Movies Till Dawn: Continental Cowboys, Malibu Princes and Austrian Maharajahs

Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic (“The Tiger of Eschnapur” and “The Indian Tomb”)” (1959, Film Movement Classics) Strapping young German engineer Paul Hubschmid (a.k.a. Paul Christian)  is invited to India to improve the infrastructure of the (fictitious) city of Eschnapur, but falls in love with Eurasian temple dancer Seetha (American actress Debra Paget), which puts him in the crosshairs of his jealous employer, Prince Chandra (played by Austrian actor Walther Reyer). Lavishly appointed and deliriously plotted two-part adventure made by pioneering German director Lang in the twilight of his storied career; though the liner notes by Tom Gunning in this two-disc Blu-ray make a case for the “Indian Epic” as part of the director’s explorations into the dangerous whims of fate (see “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt“), the two films are probably best enjoyed as rip-roaring, serial-styled exotica thrills (Lang’s penchant for elaborate subterranean lairs is in full effect with the array of secret passages and traps in “Indian Tomb”) that teeter on the border of camp, especially Ms. Paget’s over-the-top dance numbers and threats from a menagerie of stuffed jungle animals. Some viewers’ enjoyment, however, may be tempered by the abundance of white actors in brownface. Film Movement’s set includes a full 4k restoration of both films, expert commentary from historian David Kalat, a making-of doc that details the production’s history (“Epic” was a remake of a 1921 German film Lang wrote with wife Thea von Harbou) and a video essay on Paget.

Keoma” (1976, Arrow Video) Half-white, half-Native American Keoma (Franco Nero) returns home from the Civil War to find the muddy, mist-shrouded town beset by plague and in the steely grip of an ex-Confederate raider (Donald O’Brien) and his gang of hooded thugs, who are also in cahoots with his brutal half-brothers. Phantasmagoric late-inning Italian Western by Enzo Castellari may be polarizing for many viewers – a heavy-handed (and apparently improvised) script rife with portentous, quasi-mystical/Messianic imagery and a thudding score by Guido and Maurizo De Angelis that features groaning/shrieking folk vocals are the biggest stumbling blocks – but “Keoma” also features some exceptional action set pieces by crime/Western vet Castellari, impressive Gothic atmosphere, and brawny performances by a  hirsute Nero and the legendary Woody Strode (as Keoma’s long-suffering friend). The latter elements have provided “Keoma” with a fanbase among diehard Eurowestern followers, who recognize it as the genre’s last substantial effort; Arrow’s remastered Blu-ray includes both English- and Italian-language versions, and interviews with Nero, Castellari, co-writer George Eastman and other members of the cast/crew, as well as commentary by spaghetti Western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Clark and appreciations by “Repo Man” director Alex Cox, among others.

Knives of the Avenger” (1966, Kino Lorber) Viking queen Elissa Pichelli is rescued from the clutches of warlord Fausto Tozzi by Cameron Mitchell, a grizzled stranger with a talent for throwing knives and a dark past. Second of three historical adventures directed by horror specialist Mario Bava, and a troubled production he repaired by essentially reshooting the entire film in six days; as Bava historian Tim Lucas, who provides typically expert commentary for Kino’s Blu-ray, has noted, Bava’s version transposes the core plot of “Shane” onto “Avenger,” which adds some depth to both the (very complicated) relationship between Mitchell and Pichelli and to the film itself, which is a standard-issue sword-and-sandal adventure without it. Kino’s crisp-looking Blu-ray includes English- and Italian-language tracks and alternate English-language title credits.

The Grand Duel” (1972, Arrow Video) Murder mystery by way of an Italian-West German-French Western, with ex-sheriff Lee Van Cleef and wanted man Alberto Dentice (billed as Peter O’Brien) serving as the detectives in a case involving the murder of the younger man’s father in a town ruled, like “Keoma,” by a ruthless business family. Though at times overplotted, the script, by veteran writer Ernesto Gastaldi (the Van Cleef starrer “Day of Anger“), manages to balance the mystery elements, as well as oblique political commentary (the villainous clan of landowners, who harbor political aspirations, is particularly and amusingly prescient) with plentiful action, and has a bemused Van Cleef to growl his dialogue; director Giancarlo Santi, an AD for Sergio Leone who worked briefly as director on “Duck, You Sucker,” employs frequent and appreciable nods to his boss’s operatic style. Tarantino fans will recognize Luis Bacalov‘s score from its use in “Kill Bill Vol.1”; the Arrow Blu-ray is loaded with extras, including interviews with Santi, Gastaldi, Dentice, multiple trailers and commentary by historian Stephen Prince.

The Golden Arrow” (1962, Warner Archives Collec) A dubbed Tab Hunter plays prince in bandit’s clothing who saves royal Rosanna Podesta from evil vizier Mario Feliciani with the help of three goofball genies and the titular weapon. MGM issued this calorie-free if expensive Italian costume epic from prolific director Antonio Margheriti, which features Crayola-bright Technicolor/Technirama vistas (including on-location shooting at Egyptian ruins) and impressive miniatures, all lensed with lavish attention by Gabor Pogany; the visual effects are more miss (the flying carpet dogfights) than hit, though the home of the Queen of Fire (Gloria Milland) and her Fire Men (who are, quite literally, men on fire) is a high point. Warner’s Blu-ray includes a trailer and isolated music track featuring Mario Nascimbene’s score.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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