Tuesday, March 24, 2015

COGS, SPOOLS & ½" TAPE #13 - HAWK OF THE CARIBBEAN VHS REVIEW


Post-credits scroll: “On the fourth of September in the year 1648, the Spanish cargo ship ‘Conception’ was hit by a violent hurricane and sank in the Caribbean Sea.  With her the cargo of prisoners intended for the colony of Esperancia in the West Indies was lost.  A few of them, however, managed to swim ashore.”

Just like the many sword-and-sandal or peplum films produced throughout the 60s, pirate films were also popular on Italian cinema screens at this time, and, like Pietro Francisci’s HERCULES (1958) with Steve Reeves, it was André De Toth’s and Primo Zeglio’s MORGAN THE PIRATE (1960), again with Steve Reeves, which resulted in a whole slew of swashbuckling adventures.  Directed by Piero Regnoli in 1962, HAWK OF THE CARIBBEAN or CARIBBEAN HAWK, as it’s sometimes referred to, stars Johnny Desmond, an American singer who was popular during the 40s and 50s, and, in what turns out to be his only film, he stars as Juan Olivares, one of the shipwrecked prisoners who manage to swim ashore.

It isn’t long before he and the rest of the prisoners take over the island – somewhere in the West Indies – and liberate the rest of the prisoners, which include Manuel García (perennial bad guy Piero Lulli), who immediately clashes with Olivares in regards to his leadership (“You’ve got to respect my orders!” exclaims Olivares).  When they take over a Spanish ship from the “Caribbean fleet”, Olivares and his men make for the sea (“It’s a good night for the Devil’s workers!”) and take control of another Spanish ship, this time the Doña María, where Olivares rescues a slave girl named Arica (Yvonne Monlaur).  They continue to sail towards Santa Cruz, but, with the English approaching, the Spanish are in need of an alley and, along with Captain Esteban (Armando Francioli) and the Viceroy, are willing to make a “proposition”.  Of course, everyone is against this rather apprehensive partnership, including Manuel, who believes they are heading “straight into the path of a lion”, while Don Pedro (Claudio Undari – better known to most as Robert Hundar, star of countless spaghetti westerns), the second-in-command, also wants nothing to do with these “worthless outlaws”.

This is a fairly run-of-the-mill swashbuckler, which, despite its rather frugal budget, moves at an entertaining clip thanks to some spirited battle scenes and an all-round decent performance from Johnny Desmond (well-dubbed by Italo-American actor Tony Russel).  It’s certainly an odd casting choice, and according to Yvonne Monlaur’s Blog, he seemed a “a little lost in the middle of this whole mess!”  Maybe this is why he never made another film, simply because he found the entire process too exasperating?  But, despite his limited acting experience, he performs his job admirably.  On the other hand, Yvonne Monlaur was a seasoned pro at this point, having already appeared in a number of films, including Hammer Films’ THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) for Terence Fisher, and Anthony Bushell’s The TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961), an earlier Hammer swashbuckler. 

This was one of the few directorial efforts for Piero Regnoli, an extremely prolific screenwriter responsible for a number of Italo-trash films, which to be honest are too numerous to mention here.  Some of his more interesting directing efforts include an early, rarely-seen, krimi-styled horror-tinged effort, I’LL SEE YOU IN HELL (1960), the sexy shocker The PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (1960), featuring a frequently topless Graziella Granata, and his offbeat peplum, MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1964).  Regnoli does his best with the limited budget he’s afforded, and to his credit, the film never bores and has a much grander scale than expected, which is greatly complimented by Aldo Piga’s rousing score.

Recently released on Italian DVD under its original title, LO SPARVIERO DEI CARAIBI, this VHS tape from Video City Productions remains one of the film’s only English-language releases.  Cropped from its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the transfer is about as good as can be expected from a 30+-year-old tape.  Although it’s in English, Die TÖLLEN HUNDE DER KARIBISCHEN SEE is the title card that accompanies this print.

Monday, March 2, 2015

LA BRAVATA - DVD REVIEW


As is sadly so often the case with such unexpected last-minute dregs, rather than being some “lost” classic, Roberto Bianchi Montero’s La BRAVATA (roughly translated as “The Bravado” or “The Boast”) has earned its obscurity honestly.  Along with CALIGULA’S HOT NIGHTS (1977), an almost unwatchable sex comedy, this turned out to be one of Montero’s last films (he was 70 at the time, after all), before he embarked on a short-lived stint in Italy’s porno ghetto with such films as ALBERGO E ORE (1981), with ’80s porno star Marina Frajese.  Considering all this, it’s not surprising La BRAVATA doesn’t have a whole lot to recommend.

A pair of truck-drivers (Tommaso Palladino and Armando Marra) on their way to Switzerland transporting a shipment of cars are suddenly sidetracked by Patrizia (Franca Gonella) and Jeanette (Ajita Wilson), who are posing as a pair of hitchhikers; which actually turns out to be nothing more than a cleverly-planned distraction.  Of course, this enables a group of thieves, led by Mario (Mario Garbetta), to steal a few cars off their lorry, but, unbeknownst to Mario, there is some hidden loot stashed in one of the cars.  During their getaway, Mario is shot and goes into hiding with the help of Dr. Milani (Silvano Tranquilli), a disbarred doctor and friend of Patrizia’s who also appears to have some ulterior motives.  In the meantime, to account for Mario’s sudden ‘disappearance’, this enterprising band of hooligans stage a fake kidnapping, which yields them some additional cash.  Led by the psychotic – and understandably pissed – Walter Valtiero (Venantino Venantini), the smugglers are also eagerly awaiting their “shipment” and, when it arrives minus their loot, they proceed to hunt down those responsible.  

Although the film sounds rather promising with its film noir-inspired plot of deceptions and betrayals, it remains quite slow on the uptake.  There is some brief gunplay towards the end when both Valtiero’s and Mario’s gangs finally meet face to face, but the majority of the film is taken up with numerous scenes of talking heads by a mostly third-rate cast, which also includes the director’s son Mario Bianchi – a rare acting role from the director of NAPOLI… I 5 DELLA SQUADRA SPECIALE (1978), La BIMBA DI SATANA (1982) and many other low-budget films – as well as crimeslime regular Franco Garofalo.  Even with some mild nudity thrown in courtesy of Gonella, Wilson and an unbilled Dirce Funari (frequent costar of numerous Joe D’Amato flicks, such as HARD SENSATION [1980]), it overall does nothing to enhance the film, and in fact only slows it down even further.  Even though there are some nice twists and turns throughout, including a surprise ending, the bland approach to the material is ultimately the film’s primary downfall.  For a much more entertaining Montero crime flick, watch his earlier, noir-styled effort The EYE OF THE SPIDER (1972) instead; as clunky as that film is, at least it has both Antonio Sabàto and Klaus Kinski in there chewing the scenery.

Surprisingly, this mundane Italo-crime effort was released on Italian DVD courtesy of Classica Film, which seemed to specialize in children’s programming and cartoons.  Considering this film’s rarity, the widescreen transfer is quite nice, if not 16x9, despite what the packaging proclaims.  There is no inglese option, nor are any other extras included, either (unless you consider an onscreen catalogue of the company’s other releases a special feature, that is!).  This was subsequently released by Mosaico Media in the same, non-English-friendly transfer.