Archive for Maciste

Pecs and Violence

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2020 by dcairns

COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA, AKA MACISTE, IL GLADIATORE PIU FORTE DEL MONDO is my least fave Michele Lupo film so far — and in fact it was his first, so he got better. At least I now know his first name is pronounced Mee-Kelly (approx). Maybe it’s just that I’m not a big peplum guy.

Mark Forest, now, he IS a big peplum guy, especially about the chest. And he’s playing, appropriately enough, McChesty, or Maciste if you prefer. Righter of wrongs, puncher of faces. He has a shrill comedy sidekick, as is traditional (at least, it was traditional for Steve Reeves in HERCULES and that’s the tradition we’re following — something to do with the massive box-office takings of that film). This is Jon Chevron as Wambo, whose main job is to say stuff like “Maciste, come quick!” Maciste then waddles up, glistening, and attempts to sort things out using his knuckles. They make a good team.

Nothing about Wamba’s role is degrading, oh no. I get the impression Lupo liked casting black people, he seems to do it in nearly every film, but the roles aren’t particularly progressive. The evil black gladiator, Extranius, is a better character. He’s played by Harold Bradley and he also appears in Lupo’s second McChesty film as a different character, enabling him to be killed by McChesty all over again.

McChesty is described by Wikipedia as one of the oldest cinema characters — meaning he was invented by the cinema, in CABIRIA in 1914, embodied by the hulking Bartolomeo Pagano. Originally Nubian or something, Pagano immediately ditched the blackface and started turning up in contemporary settings. When the character was revived in the sixties, he was a series of white dudes, including Mark Forest but also a confusing swarm of Tarzans, Herculeses, Ursuses, machos and Mae West chorus boys. He traveled in time by simply walking from one period film to another, and encountered or punched vampires, mole men, witches, fire monsters, Mongols, Moon Men, the sheik, a cyclops, Zorro, and Czar Nicolas II.

Oddly, McChesty doesn’t appear for the first twenty-five minutes of this pseudo-epic (big sets, but they’re repurposed from other movies, evoking a dizzying array of periods and places). Lupo spends the whole first act introducing his bad guys, six nasty gladiators and their boss who hires them as mercenaries for some dirty tricks. Seven was Lupo’s lucky number, it seems (SEVEN TIMES SEVEN, SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST ROME, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS). The non-magnificent seven (and their pet chimp, which has been dubbed with eeks and ooks of a transparently human origin) seem to interest Lupo more than his musclebound protag. Since he was about to switch over to the spaghetti western genre, this enthusiasm for bad guys and antiheroes seems appropriate. It’s surprising that this bad-guys-on-a-mission show predates THE DIRTY DOZEN. I’m not sure what the influence might have been (hard to believe they invented the trope in this obscure series entry).

Their Asterix names would be Follicles, Grampus, Yulbrynnus, Chucknorus, Dubius and Extranius.

Plus the nicer one, who’s good at dodging. I’ll call him Avoidus.

These guys are hired by a cut-out working for evil Prince Chinbeard and their mission is to kidnap the liberal queen of a mythical kingdom. No sniggering at the back. Only one man can stop them. Clue: it’s not Wambo.

Wambo, First Bwud.

Mee-Kelly made a second McChesty film the following year. I got a little bored of COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA one so I jumped over to GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON, which is American International’s title for MACISTE, L’EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO. Then I jumped back and forth, which made no difference. The main distinction seemed to be that the bad guys pass themselves off as gladiators in one film, but in the other the good guys do. Plus the evil prince in the second film has muttonchops instead of a chinbeard.

A great moment in one or other film, where they have to dub some rhubarbing extras reacting to bad news. No lipsync is required here, so the gloves are off for the dubbing artists: “Aw, the Queen is dead, and she was so nice!”

I find, after jumping back and forth between films a few times, I can’t see the wood for Mark Forest. But he’s undeniably skilled at staring into the middle distance and looking like he wants to punch it.

No sign of Wambo in this one. I assume McChesty ate him. Instead of Wambo, and instead of the chimp dubbed with a man’s voice, we have a dwarf dubbed with a woman’s voice.

McChesty sees his first dwarf. He’s delighted! So funny! Or maybe he’s seen lots, and they never get old.

Apart from this one. He’s gotten old. He is Weejimmikrankus.

The films look simultaneously costly and cheap, an interesting feat. You get big sets and exotic locations and elaborately choreographed action scenes and lots of them. On the other hand, the costumes are unwearable and look recycled from every different kind of period movie. So are the sets, but at least those are big enough to contain entire actors. The frocks always have bits bulging out.

Oddly, the first one has more of Lupo’s hyperkinetic style. He’s putting the pep back in peplum. But then he seems to get weary, and stays that way for his whole next feature. Still, not even Leone could muster much brio when it came to sword-and-sandal shenanigans.

“You idiot, I said ‘Avast’ not ‘Aghast’!”

MACISTE, IL GLADIATORE PIU FORTE DEL MONDO stars Hercules; Molly Pink; Oliver Mellors; Zorikan; and Calamity John.

MACISTE, L’EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO stars Hercules; Mary, mother of Jesus; Scott Mary; Cesare Borgia; Iphitus, Son of Pelias; Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith; and another Hercules.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Film Within the Film

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on June 9, 2019 by dcairns

MACISTE (1915) is an earl meta-narrative, being not only a sequel to CABIRIA, of a sort, but a film which CONTAINS its predecessor. “Here I shall try to explain myself, lest I be suspected of madness or indulgence in symbolism,” as Maxim Gorky is always saying.

We have a damsel in distress, fleeing pursuers. Where better to take refuge than a cinema?

In the movie theatre, our heroine happens to see CABIRIA, which is reworked for dramatic purposes so that the credits claim that Maciste is the tar of the film, rather than a supporting character played by Bartolomeo Pagano:

Great tinting and toning and matting!

Inspired by the heroic antics onscreen, our heroine sends move star Maciste a fan letter/distress call, because when you’re in trouble, you don’t want the police, you want a former dock worker turned movie actor.

We then get a lovely glimpse of the Itala Film studios, viewed with the exploratory moving camera unique to Italian cinema at that time:

And then we meet Maciste Pagano, getting into character by weightlifting three men and a dumbbell. Of course, when he gets the note from “a helpless young girl pursued by powerful evil-doers,” he drops everything and rushes to the rescue.

This wacky narrative device performs two helpful functions: it means that CABIRIA sequels starring Pagano need not be costly (and I mean REALLY costly) period epics, and it means that Pagano can ditch the shoe polish that turned him into a Nubian slave, appearing with something as near his own skin tone as the quirks of orthochromatic film stock will allow. Which maybe made him a more popular or anyway acceptable fantasy figure for audience members like this film’s “helpless young girl,” and had another effect nobody at the time could have predicted: it allowed Pagano to continue playing the role after the rise of the blackshirts.

Muscle Mary of Scotland

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by dcairns

Like his Gothic spookfest THE GHOST, Riccardo Freda’s MACISTE IN HELL begins with a witch-burning in Scotland. As is traditional in these affairs (dating back directly to MASK OF SATAN, but beyond that to, I guess, I MARRIED A WITCH) the witch curses the townspeople who are about to immolate her.

A title tells us that a hundred years has passed, and suddenly an outbreak of madness is afflicting the women of “Loch Laird” — no reason why the curse should take a century to come into effect, except that it’s impressive yet inexpensive to say “100 years later” in a film of this kind.

And now Charley Law, a young cavalier, rides up with his betrothed, a descendant of the original witch, planning to honeymoon in the bat-infested ancestral castle. An angry mob of torch-wielding villagers promptly batters down the door using one of the few un-tossed cabers in Scotland, and takes his bride into jolly old custody. It looks like she’s going to become a barbecue like her ancestor —

And then Maciste — former Carthaginian slave in CABIRIA (1914), but since then a fair-skinned righter-of-wrongs in a geographically diverse series of 60s peplums (pepla? what’s the plural here?)  — rides up. Nobody questions the abrupt presence of a bodybuilder in a loincloth in 18th century Scotland, they don’t even ask him his name. They just seem to understand. That’s us Scots — an understanding people.

Since we’re in Loch Laird, I’m going to start calling him MacChesty. He’s a sort of naked Lone Ranger figure, and he promptly descends into Hell (located beneath a local cursed tree) to sort things out. This involves MacChesty wrestling a lot of stuffed animals and quizzing Sisyphus and Prometheus, making inquiries, like Columbo in baby oil.

Kirk Morris, in the lead, brings pecs and an Elvis sneer to the part, along with the towering screen magnetism of a polystyrene boulder.

Most of the animal action involves intercutting fake snakes, eagles and lions with the real thing — the live, but very sleepy lion is actually a lioness in drag, adorned with a fake mane. Freda, who is absolute tops in my list of genius-or-idiot? filmmakers, boldly cuts back and forth between Kirk Morris with his frosted highlights earnestly throttling products of the taxidermist’s art in graphic close-up, to longshots where the animals are slightly more animate. Too animate — after MacChesty “kills” the lion, it can be seen contentedly blinking and flapping its ears.

Freda is a filmmaker who loves special effects, but want us to appreciate just how “special” they are, by lingering upon them until their artifice becomes wholly transparent. See also the car crash at the start of A DOPPIA FACCIA, which quite unnecessarily rubs our noses in the substitution of a toy car for the real thing, and even jump-cuts a few tiny explosions in for good measure. “Audacious” doesn’t begin to describe it — and I truly don’t know if Freda is expressing his contempt for the material, or the audience, or a childlike love of magic tricks, or sheer helplessness in the face of a low budget (he began his career with expensive historical epics in the Mussolini era).

But even more thrilling is the fight with Goliath. Goliath laughs at MacChesty, so MacChesty tosses a caber at him. Then we get a great, audiacious, forced-perspective fight between Goliath, a large-ish actor, and some kind of muscular child or jockey doubling for Kirk M.

All the tricks are bold and cunning, and all of them are immediately transparent — my favourite is this one, where Morris stands far enough behind Goliath so he’ll look smaller, and a pair of small plastic hands pretend to throttle the chucklesome titan.

F Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, but I reckon he was really talking about Italian muscle pics. To pad this one out, we get a montage of Maciste’s greatest hits since 1960, which further develops Freda’s genius for overt, eye-popping juxtapositions, since more of the movies sampled feature different actors playing MacChesty.

The original Maciste, Bartolomeo Pagano, bowed out in 1927. In 1960 the character came back in the form of Mark Forest, who relayed it to a variety of similarly-bulbous he-beings — surely there’s a parallel there with the way German cinema after the war revived characters like Mabuse from its pre-Fascist past, as if to forge a continuity that circumvented the problematic era. At any rate, I’m glad they did, and Freda, the one Italian cineaste who truly rejected neo-realism and everything it stood for, was a natural recruit to the genre.