still has to look forward to THE VERY EDGE (nudity, rape), THE FOX (nudity, lesbianism), I WANT WHAT I WANT (nudity, gender reassignment), THE NUN AND THE DEVIL (nudity, sadism), GOOD LUCK, MISS WYCKOFF (nudity, rape, interracial), RING OF DARKNESS (nudity, satanism)… probably some more outstanding sexual deviations lurk in her filmography.

A number of the sword-and-sandal flicks were piloted by old timers — Viktor Tourjansky, who had made his name in Russia and France, ruined it in Nazi Germany and wound up in Italy playing traffic cop on Biblical, classical and other historical epics, With committed leftist Damiano Damiani as co-writer on most of them. They were churned out with unbelievable speed, with a thrifty reuse of sets and even footage from one to the next, whether the setting was Ancient Greece or Tsarist Russia. But this one, intriguingly, is under the control, barely, of Carmine Gallone, whose career stretched back to 1913. He made the original AVATAR in 1916 (no relation to Cameron’s movies), MALOMBRA with Lyda Borelli the following year, and the 1926 version of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.

By now I’d say he’s pretty exhausted, but he has a surprisingly good multinational cast — Daniel Gelin, Pierre Brasseur, Paolo Stoppa, Terence Hill when he was still using his birth name, Mario Girotti, before he was a NOBODY, and of course la Heywood, whose own birth name is Violet Pretty, which I guess everybody decided was altogether too much of a good thing.

It’s not exactly GOOD. But it trumps the Wyler BEN-HUR by staging its sea battle full-sized. I’ve seen this goofy ship before, in a Hercules movie I think. Oh no, my mistake, a MACISTE (pronounced McChesty). This one. The design throughout is good camp fun.

It’s evidently been dubbed in London, and I kept expecting to be able to recognize the plummy tones emerging airlessly from the flapping lips onscreen, but I never could. Everybody sounds very proper and distinguished, like they assembled a roomful of Leo Genns of various sizes and pitches. You can’t quite believe these sounds emerging from a callow Terence Hill. Imagine Matt Berry dubbing a man in a skimpy tunic. It’s the world’s plummiest peplum.

It’s a shame to be missing Pierre Brasseur’s mighty voice, but whoever’s dubbing baddie Gelin, the best character, does a decent job. An oily purr with a bit of gravel thrown in.

The most interesting choice is Sarepta the Black maidservant, played onscreen by Edith Peters and on the soundtrack by some anonymous interloper. Her dialogue suggests she’s been intended as a somewhat comic character, an opinionated and backtalking figure in the Hattie McDaniel mode. Yet all the offensive possible approaches the dubbing artiste could have taken are somehow skirted, and the character speaks in moderately posh, extremely wooden tones with very occasional hints of a northern English accent. Flat, awkward and ridiculous, but at least not stereotyped. And she gets a below-stairs interracial romance with Paolo Stoppa.

The writers have tried to concoct some characterisation, so everyone’s in love with the wrong person. It’s like The Seagull with short swords.

Big fire at the end — only five minutes worth, but mostly full-scale and quite impressive.

CARTHAGE IN FLAMES stars Frédérick Lemaître; Louis Bernard; Roy/Wendy; Giraffa; Don Calogero Sedara; Inspector Alberto Bassano; Dr. Frankenstein; Inspector A; Oedipus – King of Thebes; and Trinity.