Saturday, 30 August 2014

Son of Samson (1960)

Son of Samson (Maciste nella valle dei re) dates from 1960 and is a fairly stock-standard peplum made slightly more interesting by a non-standard setting in ancient Egypt.

The Egyptians are being oppressed by their Persian conquerors and the Pharaoh is little more than a puppet. When he shows signs of independence he is murdered. Meanwhile the heir to the throne, Kenamun, has had a chance meeting in the desert with a muscle-bound strongman. Kenamun saves the strongman’s life when he is attacked by a lion, and when another lion appears the strongman returns the favour. In the English dub we are told that this muscle-bound hero’s name is Maciste and that he is the son of Samson. One assumes that the son of Samson bit has been added for the English dub and that in the original Italian version he is simply Maciste. Maciste had been a popular hero in Italian movies as far back as 1914 when he featured in the brilliant epic Cabiria and would have needed no further introduction to Italian audiences.

The heir to the throne has some big problems, caused by the machinations of the obligatory beautiful-but-evil Queen Smedes. She is determined to cement her power by marrying Kenamun. Kenamun has rather inconveniently fallen in love with a humble girl named Nofret, one of a party of women who had been rescued from marauding bad guys by Maciste. Smedes makes Kenamun a gift of a necklace, a necklace with magical powers that causes Kenamun to forget his love for Nofret and his friendship for Maciste.

Maciste arrives in the Egyptian city of Tanis and starts causing mayhem by beating up the palace guards and freeing slaves and others oppressed by the wicked regime. Maciste knows that Kenamun is a good man and that he is not responsible for the evil deeds done in his name but he has to find a way to reach Kenamun. Naturally Maciste is given various opportunities to demonstrate his superhuman strength, single-handedly lifting obelisks and performing other similar feats of strength.

The plot is standard for the genre and features two-dimensional villains and two-dimensional heroes. There’s just enough action to keep things interesting.

One thing that is unusual is the level of graphic violence and gore. It seems quite likely that cuts would have been required at the time and it’s rather fortunate that Retromedia have been able to source their DVD from what we can assume to be an uncut print. 

Mark Forest was an American body-builder from Brooklyn who enjoyed a brief period of stardom in Italy during the peplum boom. He was never likely to win any acting awards but he certainly looks the part. The evil queen is played by Chelo Alonso, a striking Cuban actress popularly known as the Cuban H-bomb. She’s also no great shakes in the acting department but like Forest she has the right look for this type of movie. 

The Egyptian settings provide some surprisingly impressive spectacle, the costumes are handsome and the battle scenes are done quite well considering the limited numbers of extras that the budget was able to furnish.

Director Carlo Campogalliani had made his first Maciste movie more than forty years earlier so as you’d expect he handles the job quite competently.

There are no monsters and the only supernatural elements are the magic necklace plus an old guy who seems to have some limited psychic powers that play no part at all in the plot.

Retromedia have released this movie as part of a double-feature DVD, paired with Son of Cleopatra. Son of Samson gets a 16x9 enhanced transfer. Image quality is adequate with very little print damage. Colours are not quite as bright as one could wish for. Sound quality is fine.

If you’re not a peplum fan then Son of Samson is not the movie that is going to change your mind about the genre. If you are a fan you’ll be reasonably satisfied. This is not in the first rank of such movies but it’s enjoyable enough. Recommended.

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