mandag 6. september 2010

Tor - Mighty Warrior/Taur, re della forza bruta

Italy, 1963

Directed by Antonio Leonviola

Joe Robinson, Harry Baird, Bella Cortez, Alberto Cevenini, Antonio Leonviola, Carla Foscari, Thea Fleming, Janine Hendy, Claudia Capone, José Torres, Erminio Spalla

Having been positively surprised by the very enjoyable Thor and the Amazon Women, I felt strongly compelled to seek out its companion piece, Tor - Mighty Warrior, which was apparently made by director Antonio Leonviola at the same time with much of the same cast. Now, as it turns out, I've gone about watching the films in the wrong order as Tor - Mighty Warrior was actually the first one to be released (in late June 1963), while Thor and the Amazon Women came out shortly afterwards (in early August 1963). However, I don't think it matters much as the two films aren't directly related other than the fact that they both feature muscleman Thor (though this time the 'h' in his name is omitted from the English title) and his bumbling black sidekick Ubaratutu.

Thor and Ubaratutu are back for more!

The film kicks off with two pretty girls running joyfully through a meadow - picking flowers. They are attacked by a couple of bad guys in what looks like birdman costumes but, luckily, the girls are saved by the heroic intervention of a handsome young lad named Syros (Alberto Cevenini). The two girls, Illa (Thea Fleming) and Tuja (Claudia Capone), are revealed to be the daughters of the king of a village named Surapak. Syros is instantly smitten by the blonde and lovely Illa and because of his bravery, the king allows them to marry.

The brave Syros

The king's daughters

Ubaratutu (Harry Baird), Thor's big, muscular and very goofy black pal from Thor and the Amazon Women apparently lives in this village and he is given the task of fetching Thor (still played by Joe Robinson), so he can come and partake in the celebration of Syros and Illa's wedding. It just so happens that Thor already knows Syros, who was put out in the woods as an infant but was rescued and taken care of by none other than Thor. In any case, Thor and Ubaratutu head back to Surapak to attend the wedding but by the time they arrive, tragedy has struck. The king has been murdered and the others have been taken prisoner by a bloodthirsty, Inca-like enemy tribe named Kixos. Not surprisingly, Thor and Ubaratutu take it upon themselves to retrieve both Syros and the king's daughters.

Ubaratutu finds the king slaughtered

They manage to sneak unseen into Kixos territory and free Syros, who is kept in a huge cave along with hundreds of other captives. While exploring the giant cave, Thor and Syros discover a black woman named Afer, who is chained to the wall. Afer is played by Janine Hendy, who played the very sexy and wicked queen in Thor and the Amazon Women, but anyone hoping to see her play a similar role here is in for a huge disappointment because she looks far less attractive here - with grey hair and old-age make-up! Afer tells the men that 18 years ago, the king of Kixos died in battle and the evil grand priest El Kab (played by the film's director, Antonio Leonviola) had the queen murdered and the baby prince substituted with a baby girl named Akiba. After putting Akiba on the throne, El Kab hypnotized the girl and made her his will-less slave - thus tyrannically ruling the kingdom through her. Afer herself was given the task of murdering the baby prince but was unable to do such a horrible thing and instead left the child in the woods. For this insubordination she has been chained up in the cave ever since! No wonder she's looking old and haggard!

Anyway, Afer is stunned when she discovers a peculiar scar on Syros' chest. It just so happens that she carved a mark just like this into the baby prince's chest in order for him to be identified later on. So Syros is actually the old king's son and hence the rightful heir to the kingdom of Kixos! My my, what a nifty coincidence! Can you believe it? So now it's up to Thor to get Syros on the throne and put an end to the tyrannical rule of El Kab and Akiba.

Poor, old Afer!

Syros' rather peculiar scar

Now, about Akiba... She has now grown into quite a sexy woman - played by the pouty-lipped Cuban peplum star Bella Cortez. She's not a particularly nice girl, though. Just like the evil El Kab, she is very bloodthirsty and forces the female prisoners (including Illa and Tuja) to participate in gladiator training so they can fight each other to the death while the people of Kixos enjoy the spectacle. As you can probably tell, this part of the plot is pretty similar to Thor and the Amazon Women but the gladiator angle is featured less prominently this time around.

El Kab and Akiba

In the meantime, Thor and Syros hide among the other male prisoners while trying to plot a revolt. They are approached by the gorgeous Ararut (Carla Foscari), who is the trusted confidante of El Kab. Ararut is very attracted to Syros and tells him she sympathizes with their cause and wants to help them put an end to El Kab and Akiba's reign. That sounds fine and dandy now, doesn't it? But since the role of Ararut is played by the sexy and alluring Carla Foscari, who played the delightfully cruel Ghebelgor in Thor and the Amazon Women, it goes without saying that this chick isn't as nice as she seems. But, unfortunately, the alarm bells fail to go off for poor Syros, who obviously hasn't seen enough pepla to be able to separate the cunning bad girls from the fair-haired heroines. Hence, he foolishly tells Ararut that his great love Illa is one of the girls being trained for gladiator fighting. Wanting Syros for herself so she can become queen of Kixos, Ararut then schemes to make sure Illa is forced to partake in a fight to the death in the gladiator arena - against her sister Tuja!

Do not trust this babe!

All of this actually sounds pretty enjoyable but somehow Tor - Mighty Warrior never really becomes quite as entertaining as it ought to. In spite of some obvious similarities, the film has a very different feel from Thor and the Amazon Women. One of the most notable differences is that this time Thor has a much more prominent role and he actually gets to play the part of the hero instead of spending his screen-time recuperating in bed like he did in Amazon Women. Now, it's good that he actually serves a purpose, but at the same time it's problematic too. The main reason Amazon Women was so enjoyable was precisely because of its intriguing female gladiator plot and the focus on the strong female characters instead of the boring Thor. Now, Thor is admittedly more likeable this time around but, as played by Joe Robinson, he's still rather stiff and not a terribly engaging hero.

There's also the unfortunate matter of Thor's black sidekick Ubaratutu, who, just like in Amazon Women, is portrayed as unintelligent and clearly inferior to his white friend Thor, whom he repeatedly addresses as "master". But this time Ubaratutu isn't portrayed merely as a dim-witted fool but also as an easily scared coward. This, of course, gives way to a series of strained and unsuccessful attempts at comic relief - the worst instance being a scene where Thor and Ubaratutu are hiding from the evil guards and the sound of the frightened Ubaratutu's chattering teeth almost gives away their hiding place!

Ubaratutu's teeth chatter from fear

However, the real problem with Tor - Mighty Warrior is that it's a fairly generic entry in the peplum genre. Antonio Leonviola's direction feels workmanlike, which is surprising considering that his earlier peplum adventures, Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules and Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops (both 1961), are both engaging efforts. One of the main strengths of those films is that they are very unusual peplum entries with strong individual stamps that help them stand out among the endless crowd of similar flicks being churned out in the 1960s. Mighty Warrior, however, suffers under the lack of the distinctively bizarre details found in Leonviola's other films, and as a result, it remains the least of his peplum adventures. That said, the film still has its moments and it perks up as it goes along. It really gets enjoyable by the last third, when Leonviola throws in lots of cool action, such as a bound Thor fighting to stay alive on a conveyor belt heading towards a nasty rock crushing machine, sisters Illa and Tuja battling to the death while gagged and blind-folded so they don't recognize each other, a big revolt and a volcanic eruption. It's too bad the rest of the film isn't of the same caliber but the final 30 minutes are well worth sticking around for.

Highlight 1: Thor vs. the rock crusher

Highlight 2: Gagged and blind-folded gladiator battle

Another really nifty part that I thought was terrific is when El Kab and Akiba select a couple of strong men to fight to the death. The losers are obviously killed by their opponents, but the really great twist here is that instead of getting a nice reward, the victors end up suffering a far more horrible fate: they are boiled to death in cauldrons looking like giant beer mugs! Yikes! Didn't see that one coming!

Crappiest reward for winning ever!

Just like Thor and the Amazon Women, many scenes were shot on location in the Postojna caves in Slovenia but this time more money seems to have gone into the making of the film - as evidenced by higher production values, lots and lots of extras and some nifty miniature effects. All of which work to the film's advantage, of course.

Some quite nice-looking production values

As for the actors, not all of them are put to good use. Joe Robinson is too stiff as Thor, while Harry Baird simply embarrasses himself as Ubaratutu - again! Janine Hendy is completely wasted as she spends most of her short screen-time chained up and in old-age make-up, and Alberto Cevenini, though not bad, is given little to do in the role of Syros. I like the fact that director Antonio Leonviola cast himself as the evil El Kab, and while he's somewhat of an over-actor, he seems to have had a lot of fun.

Why pay a professional actor to play the villain when you can have a great time doing it yourself?

The only ones given any real opportunity to shine, however, are the villainesses. The voluptuous Bella Cortez (dubbed into English by Carolynn De Fonseca - in typically bitchy fashion) is stunning to look at and she nails the part of the wicked queen Akiba. However, Akiba isn't technically one of the bad guys. She's not really to blame for any of her wrongdoings since she's been turned into a will-less slave by El Kab's magical powers. But in a rather hilarious twist, the good guys completely fail to take this into account when they enact their revenge upon her! Or maybe they just forgot? Oops! Poor Akiba! Oh well...

In any case, the true standout is - like in Thor and the Amazon Women - the mesmerizing Carla Foscari, who steals every scene she's in as the cunniving and sexy Ararut. She reminds me of Rosalba Neri in many ways and really ought to have enjoyed a longer-running movie career than she did!

Overall, Tor - Mighty Warrior does not compare favorably to Thor and the Amazon Women but if you liked the latter, you'll probably want to check this one out as well. It does have some cool moments - particularly in its last third - and a couple of very appealing actresses, so give it a chance.

© 2010 Johan Melle

The cast:

Joe Robinson as Thor

Harry Baird as Ubaratutu

Bella Cortez as Akiba

Alberto Cevenini as Syros

Antonio Leonviola as El Kab

Carla Foscari as Ararut

Thea Fleming as Illa

Janine Hendy as Afer

Claudia Capone as Tuja

José Torres as Thorak

Erminio Spalla as King of Surapak

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