Cast: Rod Flash Ilush [Iloosh Khoshabe] (Vulcan), Gordon Mitchell (Pluto), Bella Cortez (Etna), Roger Browne (Mars), Annie Gorassini (Venus), Furio Meniconi (Jupiter), Omero Gargano (Zeus), Isarco Ravaioli (Mercurius), Liliana Zagra (Nymph), Salvatore Furnari, Ugo Sabetta, Edda Ferronao (Nymph), Yvonne Scire (Nymph), Amedeo Trilli, Paolo Pieri, Renzo Stefilongo, Pasquale Fasciano, Giuseppe Trinca
After a few years apprenticeship working as a production secretary and then manager, Emimmo Salvi moved up to become a fully fledged producer in the late 1950s. After putting together a couple of comedies and musicals, he moved into the peplum genre just as it was beginning to take off, scoring considerable successes with Carlo Campogalliani’s Goliath and the Barbarians (59), with Steve Reeves, and David and Goliath (60), starring Orson Welles. Despite the considerable takings these managed to generate, though, Salvi remained firmly a player in the low budget arena. And he seems to have been constantly on the lookout for ways of improving his profit margin: his subsequent films tended to rely less on star names, meaning he didn’t have to pay the salaries demanded by the likes of Reeves and Welles, and they generally have less in the way of epic scale.
Possibly the most blatant way he found of cutting costs, though, was to dispense with the requirement to have a pesky director and simply do the job himself. And, in all fairness, he proved to be far from incompetent; although he certainly wasn’t a Cottafavi or a Bava, his work definitely has a degree of personal vision, and he’s no worse a filmmaker than the likes of Campogalliani, Luigi Capuano or Umberto Scarpelli, who were the type of filmmakers he’d previously been employing.
For his first film, Vulcan Son of Jupiter, he was working from a script by himself and his usual writers Ambrogio Molteni (who had worked on David and Goliath) and Benito Ilforte, both of whom would go on to work on many of his subsequent productions. And he started as he meant to go on: this is most unmistakeably a Salvi film, there’s simply nobody else who could have come up with anything quite like it. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is another question, but it’s most definitely different to your usual, run-of-the-mill, micro-budgeted peplum.
Following a spot of argy-bargy on Mount Olympus, the home of the Gods, Venus (Anna Gorassini), the Goddess of Love, decides to do a runner and heads down to the earth to hook up with her human lover. Driven to distraction, her father, Jupiter (Furio Meniconi), decides that she should settle down, and proposes two potential husbands to her: the taciturn Vulcan (Rod Flash) and the devious Mars (Roger Browne). After getting into a fight over her, something forbidden for Gods, the two rivals are punished by being stripped of their powers and sent to spend two months as ordinary men.
Mars, accompanied by Venus, immediately heads off to spend his time of banishment at the court of the Kingdom of Thrace, where the two of them keep themselves busy by lounging around, drinking wine and trying to incite their hosts into starting a war with Jupiter. Vulcan, however, has a more difficult time of it: dumped into the sea by Mars’s chum Pluto (Gordon Mitchell), he manages to survive when rescued by Etna (Bella Cortez), one of the daughters of Neptune… only for them both to be taken prisoner by a tribe of weird, monster men.
Fortunately, they’re able to escape, but their troubles have only just begun: for some reason or other, Mars and the Thracians have imprisoned a whole bunch of unfortunate Sicilians as slaves, and the two of them decide that it’s their responsibility to do something about it. Pluto, meanwhile, is using all of his (unearthly) powers to ensure that Vulcan is destroyed, and even calls in a few favours from his equally dubious allies in Olympus. All of which is making poor Jupiter extremely grumpy indeed.
With one of the most incomprehensible, demented plots of the genre, although Vulcan Son of Jupiter isn’t exactly a good film, it’s certainly a very enjoyable one. At points, it’s quite astonishingly camp: the settings and costumes look like they’ve been knocked up by a bunch of kids performing a school play, the acting (and dubbing) is extremely over the top and the special effects are crude, even for the time. There are lightning flashes scratched onto the film negative, the monster men are equipped with dodgy fangs and painted green, the underwater sequence in Neptune’s lair is simply out-to-lunch. Complete with some hilarious dialogue – ‘Well, Venus, do you intend to be a good Goddess?’ – and with weird fantastical elements, it all makes for a thoroughly entertaining viewing experience.
Salvi’s direction is perfectly adequate: he keeps the action moving along, and although the cinematography isn’t anything special, it at least looks as though it was professionally made. Certain sequences – interiors such as the Mount Olympus locations – have a decidedly surreal air, which actually fits in perfectly with the general dementedness of the whole affair. As with Salvi’s subsequent peplums, it’s a leftfield take on popular mythology, complete with a bit of action, a dash of humour and a lot of completely incomprehensible nonsense. Just about everything possible is done in an over-the-top fashion, from the dastardly behaviour of the villains to the heaving subservience (and quivering bosoms) of their female victims, all of which gives it the feel of a live action comic book.
Acting wise, Rod Flash is a vacuum, and both Roger Browne and Gordon Mitchell are given far too little to do. The most amusing performances by far come from Annie Gorassini, who plays Venus as a dim-witted nymphomaniac, and Isarco Ravaioli, who hams it up unbelievably as the decidedly effeminate Mercury. Bella Cortez is fine as a the female lead, although there’s little to distinguish her from any of the other mid-range peplum heroines. Born in Cuba, there’s very little biolgraphical information available about her, beyond the fact that she was in several Italian films through the sixties and was involved with Salvi at the time.
It’s likely that Vulcan Son of Jupiter was re-released in 1983, in a possibly re-edited version, as Zeus contro l’universo. Bizarrely, no information about this release exists in Italian sources, and the only reference to it is in some French magazines of the time.