Pirates of Malaya (1941)

  |  Action, Drama


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23 March 2014 | Bunuel1976
| PIRATES OF MALAYA {Edited Version} (Enrico Guazzoni, 1941) **1/2
Looking just now on IMDb at the list of filmed works by Italian novelist Emilio Salgari, I realize there are a lot more than just Sandokan 'vehicles' – of which the title under review happens to be the very first (which rather explains his diminished role vis-a'-vis its direct 1964 remake by Umberto Lenzi and starring Steve Reeves, whose viewing actually preceded this one! Indeed, not counting any of the adventures of this Indian hero I am already familiar with, I had previously watched five other efforts on which Salgari is credited – two historical epics (CABIRIA {1914} and CARTHAGE IN FLAMES {1960}), a swashbuckler (THE BLACK PIRATE {1976}), and two star-studded TV mini-series (THE SECRET OF THE SAHARA {1988} and the oft-adapted MYSTERIES OF THE DARK JUNGLE {1991; which I have just now added to my collection})! Therefore, in the wake of my brand-new acquisition and viewing of the Lenzi-directed TEMPLE OF A THOUSAND LIGHTS (1965), I am now left with six(!) more Sandokan romps and a further three pirate yarns to catch up with...

Well, this enthusiastic intro suggests I am having a fairly good time with these unassuming exotic diversions: in this case, the 67-minute running-time (trimmed, for some reason, from the original 90!) is evenly divided among three soon-to-be popular figures – Tremal-Naik, Yanez de Gomera and Sandokan, in that order – in taking centre-stage. The first (played by Massimo Girotti) falls for a temple maiden (DEEP RED {1975}'s Clara Calamai, who gets to skinny-dip at the very start of the picture!) and unwittingly irks the local fanatics; the second, a Caucasian, nevertheless clashes with British overlord James Brooke; while the third inevitably saves the day at the climactic assault on an English fortress (where the other two lie incarcerated). Interestingly, chief hero and villain are here enacted by real-life siblings!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are very few similarities plot-wise between the two renditions of this particular Salgari tale; given the 35-minute discrepancy, the later version may appear inflated in comparison with the earlier one…which, however, feels decidedly stilted as entertainment after all these years (that said, the luminous cinematography cannot be faulted)! Incidentally, in view of the fact that the British ranks constitute the villainous element of the Sandokan series, the first two films also made for ideal propaganda fare for the Fascist regime during wartime! Having said that, it never ceases to amaze (and amuse) me how the countries then engaged in the WWII conflict, while ostensibly churning out escapist fare for the beleaguered masses, also seemed to be purposely trying to outdo each other with such prestige spectacles as Britain's THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1940; with expatriate German star Conrad Veidt and Indian child actor Sabu), Italy's THE IRON CROWN (1941; which Girotti made just before this one) and Germany's MUNCHHAUSEN (1943)! Incidentally, Girotti and Calamai would soon be reunited in Luchino Visconti's OSSESSIONE (1943) and, in the process, inaugurate Italy's most famous and influential cinematic movement: Neo-Realism!

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