East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A very Italian sort of fantasy

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Admittedly, the title of Roy Kinnard and Tony Crnkovich’s Italian Sword and Sandal Films, 1908–1990 is misleading. The book does not cover only sword & sandal movies (aka peplums), but a whole selection of swashbucklers, historical and Biblical flicks. And I am not complaining at all.

The book, published by McFarland & Co in 2017 is really just a long check list of the most important movies in the broad category of sword & sandal as applied by the authors. Like in, say, Silver & Ward’s Noir Encyclopedia, we get details on every cast and crew member but alas not an extensive critical article for every film. This is really a pity.

On the other hand, if you have spent part of your youth watching old sword & sandal movies – and as I have explained in the past, I did – the book is a welcome walk down memory lane, filled with poster art and stills from the classics and many not-so-classics.

It’s good to meet again actors like Steve Reeves and Reg Park, like Sylva Koscina and Chelo Alonso, and the vast and varied list of directors that got involved with the genre, from Sergio Leone and Terence Fischer down to Joe d’Amato and Lewis Coates.
It is also a monument of sorts to a very Italian take on sword & sorcery – one that suddenly vanished, and that we even tried to revive, a few years back (like with my stories of Asteria), meeting with a general indifference by a public more interested in “fantasy of hard knocks” (basically stories of sociopaths, written by sociopaths for a public of sociopaths). I always felt it was a pity that we never were able to develop a tradition and a school of cinema based on those old films – and use it as the basis for our own adventure/action/thriller film system, just like in Hong Kong they used wuxia and kung fu movies. What a missed opportunity.

Along the way, in Italian Sword and Sandal Films, 1908–1990 we find out that American distributors butchered, re-dubbed and renamed most of the movies mentioned, often with hilarious results from the point of view of the Italian viewer. Equally hilarious, alas, are sometimes the misspellings of Italian words in the original titles.

All in all, Italian Sword and Sandal Films, 1908–1990, is a good but not essential addition to the film books shelves. It’s excellent to track details about cast and crew, and find out about alternative titles and different running times, but for an in-depth critical and artistic assessment of the genre, we’ll have to look elsewhere.

Meanwhile, this has made me feel the need to watch again Hercules and Hercules Unchained. Another thing I can’t complain about.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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