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Saturday, August 1, 2015


From Hollywood: Aging lion Raoul Walsh as producer-director-co-scripter; and a pair of B-Listers (Joan Collins, Richard Egan) for box-office insurance. From Italy: Everything else. It’s the ingredients for a CineCittá sword-and-sandal spectacular. But this Biblical drama, where the male tunics are cut very high and the women’s bodices very low (not actually made @ CineCittá), manages to lift itself a step and a half up from those bump-slash-and-grind spectacles. Maybe two and a half steps up. It’s actually quite watchable on it’s own period terms. Just keep in mind that 'period' refers not to 420 B.C.E., but to late ‘50s/early ‘60s CinemaScope holy pics. Still celebrated as Purim, the giddiest of major Jewish holidays, it’s an uncommonly interesting story with the noble Esther playing court sexual politics to bring down Haman, a sort of proto-Hitler politician in ancient Persia. The plot twist, at least as presented here, is that Esther falls for her ‘mark,’ who just happens to be the King, and uses her ex-fiancé to reveal Haman’s treachery. (With relationships nicely, if unintentionally complicated since Collins has so much more chemistry with her ‘Ex’ then she does with the King.) Walsh, whose late films grew progressively slack, returns to energetic form, with impressive numbers of extras filling his large canvas even if they have little to do. It’s likely that cinematographer Mario Bava, just starting his own directing career as a sort of one-man Italian Hammer Horror studio, shot a lot of the location/second-unit stuff. The best thing in here, two scenes made on some real ancient ruins, are almost certainly his. Too bad no one came up with much of a climax. Just another battle scene when we need a catastrophe or a miracle. Hey!, maybe Esther could have invented the recipe for hamantaschen?


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