Kidnapped to Mystery Island

Rampant thuggery in Kidnapped to Mystery Island
Rampant thuggery in Kidnapped to Mystery Island
Kidnapped to Mystery Island
Kidnapped to Mystery Island

Aka I Misteri della giungla nera (I), Das Geheimnis der Lederschlinge  (WG), Le repaire de la jungle noire (Fr), The Mystery of Thug Island (Int)
1964
Italy/West Germany
Ottavio Poggi for Liber Film (Rome), Eichberg Film (Munich)
Director: Luigi Capuano
Story: Based on the novel by Emilio Salgari
Screenplay: Arpad De Riso, Ottavio Poggi
Cinematography: Guglielmo Mancori {Euroscope – Eastmancolor}
Music: Carlo Rustichelli, published by Nazionalmusic
Editor: Antonietta Zita
Art director: Giancarlo Bartolini Salimbeni
Running time: 90 mins
Italian takings: 154.000.000
Filmed: De Paolis Incir Studios (Rome)
Cast: Guy Madison (Suyodana), Ingeborg Schoener (Ada MacPherson), Giacomo Rossi Stuart (Tremal Naik), Ivan Desny (Machadi), Giulia Rubini (Gundali), Nando Poggi (Kammamuri), Aldo Bufi Landi (Sergeant Barata), Aldo Cristiani, Romano Giomani (Windy), and with Peter Van Eyck (Captain MacPherson)

This was the third Emilio Salgari adaptation to be filmed by Luigi Capuano and produced by Ottavio Poggi for Liber Film and Eichberg in the mid sixties.  This time, there was no Sandokan, with two subsidiary characters from the previous films – Yanez’s henchmen Tremel Naik and Kammamuri – elevated to the heroic roles.  The latter is played by stuntman-turned-actor Nando Poggi, who had played a villain in the earlier productions, whilst Guy Madison – Yanez himself – swaps over to play the main bad guy.  Otherwise, it’s all from pretty much the same score: an exotic melodrama with dashes of romance and plenty of action.

The Thugs, who have a hidden base under a polystyrene tree-trunk on ‘Snake Island’, kidnap a young, white girl.  She is, apparently, the living reincarnation of Kali (despite lacking the extra six arms).  Her father, Captain MacPherson (Peter Van Eyck), resigns from the British army in order to pursue them.  For fifteen years he is unsuccessful, until the political situation decries that the army puts a stop to the cult’s antics and he is reinstated as the head of a special unit.  Along with a number of dedicated men, he sets off to track down their base.

His daughter, meanwhile, is now a grown (and voluptuous) woman, Ada (Ingeborg Schoener).  Despite being kept isolated, one afternoon she happens to bump into Tremel Naik (Giacomo Rossi Stuart), who is trying to make his fortune as a snake hunter.  She runs away, but Tremel is captivated by her beauty and determines to discover exactly who she is.

She is also enraptured and, in addition to her growing discomfit at the regular human sacrifices that are being made in ‘her’ name, this brings her into conflict with the leader of the Thugs, Suyodana (Guy Madison).  However, she is unable to remember anything of her early years, and frightened of displeasing her ‘people’.  After capturing Tremel Naik in her company, Suyodana forces him to try and murder MacPherson – the mortal enemy of the thugs – under threat of torturing her to death.  Will Suyodana succeed in his devious plan of bringing her to hate the only man she has ever loved?  Will he heck.

Peter Van Eyck in Kidnapped to Mystery Island
Peter Van Eyck in Kidnapped to Mystery Island

Mystery Island is a totally inconsequential little item.  It’s entertaining enough, to be sure, but somehow lacks the (hardly full-blown) epic scale of the Sandokan films. It all looks to have had a less generous budget, despite the number of turban-clad extras running around, and the scenery somehow seems less convincing.  Moreover, Capuano – hardly the most enigmatic of Italian filmmakers at the best of times – directs in an entirely perfunctory fashion (with the possible exception of a surprisingly effective chase through some bamboo shoots).

Sandokan fans, however, won’t be disappointed, as stylistic and narrative similarities abound.  In line with Sandokan Fights Back you get: a good girl in the bad guy’s camp (who even lets the heroes hide in her bedroom at one point); a child abduction; cod mystical trimmings; and – hey! – exactly the same buffalo stampede footage recycled from the earlier films. Quite how all of these irate buffalo found themselves on a tiny island I don’t know.  But then I’m not sure how an entire army can hide under a tree trunk either.

Other amusements to be found include a rather cuddly tiger, terrifyingly called ‘Kali-Bug’, with whom Tremel Naik must wrestle to the death (edge of the seat stuff, especially for the poor film editor).  The British Army are good value: assuming that their bright red jackets and vivid blue pantaloons will help them blend into the jungle.  This would be funnier if it wasn’t actually based on fact, but it’s good to see that their tent making – if not their guerilla warfare – skills are up to scratch.

Even if Mystery Island is riddled with incongruities and is entirely mediocre from a critical perspective, it’s at least never boring, and benefits from some decent performances. Madison relishes the opportunity to forsake his standard hero role and is extremely compelling as the villain.   It’s difficult to be sinister if a penny-whistle pops up on the soundtrack whenever you’re emoting, but he almost manages it.

About Matt Blake 841 Articles
The WildEye is a blog dedicated to the wild world of Italian cinema (and, ok, sometimes I digress into discussing films from other countries as well). Peplums, comedies, dramas, spaghetti westerns... they're all covered here.

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