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Thursday, December 21, 2017

I TARTARI / THE TARTARS (1961)

It sounds like fun: Orson Welles, chief of the wily, savage Tartars vs. Victor Mature, head of the honorable Viking clan, on collision course over whether to crush or protect the Slavs. An Italian co-production with M-G-M (megged by journeyman vet Richard Thorpe*), there’s the expected cast of thousands for battle scenes; a pair of babalicious royals to pet & kidnap; lots of exposed leg (mostly the men . . . except for Orson who sticks to Tartar Tents); and a wisp of a plot as peg for action & spectacle. (One nice touch: a cross-clan love affair that ends in roll-call voting by hatchet toss!) But at a bare 83 minutes, there’s little time for character complications or twists of fate to enliven things. And a truncated ending is no help, either. On the other hand, where else could you see Welles, tipping the scales at 300+, swinging a scimitar before riding some poor horse into battle.* (Okay, it’s probably not Orson on the charger, but even the idea is uncomfortable.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: *Richard Thorpe turned very bitter toward M-G-M following an abrupt sendoff after his largely unsung decades of loyal service. (25 years retirement and not a peep or sentimental memoir after nearly 200 directing credits.) Instead, for a glimpse of a fading A-list Hollywood director trying to keep his career afloat on an Italian loan-out, try Vincente Minnelli’s slightly hysterical TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN/’62. OR: *Come to think of it, Orson does similar battlefield labor (to comic purpose) in CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT/’65.

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