Cast: Gordon Mitchell (Omar), Bella Cortez (Fatima), Dan Harrison [Bruno Piergentili] (Sinbad), Carroll Brown [Carla Calò] (Farida), Tony Di Mitri (Jookie), Lilli Zander (a girl), Franco Doria (Sharif), Alberto Conversi (Momet), Attilio Severini (a gate guard), Tonino Stoppa (a saracen)
Uncredited: Artemio Antonini (Kassim), Bruno Carotenuto, Maria Pia Conte, Nat Coster [Luigi Tosi] (Meneth), Mike Moore [Amedeo Trilli] (Haswan, Fatima’s Uncle)
After his sole excursion into the espionage genre with FBI chiama Istanbul, a production that proved influential at the time but now appears to be lost, Emimmo Salvi returned to the peplum with Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens. Despite the similar titles, this doesn’t actually appear to have been a direct follow-up to The Seven Tasks of Ali Baba, his 1962 film. In fact, the original Italian title was Sinbad contro I sette saraceni and, in the Italian version, Dan Harrison’s protagonist is called Sinbad rather than Ali Baba. In the international markets, however, it would seem that enterprising distributors decided to cash in the moderate success of the previous film by renaming the character and changing the title appropriately. It works well enough, as despite the changeover in personnel – Amedeo Trilli and Bella Cortez apart – the two films have more in common than not.
Omar (Gordon Mitchell), a cruel warlord who holds power over the city of Cufra, the legendary ‘throne of gold’, is desperate to be named King. The Magi, however, determine that such a position can only be filled by the greatest warrior among all the seven tribes of the Saracens, and so a huge tournament is arranged, involving the the most powerful warriors in the land. One tribe, however, the Yeriti, who are suffering after years of oppression under Omar and his men, don’t actually possess a champion to send. The nearest they have is Ali Baba (Dan Harrison), a quick witted sailor with a talent as a swordsman, who is only too happy to take up the challenge.
Unfortunately, Omar’s one step ahead, and arranges for the Yeriti party to be ambushed as soon as it approaches the city. Forced to take refuge in the desert, Ali Baba only survives with the help of Fatima (Bella Cortez), a Princess from another tribe, and the two of them promptly fall in love. Their relationship, however, is rudely interrupted when they’re both captured. As punishment, Fatima is forced to join Omar’s harem, while Ali Baba – who can’t be executed thanks to his status as a participant in the upcoming contest – is thrown into the dungeons, with the intention of allowing him to become so weak that he won’t be able to compete properly.
Outside the city, however, the people have become increasingly tired of Omar’s cruelties and rebellion is brewing, to the extent that even Fatima’s wishy-washy father, Haswan (Amedeo Trilli), has decided to join in. And, as the day of the tournament approaches, Ali Baba has one great advantage over his opponents, weakened as his body may be: he’s not just a fighter, he’s got an agile mind to match.
Again working with production company Avis, not to mention writer Benito Ilforte and cinematographer Mario Parapetti (both of whom had also worked on Vulcan Son of Jupiter and The Seven Tasks of Ali Baba), this feels very much like a lesser work from the director. Perhaps it’s because the peplum genre as a whole was coming to a close, but Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens just lacks the vivacity that Salvi normally bought to his work. Perhaps it also had something to do with the absence of Ambrogio Molteni, who had worked on the screenplay for both of Salvi’s previous peplums. Certainly, there’s not a great deal of interest in the script, with little that’s either original or exciting and certainly none of the leftfield eccentricity that had made Vulcan Son of Jupiter so charming. Any hint of Eastern Mysteries is left completely unexplored, leaving the plot as a rather mundane tale of political chicanery, while the romance between Fatima and Ali Baba comes about so quickly you hardly realise it has happened. Furthermore, the central narrative – with Ali Baba constantly escaping, being recaptured, looking angst-ridden and escaping again – becomes rather repetitive.
But the blame doesn’t lie only with the writing. As with the previous films, this has a very stagebound feel – unsurprisingly, as most of it was filmed in the Incir-De Paolis studios – but in this case there isn’t the imaginative art direction to make an advantage out of it. It seems as though the budget was lower than usual, even for a Salvi production. The exteriors, all of which look to have been shot in the countryside near Rome, have a decidedly cheap feel, while the ‘extensive’ battle scenes are made up of about a dozen people waving swords at each other in a lackadaisical fashion. The gladiatorial contests that make up the finale are rather underwhelming, while even the dance sequences – which Salvi had staged with some flair in the earlier films – are rather paltry. All in all, it comes across like exactly what it was: a quick knock off, trying to make some money out of a rapidly faltering format. And the audiences weren’t fooled; it only took 60 million lire on its Italian release, under a quarter of the amount made by The Seven Tasks of Ali Baba.
One of the few positive aspects of the film is the meaty role for Gordon Mitchell, who does his usual glowering thing with some aplomb (he’d go on to play a similarly villainous role in Salvi’s next film, Treasure of the Petrified Forest). Bella Cortez has a rather thankless part as the drippy princess, and despite looking suitably voluptuous she comes off rather badly in comparison to Carla Calò, who impresses as Omar’s nasty consort (and she looks rather attractive as well, a pleasant change as she was normally called upon to play rather unglamorous parts at the time). As the hero, Dan Harrison is fine. Harrison had a short-lived career as a leading man, appearing in a number of low-budget productions between 1960 and 1975 before disappearing into obscurity.