The city of Zimba is in the heart of the jungle, surrounded by a huge wall and accessible only through some secret underground tunnels. It is ruled over by King Namar (Giuseppe Adobbatti), a benevolent sovereign with a young son, Vasma (Loris Loddi). The Zimbians also have no fear of poverty; they have the only access to the fable goldmines of King Solomon.
All is not well, though. One of Namar’s advisors, Riad (Elio Jotta, looking suspiciously like Norman Tebbit), wants more power for himself. He makes a deal with a hostile tribe to the effect that he’ll let them into the city for plunder if they let him have the governorship in return. This tribe is commanded by Fazira (Wandisa Guida), a babe with what appears to be a huge upside down jellyfish on her head. She also displays alarmingly Thatcherite tendencies: beating up her men with a big stick whilst screaming ‘You are all worms!’
Anyway, the city is summarily ransacked and the King killed. Luckily, Vasma manages to escape with the aid of his handmaiden/tutor, Samara (Eleanora Bianchi), and they decide to try and find Maciste (Reg Park), who just happens to be hanging about nearby. First, though, they encounter a bizarre outbreak of stock footage, all of which is inanely commented upon by the loathsome brat (‘look, the stones are moving!’ (turtles), ‘what large necks they have!’ (giraffes), ‘what a spectacular safari suit on that admirable gentleman!’ (David Attenborough)). They finally bump into the big guy (Maciste, not Attenborough) when he saves them from a patently tranquillised lion, and they all take refuge with another tribe – albeit a rather more friendly one than Fazira’s lot (especially their ‘hard working and submissive women’). Several excerpts from National geographic documentaries follow.
Meanwhile, things aren’t great in Zimba. The population has been enslaved by the usurpers and put to work in the mines. Maciste soon arrives to help, but is captured without too much trouble. Didn’t anyone anyone ever point out that if these clowns could bend steel bars, smash walls and swing harmless footsoldies around their heads with abandon, they should probably be able to find their way out of a bloody net! Riad devises an ingenious death for the muscle-bound muppet (ie being pulled onto sharp spikes by horses), but he manages to survive thanks to his spectacular strength. Fazira is impressed with this (or maybe with the fact that his massively blow-dried hair makes him resemble Michael Heseltine), and tries to persuade him to join forces with her. He refuses, so she bewitches him and removes his will. During this time, Vasma and Samara have also been recaptured, and it looks as though they’ll have to meet a horrible end.
This is a rather cheap (and rather late) entry into the Maciste cycle of films, and can’t really be described as an entirely distinguished piece of cinema. The pacing is dreadful – with sequences lasting far longer than their natural lifespan – and there is far too much reliance on the aforementioned second rate stock footage. Regnoli’s direction is tolerable, if hardly inspiring, as was also the case with The Playgirls and the Vampire.
That said, however, Solomon’s Mines is reasonably enjoyable. The adventure aspects work well, and it’s a shame that more wasn’t made of them (as opposed to the twenty odd minutes of watching Maciste doing ‘astounding’ things, such as picking up big lumps of polystyrene). Francesco De Masi also contributes a good score and the costumes are fun (and look as though they’ve been nicked from the set of Flash Gordon. The South African locations add a certain something to the proceedings. There are also some truly ridiculous torture devices, my favourite of which is the giant meat tenderiser with which the villains attempt to pummel Maciste’s chum Abukar (Dan Harrison).
I do feel the need to say a few words about Reg Park. Quite how the Italian film industry managed to embrace someone who looks so downright thick – and is such an appalling actor to boot – was frankly admirable. Honestly, this guy makes Stallone look like Dennis Hopper. It’s actually rather intriguing to watch; you can almost see every thought trying to settle inside his brain, giving up and buggering off to find someone more intelligent instead. The scene where he regains his ‘mind’ is absolutely priceless, as you watch Park try to convey a sudden rush of self-awareness in the blink of an empty eye. He made at least five, yes five, films, including the rather good Hercules in the Haunted Worls and Hercules Conquers Atlantis (both 61), as well as Antonio Margheriti’s Hercules Prisoner of Evil (64) and Maurizio Lucidi’s La sfida dei giganti (65). Somehow I doubt he settled down into a comfortable retirement with the RSC.