The Masked Man Against the Pirates

The Masked Man Against the Pirates
The Masked Man Against the Pirates

Pino Addario for Rio Film, Seven Film
Director: Dean Vert [Vertunnio De Angelis]
Story: Dino Sant’Ambrogio
Screenplay: Aldo Barni, Dino Sant’Ambrogio
Cinematography: Antonio Belviso {Eastmancolour}
Music: Felice Di Stefano
Editor: Mariano Arditi
Set design: Demofilo Fidani
Cameraman: Gino Santini
Filmed: Titanus Studios
Release information: Registered 27.06.64. Italy (12.07.64, 87 mins)
Cast: George Hilton (Suarez), Claude Dantes (the Princess), John Warren [John Vari] (Garcia, a pirate), Pietro De Vico, Tony Kendall [Luciano Stella] (Ruiz), Gina Rovere, Lucien Benetti, Lucio De Santis [Lucio De Sanctis], José Torres, Mario Zicavo, Angelo Santiamantini, Paolo Reale, Antonio Bullo, Giorgio Costantini, Pino Musco.

The year is 1559. Big, fat, bearded pirate Garcia (who wears a Jolly Roger hat but no parrot) is terrorising the Spanish navy. Whenever frigates return from the New World with a cargo of gold, his speedy vessel ‘The Albatross’ intercepts them and he claims the booty for his own.

After a particularly daring raid his men capture a number of prisoners including some irritating comedy priests and a Spanish princess (Claudia Dantes), to whom Garcia’s second-in-command Suarez (a particularly young looking George Hilton) takes an immediate shine. They are all forced to attend a banquet at which the main entertainment is provided by the sadistic torture of a young officer, Ruiz (a particularly young looking Tony Kendall).

In order to protect her from his erratic captain, Suarez marries the Princess (with whom he has fallen into unreciprocated love), and slowly allows his sympathetic nature to show through. Meanwhile, some geezer wearing a green hood and tights (set off nicely by a charming pair of yellow underpants) is roaming around making mischief, clumping sentries on the noggin and helping Ruiz, who is conveniently presumed dead, to escape.

Before long they have arrived at the brigand’s secret island hideaway, where they prepare to hang the prisoners. Except for the ladies, of course, who are to be sold to the devious slave trader Ramirez. However the mysterious masked man (who could it be?) has other ideas.

This looks weirder than it actually is...
This looks weirder than it actually is…

This diverting if modest adventure film was Hilton’s Italian debut and he starts as he means to go on by portraying a trademark double-sided character. At one moment the villain and another the hero, there is the feeling that he is playing by the rules of a game that only he knows. If not exactly stretched, he looks as mischievous as always and displays a nice line in suave agility. If he doesn’t exactly stand out from the leading men of similar films, it is because he isn’t really allowed to display the cool laconicism that was to become his signature. He is, however, rather different to the standard peplum musclemen – and indeed the director Vertunnio De Angelis was fixated on the idea of hiring Steve Reeves as the protagonist. According to Hilton: “I got this job through an agent who spoke Spanish – remember, I didn’t speak a word of Italian at this point – it was being done by a producer called Pino Addario.  It was one of those cape and sword films, and before they gave me the job they asked if I was able to fence, and I said yes, even though it wasn’t true.  So, in a frenetic rush, I had to learn how to handle a sword.” [Nocturno Dossier #62]

As for The Masked Man Against the Pirates itself, it is a fairly standard pirate drama, fitting nicely alongside such titles as Roberto Mauri’s Flag of Death (I Pirata del diavolo, 63) and Don Sharp’s Pirates of Blood River (62). Perhaps it is most interesting for displaying many sequences and themes that were to become familiar from the later Spaghetti Westerns in a different setting. There’s the ‘bandit’ chief Garcia (who looks suspiciously Mexican and eats lots of roast meat without cutlery), the hero who infiltrates the gang to destroy it and the ingenious punishment scenes. There’s also the chance to see Tony Kendall dressed up in virtually the same silly costume that he was to don in Gianfranco Parolini’s Three Fantastic Supermen (I Fantastici tre supermen, 67). Hilton’s memories of the film aren’t exactly positive: “The film was ghastly, but with that million lire I immediately bought a car, and it was the start of my career.  I began to do adverts and fotoromanzi for ‘Grand Hotel’ & ‘Lancio’, in all to work just enough.” [Cine 70 #6]

* Note: There are some indications that both The Masked Man against the Pirates and The Black Pirate were actually filmed in 1962.

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