Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Giant of Metropolis (Italy, 1961)

"What does the sacrifice of a man matter when it serves to further the progress of science? Nothing."
Yotar (Roldano Lupi)
(Warning: spoilers and verbosity ahead!) We admit that when we tossed down the 50 euro-cents at the thrift shop for The Giant of Metropolis, we did so less due to the DVD cover (top of the page) or backside synopsis than for the backside graphics, which feature the trimmed beard and smoothly chiseled muscles of that walking wetdream that was Steve Reeves (21 Jan 1926 – 1 May 2000 / see: Ed Woods's Jailbait [1954 / trailer] and/or R.I.P. Umberto Lenzi Part I and Part II). 
Trailer to
The Giant of Metropolis:
But, no: Reeves does not appear in this film. Instead, the muscles — and what impressive muscles they are! — belong to a name familiar to us from spaghetti westerns and Italo-crime flicks, Gordon Mitchell (29 Jul 1923 – 20 Sept 2003), below not from the film, a manly man whom we had never placed mentally in the peplum genre, despite his extensive presence in it. Indeed, it is the genre in which his career as an actor finally (and truly) took off.
Born Charles Allen Pendleton, Mitchell began his pursuit of stardom when he moved from displaying his fabulous physique at Venice's Muscle Beach to flexing his muscles alongside Mickey Hargitay (6 Jan 1926 – 14 Sept 2006, of Lady Frankenstein [1971]), Brad Harris* (16 Jul 1933 – 7 Nov 2017, of The Freakmaker [1974]) and Reg Lewis (23 Jan 1936 – 11 Feb 2021, packing a basket further below) on stage behind Mae West (17 Aug 1893 – 22 Nov 1980). The Giant of Metropolis is the third movie** of the plethora of movies that Mitchell was eventually to make in Italy, where he came in the hope of reiterating Reeves's peplum success after roughly a decade of never making it past the job of background extra in Hollyweird. And though Mitchell may never have achieved the international fame and cult status of Reeves, Mitchell's acting career ended up both lasting far longer and being far more diverse and interesting than that of Reeves.
* That is a very young Brad Harris in the GIF at the bottom left of this page, proving to an amazed Jane Russell that he is as much of a grower as a shower.
** The Giant of Metropolis followed The Centurion (1961 / scene) — where he is credited as "Mitchell Gordon" on the Italian posters — and Atlas against the Cyclops (1962 / full film).
In The Giant of Metropolis, in any event, craggy-faced Mitchell's muscles are easily just as droolably impressive as those of Reeves, as is the smoothness of the skin of the parts of his hairless body we see onscreen. (As the film naturally lacks a full frontal, one can only fantasize about how thorough Mitchell's shaving regime was — considering the times, however, there was probably an unsightly, nose-tickling swath remaining.)
"No one is more powerful than me. I have enslaved all the people of the world."
Yotar (Roldano Lupi)
The Giant of Metropolis is a rarity, to say the least, in that it is an odd amalgamation of science fiction and peplum, something we only ever remember seeing before in the Luigi Cozzi-directed Lou Ferrigno flick, Hercules (1983 / trailer), one of the few movies we caught in a cinema that we ended up walking out on. The Giant of Metropolis, if nothing else, is a far more enjoyable slice of kiddy trash than that version of Hercules. (Although, who knows: today, almost 40 years after that theatre experience, we might actually find the Lou Ferrigno movie enjoyable. Tastes change.)
"Perhaps, before we are destroyed, Yotar will realize he has been mistaken. He's not evil. He's only blinded by science."
Nevertheless, one is hard pressed to flat out say that The Giant of Metropolis is a good movie, though it is easy to lay the blame on the main (but not only) reason why: with six people working on the screenplay, the narrative is an obvious case of too many cooks spoil the brew. It's a mess: it's slow moving and convoluted, disconnected and illogical, and with brimming with turgid dialogue — you name a flaw a screenplay can have, and The Giant of Metropolis probably suffers it.
Still, the inanely irrational narrative is easy enough to follow; indeed, the third-rate DVD release we watched was dubbed only in German and had no subtitles in any language, not even for the long explanatory Italian text that scrolls interminably on the screen before the movie actually begins, but we nevertheless were able to follow the narrative.* (Here we should probably admit that unlike most Americans living in Berlin, we speak and understand German. But we assume the movie would be equally comprehensible in its English dub.)
What one cannot read onscreen, one can read online: "In 20,000 B.C., on the continent of Atlantis, now lost beneath the waters of the ocean, there lived a people who had developed an amazingly advanced civilization and who ruled all other people on earth... Obro, a man born in the east dared to probe the mystery of the City of Death. His gigantic strength and courage were pitted against Yotar, the evil King, in a struggle to the finish.... When the scientists of Metropolis attempted to penetrate the secret of death, nature rebelled, causing universal destruction... Love alone triumphed... And remained the sole source of life."
And what a narrative it is, indeed. And as it starts, Metropolis cum Atlantis is still dry land. The movie opens with a long line of men seen marching along the edge of a barren landscape, and as soon as they get close enough to be identifiable, the elderly leader (Mario Meniconi) collapses and dies — prior to his last breath, however, he manages to give a lengthy explanatory speech that more or less repeats everything told in the Italian scroll before conceding his leadership to his "son", Obro (Mitchell), and bidding him to continue to Metropolis to change the city's evil ways. To pad a few minutes of time, the unity of the group is lost and half turn around while Obro and a few stragglers continue onwards — only to be reduced to skeletons by the deadly magnetic cloud the city of Metropolis uses to do away with unwanted trespassers.
But wait! Obro awakens unscathed! And before Yotar (Roldano Lupi [8 Feb 1909 – 13 Aug 1989] of Women of Devil's Island a.k.a. Le prigioniere dell'isola del diavolo [1962 / full film]), the dictatorial ruler of the city of science can finish saying "Can there be a blood stronger than our own? Perhaps we are confronting an entirely new force in the world surrounding us?", Obro is a prisoner of Metropolis, a city populated by revived dead people (huh?) without a will of their own.
"No matter how much you torture me, you will suffer worse. Some day, you will rule a city of the dead. You will reign over a wasteland. Your power is based on a criminal use of science. It will destroy you! You will die miserably."
Obro (Gordon Mitchell)
In general, the "action" of the movie, like the stilted and pretentious dialogue, is laughable at best. After a shackled Obro conveys a message of warning to the insulted Yotar, who plans to grant his pre-pubescent son Elmos (Carlo "Marietto" Angeletti) immortality by replacing his son's brain with the brain of his (as in Yotar's) semi-dead father — maybe something got lost in the translation here, but that's what we understood — forces Obro to fight a giant (Aldo "Kronos" Pedinotti [30 Mar 1940 – June 2007]). Obro overcomes the giant, but loses the subsequent battle with a half-dozen cannibalistic dwarfs, who are about to chow down on their conquest when Yotar, as evil kings are always apt to do in bad films (e.g., King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword [2017]), decides Obro should be spared…
"Stranger! At last you shall learn there is a strength mightier than yours, a living creature that will crush you and who will make you see that you are nothing."
Yotar (Roldano Lupi)
As perhaps to be expected, an imprisoned Obro gives Yotar's wife, Queen Texen (Liana Orfei of Mill of the Stone Women a.k.a. Il mulino delle donne di pietra [1960 / trailer]), who recognizes the insanity of her husband, the opportunity to help Obro escape and literally go underground. A pep talk later by Egon (Furio Meniconi [22 Feb 1924 – 12 Dec 1981, of And God Said to Cain a.k.a. E Dio disse a Caino... [1970 / German trailer]), an equally observant upper-level underling of Yotar, Obro is slinking around the secret passageways of the castle eliminating the guards and soldiers one by one (literally so, as they seldom attack en mass). Somewhere along the way, Yotar's daughter Mecede (Bella Cortez,* below, not from the film) does a modern dance as foreplay to what is inferred to become a rather lifeless off-screen orgy and then soon flies the coop. In a totally unexpected and truly original twist of the narrative, she ends up hiding in the same underground cave as Obro, where the two promptly fall in love.
* Cuban-born beauty Alicia Paneque, above, who changed her name to Bella Cortez when she entered the Italian film biz, made about 11 films — including two more with Gordon Mitchell, Vulcan, Son of Jupiter (1962 / full movie) and Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens (1964 / trailer), and one of Christopher Lee's most obscure Italo-horrors, Challenge the Devil a.k.a. Katarsis (1963 / trailer) — before marrying, retiring from films, and moving to obscurity in the US. She never did another movie, but for that she does do Facebook.
The Giant of Metropolis is so anti-science and so pro-faith that it could easily be mistaken as a Christian film, but no, as directed by Umberto Scarpelli (25 May 1904 – 15 May 1980), it is an extremely static movie filled with long shots and long takes, excess moralizing and excessive portending of doom (none of which Yotar listens to), and extremely incompetently staged fight scenes. It is not surprising that Scarpelli was thereafter once again relegated to assistant director for the remainder of his career, for while he might be able to achieve a balanced screen and does occasionally toss in an interesting 360-degree shot, he never manages to imbue the movie with any real life (as is perhaps fitting for a movie about a city full of somnambulants), not even during the climactic destruction of the city.
The true heroes of the movie, when it comes to the people who had something to do with the making of The Giant of Metropolis and who probably gave the movie all the aspects that make the movie interesting (aside from Cortez's cleavage and Mitchell's muscles), are probably the cinematographer Oberdan Troiani (23 Sept 1917 – 28 Feb 2005), the costume designer Giovanna Natili, and set designer Giorgio Giovannini (26 May 1925 – 31 Mar 2007). Without doubt, it is the sets, costumes and cinematography that truly make this movie so different, so bizarre, so striking — and all that, combined with the cleavage and the muscles and the almost hallucinatory dialogue, is what gives the relatively slow-moving movie its fun factor.
Troiani, for example, does wonders with his camera, taking full effect of the lurid colors and swirling fog and shadowy sets. One has the feeling that had the direction only been a bit more creative or experimental, he would have easily mastered any task the director might have requested. (True, the cinematography does stumble during the ineffectual climax, which uses some overly obvious stock footage of seaside waves, but then the climax is narrative bullocks as it is. Really: the continent and/or city sinks into the sea, but there happens to be a nearby beach for specific characters to retreat to via underground secret passageways? That they reach from a flooding courtyard?)
As for the sets, they might scream low budget and are continually revamped for different scenes, but they are truly a visual treat and work very well. That they are so impressive becomes less of a surprise when one looks at the other projects that Giovannini was involved in as production designer or art director over the course of his career, which spanned from before the masterpiece Black Sunday (1960 / trailer) through The Last Man on Earth (1964) and Planet of the Vampires (1965 / trailer) and past Fellini's Satyricon (1969 / trailer) and Casanova (1976 / trailer) to The Name of the Rose (1986 / trailer) before ending with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988 / trailer).
As for the costumes supplied by the unknown Giovanna Natili, they are a total hoot. Like the weaponry of the lowly guards and soldiers, the outfits worn by the upper echelons serving the Yotar are as memorable as they are uncomfortable, impractical and totally ridiculous. Oddly enough, for all the enjoyable "fashion" excesses of the men, the women usually remain in bikini-inspired outfits and either loosely diaphanous or tight-fitting wraps typical of most Italian peplum — but, then, who really wants to look at hot women dressed ridiculously?
The Giant of Metropolis is far from a good movie, but despite its numerous flaws it is both enjoyable and interesting to watch, and in many ways almost verges on uniqueness. Unluckily, at least the versions we have stumbled upon (on our DVD and all over the web), the film stock itself is well past its prime. But though scratched and faded, it still reveals that The Giant of Metropolis was once a colorful movie of visual delight. (Its narrative incompetence, on the other hand, will never dilute.) We recommend it, if with reserve.

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