Sandokan Fights Back

Ray Danton in Sandokan Fights Back
Ray Danton in Sandokan Fights Back
Sandokan Fights Back
Sandokan Fights Back

Aka Sandokan alla ricossa
1964
Italy/Monaco
Ottavio Poggi for Liber Film (Rome), Eichberg G.M.B.H. (Munich)
Director: Luigi Capuano
Story: Based on the novel by Emilio Salgari
Screenplay: Arpad De Riso, Luigi Capuano
Cinematography: Adalberto Albertini {Totalscope – Eastmancolor}
Music: Carlo Rustichelli, copyright Nazionalmusic (Milan)
Editor: Antonietta Zita
Art director: Giancarlo Bartolini Salimbeni
Running time: 91 mins
Italian takings: 127.800.000
Filmed: De Paolis Incir Studios (Rome)
Cast: Ray Danton (Sandokan), Guy Madison (Yanez), Franca Bettoja (Samoa), Mario Petri (Sir Charles Brooks), Alberto Farnese (Tremel Naik), Mino Doro (Lumbo), Giulio Marchetti (Sagapar), Sandro Moretti (Kammamuri), Nando Poggi (associate of Theotoklis), Raf Baldassarre (Theotoklis), Isarco Ravaioli (Sidar, a traitor)

The short burst of 1960s ‘Sandokan’ films, based on Emilio Salgari’s most famous literary character, commenced with Umberto Lenzi’s Sandokan the Great (Sandokan, la tigre di Mompracem) in 1963.  This was originally intended as a vehicle for Steve Reeves, who was looking to move away from his patent mythical muscleman act, and proved reasonably – if not outstandingly – successful.  It certainly proved enough of a moneymaker to spawn two unofficial sequels, produced by Ottavio Poggi for Liber Films and directed by Luigi Capuano, the first of which was Sandokan Fights Back.

It starts off with a handy resume of Sandokan’s past: born heir to the Kingdom of Sarawak, he was rescued by his nursemaid during a bloody massacre in which his parents were killed.  After escaping into a swamp, they were presumed dead: the victim of a crocodile or the numerous quicksands.  In fact he survived and grew up into a renowned and brave pirate leader, known as ‘The Tiger of Malaysia’.  Needless to say, when he finds out about his true origins – and this is where the plot here really kicks off – he’s none to happy.

Sarawak, meanwhile, has fallen under the governorship of Sir William Brooks (Mario Petri), one of the men who – along with his now deceased brother – had organized the massacre of Sandokan’s parents.  His rule is as cruel and exploitative as you’d expect, making him particularly unpopular with his subjects.  Not that he cares; his time is filled up with elephant hunting and public executions.  The things a chap must do.

Sandokan soon raises an army and joins forces with an old companion, Yanez (Guy Madison), in an attack on his rightful Kingdom.  Whilst carrying out an undercover reconnaissance, he manages to save the life of Brooks’ niece, Samoa (Franca Bettoja), during an unlikely looking tiger attack.  The grateful Governor, unaware of his true identity, invites him to be a guest at the Imperial palace: the perfect location from which to plan a revolution (and, of course, to fall in love with Samoa).

Despite some pedestrian direction, Sandokan Fights Back isn’t a displeasing way to wile away an hour and a half.  It’s very much like the action films that used to run on school holiday mornings way back when I was a nipper, and as a result I confess to have something of a soft spot for such piratical swashbucklers. There’s certainly no shortage of action, and the writers throw in more than enough subplots to keep things ticking over.  Too many, in fact: several seem to dwindle away into nothing as the running time progresses.

Sandokan Fights Back
Sandokan Fights Back

As an adult, it is often more likely to raise a smile than a thrill, and there are lots of fun sequences in which people stand on the brows of ships, brandishing swords and muttering in a very Monty Python manner.  Those with a loathing of stock footage will find their patience sorely tested here, as there are repeated loops of buffalo herds running across the plains, rhinos running towards the camera and so on.  All edited in with the delicacy of a hammer in the face, natch.

Nonetheless, the scenery looks suitably lush – even if it was filmed within shouting distance of Cinecitta – and the interiors are decorated with some panache, making the settings as a whole not entirely inauthentic.  There was obviously a bit of money thrown at this: there are an impressive amount of extras in evidence, and the battle sequences are relatively epic in scale (within the terms of the genre).  There’s an interesting climax – in which Sandokan’s army attacks Brooks’ stronghold by running across a smoke enshrouded reed-bed – that almost anticipates the napalm and paddy fields that were to stylistically characterize the Vietnam movies a decade or more later.

The performances are decent enough.  Danton, who has the thanklessly earnest role of Sandokan, is suitably athletic, but looked more at home in spy films (where he could bring more humor into his performances).  Madison fares better, despite being out of the plot for considerable stretches of time, and there are useful supporting performances from Mino Doro and Raf Baldassarre (as a dodgy Greek in a fez).  Kudos also to Jumbo, the heroic elephant, who not only sheds a tear when it looks like Samoa is about to be executed, but saves the day when things are looking bad.  As our hero says: ‘Don’t worry, Jumbo will protect you.’

I’m sure that somebody else has pointed out the similarities between the Sandokan and Winnetou stories: both were written by dreamers with no experience of their chosen subject (Salgari was a wannabe naval explorer who never realized his ambition due to poor performances in naval College, May was a frequent convict who never set foot in the Wild West); both feature a heroic native (Sandokan / Winnetou) and his white friend (Yanez / Shatterhand), fighting against traitors from both of their races; and both were made into popular film series during the heyday of Euro-adventure films, the early 1960s.

Whatever, this was obviously intended as the first in a series of films: there’s much talk of Brooks’ son, ‘The Leopard of Sawarak’, who never actually appears in the film.  He would go on to be the villain of the sequel, Sandokan contro il Leopardo di Sarawak, played – bizarrely enough – by Mario Petri, the peplum regular who plays his father here.

About Matt Blake 853 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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