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Savant Review:

Knives of the Avenger

Knives of the Avenger
Image Entertainment
1965 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 86m. / I Coltelli del vendicatore
Starring Cameron Mitchell, Elissa Pichell, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Fausto Tozzi
Cinematography Antonio Rinaldi
Production Designer Alberto Tavazzi
Film Editor Otello Colangeli
Original Music Marcello Giombini
Writing credits Alberto Liberati, Giorgio Simonelli and Mario Bava (as John Hold)
Directed by Mario Bava

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Image Entertainment is reaching the end of its Mario Bava collection, yet hasn't run out of interesting films. Knives of the Avenger is a sword 'n smorgasbord action film, filmed largely outdoors. It stresses performances while telling a straight genre story, and shows a sensitivity to characters not always associated with director Bava.


In a Viking kingdom troubled by tribal fighting, King Harald (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is lost at sea, leaving his queen Karen (Elissa Pichelli) and his son Moki (Luciano Pollentin) at the mercy of general Hagen (Fausto Tozzi), an ambitious hothead who has kept the land at war for half a generation. Hiding out at the seaside, Karen and Moki are rescued several times by a rootless drifter who turns out to be none other than the dreaded Rurik (Cameron Mitchell). Once an ally, Rurik turned renegade after Hagen's murder of his family years before ... but now is protecting Karen and her son for a complicated set of reasons ...

Once again Mario Bava has made a quality film out of practically nothing; Knives of the Avenger features that same Bava Beach (it's time to rename it after him) that's in most all of his films, that same quarry-like area that also repeats; a couple of interiors, and one interesting Viking building that is in so briefly, it must have been borrowed from another production.

Frequent Bava collaborator Cameron Mitchell carries the film, providing a solid center of interest. His troubled Frisian chieftain, with a bloody past to live down, is a serious characterization that has nothing in common with the frequently sloppy 'American star' performances that we're used to seeing in European films. With blonde hair and a dark stubble beard, Mitchell's makeup reminds of Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West; this is how Italians must picture masculine toughness.

In his well-observed liner notes, Tim Lucas says that Knives is a Western, Shane actually, masquerading as a Viking epic, and he's very correct. The relationship of Rurik to his 'adopted' son is the same. It's an unkillable story, and Bava makes the growing relationship between Rurik and the abandoned queen-in-hiding very interesting; although the fights and action are okay, the real interest here is finding out how the triangle is going to resolve. As a story, it's actually an improvement on Shane, which soaked itself in platitudes to become an 'instant classic.' Bava's drifter is no angel, but instead a murderer-rapist. Coming to grips with the past and convincing anyone else that he's worthy of trust and respect is a more compelling problem, when the past crimes are so heinous. Although most of the story wraps up in a series of fights, there's enough real relating going on between Mitchell and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (no spoilers, so his character will remain unidentified) to elevate the proceedings considerably. Bava handles the flashbacks that explain the story with ease and clarity.

The gimmick here is Rurik's knife-throwing ability, which is less impressive than it wants to be, but at least gives his character a spaghetti western-like edge. His credibility in overcoming so many adversaries is enhanced, when he can flick out these daggers two and three at a time and nail the bad guys so efficiently.

As is usual with Bava, his contribution is the whole show, production-wise. Knives is simply too cheap to be mainstream: a Viking film with no armies, no castles, no boats, only a handful of horses. The slipshod music, dubbing, and cheap titles, etc., don't help much, and limit the general interest to Bava fans and those who can be roped into the fold. Again, what surprises about Knives of the Avenger is the simple effectiveness of the intimate scenes - clearly Mario Bava could have been any kind of filmmaker he wanted to be. We'll have to wait for Mr. Lucas' upcoming book to learn the whole story, but I'll bet a major theme in Bava's work is that he stayed 'small' because he preferred working on these tiny, intimate movies where control could be his.

Image Entertainment's Knives of the Avenger is a very clean, nicely transferred 16:9 copy of the American version of the film (this I assume from those crummy Anglo credits), with both English and Italian tracks. The Italian audio is not quite as clearly recorded, indicating it may have been lifted from some European video release (?). There are no English subs or closed captions, so most of us will be stuck with the English dub, which actually isn't that bad. The usual Bava filmographies, etc., are provided, along with a nice set of stills and other ad material. A b&w copy of a trailer looks to have temp narration ... it's just terrible! Knives is the first Bava disc to be released in a plastic keep case instead of their older Warner snapper. Either that contract ran out, or Image finally reached the bottom of a giant pile of previously-purchased snappers.

Next up on Image's slate is I Vampiri, a quasi- Bava, but one of the most sought-after titles in all of EuroHorror.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Knives of the Avenger rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailers, text filmographies, still and artwork gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 27, 2001

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