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Friday, March 2, 2012

KINGS OF THE SUN (1963)

This little remembered epic is not only a lost film, but an unexpected one. George Chakiris, in his brief post-WEST SIDE STORY/’61 career surge, is the young Mayan King, leading his hunted tribe across the Gulf of Mexico to unknown land. They’re still building shelters & a pyramid to the Gods when Yul Brynner’s Native American chief spots the new intruders and plans a quick annihilation. But nothing goes to plan . . . on either side: sacrifices to the Gods are scotched; prisoners seduce their keepers; alliances are made, broken, then rejoined to face a common enemy; new friendships are tested; and Max Factor gets rich on ‘dark tan’ #27 for a few thousand warriors. J. Lee Thompson had just bombed, along with Brynner & cameraman Joe MacDonald, on the unfortunate TARAS BULBA/’62, a Cossack epic (based on Gogol!) best recalled for Franz Waxman’s spirited score. But he did learn something about mass staging on that one, and it pays off handsomely here. (The crafty J. Thompson was in his best period with TIGER BAY/’59, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE/’61 and CAPE FEAR/’62 just behind him.) Silly & effective in equal doses, the film is strikingly sexual for its day, with Yul striding about in a well-filled loin cloth and actively bucking away with leading lady Shirley Ann Field atop him while he’s tied up & lit to look nude. How’d they get away with that? The film goes a bit nutty at the end, echoing THE KING & I/’56 with Brynner reprising his dying King shtick and Chakiris giving a near-recreation of Prince Chulalongkorn’s forward-looking speech; there’s even preaches & cream complexioned, English-accented Shirley Ann Field's Mayan Princess standing in Deborah Kerr's old spot. Didn’t anyone notice?

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Lenser Joseph MacDonald gives the film a spectacular look, even if he does get a little ‘’ZOOM’ happy. But why shoot the Indian Village on an unconvincing SoundStage when everything else is being handled so impressively on real locations?

DOUBLE-BILL: Of course, there’s Mel Gibson’s APOCALYPTO/’06 for a modern, Ultra-Violent and more realistic look at Mayan culture & decline. (Not seen here.)

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