23 March 2014 | Bunuel1976
THE SWORD AND THE CROSS (Guido Brignone, 1956) **1/2
Occasionally, an international moniker is attributed to different films within the same genre which, when it involves some of the same credentials, can prove quite confusing: for instance, I had already watched and reviewed a peplum by this title – alternately named MARY MAGDALENE (1958), and with which it shares leading man Jorge Mistral (for what it is worth, a Luis Bunuel alumnus)! Besides, the nominal star in the film under review i.e. Gianna Maria Canale would also appear in THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS (also 1958)
among whose international titles is THE CROSS AND THE SWORD, and which – coincidentally – had as co-star Bunuel regular Francisco Rabal!
While the mythological/fantasy peplums were largely juvenile and often silly, the historical/religious ones were generally solemn and downright dull; this one obviously falls in the latter category, whose plot is yet again a variation on the oft-filmed "Quo Vadis" – as Roman Mistral shuns noblewoman Canale for Carthaginian Christian(!) Marisa Allasio. The former's spite towards the latter is quite drastic, though – since she has her ritualistically whipped by her Mrs. Danvers-like maid and, later still, blinded, Samson-style, by a roving iron placed before her eyes! The rest of the narrative deals, as expected, with dreary political intrigue and hokey sermonizing – which leaves little space for proper sword-and-sandal action
yet Canale's inevitably violent demise is nicely devised, as she falls off a speeding chariot to be trampled by the horses of the riders giving chase! Unfortunately, the ropey quality of the copy I watched – recorded off Italian TV – left much to be desired and occasionally interfered with my viewing pleasure!
To complement my recent mini-marathon of Riccardo Freda epics, I may be able to include a few more of the numerous ones made by his partner Canale – for the record, I have access to eight other unwatched flicks in this vein where she is featured! With respect to Mistral, among his other costumed fare is the obscure but intriguing French Arabian Nights tale SHEHERAZADE (1963; in which none other than Jean-Luc Godard himself was roped in to appear, since his then-muse Anna Karina was the leading lady!). As for director Brignone, it should be noted that this was his penultimate work, made at age 69: tellingly, apart from his swan-song SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR (1959), the only other effort of his that I am familiar with dates from the Silent era – namely MACISTE IN HELL (1925)!; even so, looking at his extensive filmography on IMDb, I noticed not only a trio of other movies I managed to record off Italian TV but also a handful related to historical figures often touched upon by the cinema – such as Cleopatra, Socrates, Lorenzino de' Medici, Edmund Kean, Beatrice Cenci, Agi Murad, etc.!