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Golden Arrow, The

Warner Archive // Unrated // May 28, 2019 // Region 0
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted July 3, 2019 | E-mail the Author
The Golden Arrow (L'Arciere delle Mille e Una Notte, or "Archer of One Thousand and One Nights," 1962) is an Italian sword-and-sandal film starring Tab Hunter, and it's pretty much precisely what one would imagine an Italian sword-and-sandal film starring Tab Hunter might be. Gaudy, action-packed, dubbed into English, it's basically an Arabian Nights-type action fantasy, but otherwise very much in line with the peplum genre of the period.

What makes The Golden Arrow a bit unusual is that its studio, the Italian company Titanus, clearly spent significantly more on this production than the typical Hercules or Maciste programmer. For starters it was photographed in the expensive Technirama process, a widescreen format in which 35mm film negative ran through the camera horizontally rather than the usual vertical manner, exposing eight perforations (sprocket holes) of film per frame rather than the usual four, effectively doubling the resolution. Technirama operated under the same principals as Paramount's VistaVision, adding to that a slight anamorphic squeeze that produced prints up to 2.25:1 wide. It was an extremely impressive film format, as Technirama films like The Vikings (1958), Spartacus (1960), 55 Days at Peking (1963), and Zulu (1964) attest.

Further, most of The Golden Arrow's exteriors seem to have been shot on location in Egypt, with the cast swashbuckling on and around real ancient monuments. A brief sequence has Tab running up toward the Mortuary Temple of Hatschepsut, Deir el Bahari, but the film seems to have been all over the area, including up the Nile. Much of the film, mostly set in and around Damascus, utilizes what appears to be an ancient castle or fortress, with towering minarets in the distance, though it's not clear where this is. As with the Tarzan movies from this same period, these scenes add enormous visual appeal while, from a preservationist viewpoint, it's pretty astonishing the filmmakers were allowed to run roughshod over these priceless treasures. The studio interior sets are also quite impressive.

The well-worn plot casts Tab as Hassan, leader of a band of thieves. He's present at an event in which the hand of Princess Jamila (Rossana Podestà) - and thus the title of Sultan of Damascus - is promised to any man capable of shooting a magical golden arrow (which acts like a boomerang and returns to its shooter) through a series of doughnut-shaped targets. None are able to even bend the bow, however, except Hassan, who shoots the arrow perfectly.

The annoying structure of the script has thief Hassan run off with the rich gifts brought by the contenders for Jamila's hand, rather than except all the plum rewards to which he's entitled. Further, Mokbar (Gian Paolo Rosmino), a trusted adviser to the current Sultan, recognizes the birthmark on Hassan's wrists proving that he is, in fact, of royal blood, Hassan having been kidnapped as a child.

Hassan inexplicably acts mighty disinterested in this, even after three genii (Umberto Melnati, Giustino Durano, and somebody else, undetermined), acting more like three fairy godfathers, come to his aid, asking only that he listen to their sage advice. Instead, Hassan decides to search for the now-missing Golden Arrow on his own, self-inflicting a completely avoidable series of trials. Meanwhile, an evil vizier, Bakitar (Mario Feliciani), assassinates the Sultan and readies his troops just outside the gates of Damascus, plotting to take over the kingdom.

After a dozen years in Hollywood and following the one-season run of The Tab Hunter Show, acting on the advice of friend Tomas Milian, the actor tried rebooting his flagging career in Italy. The Golden Arrow did nothing for his career, however: his voice is dubbed for the English-language version, and the film was an expensive flop for Titanus, contributing to its decision to stop producing movies a few years later. In America MGM released The Golden Arrow as a Saturday matinee-type attraction, where it did little business.

Tab's handsome enough and, according to his autobiography, he tried spicing up the dialogue on his own, only to be thwarted by having somebody else dub his voice. It didn't matter much: he projects neither the all-in sincerity of the best Hercules/Maciste stars, nor does he have the roguish charisma of an Errol Flynn or, more concurrently, somebody like Guy Williams, who would have been better in the part.

Conversely, Podestà, the Libyan-born Italian actress who'd appeared in the Kirk Douglas Ulysses (1954) as Nausicaa and the title character in Robert Wise's Helen of Troy (1956) before returning to Italy, is drop-dead gorgeous, a better actress, and commands the screen whenever she appears.

One reviewer on the IMDb notes that the three fairy godfather-like genies might as well have been played by the Three Stooges, then consisting of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and "Curly" Joe DeRita. It's unlikely that these roles were conceived for these aging comics, but the parts not only would have fit them like gloves, the basic structure of the plot is nearly identical to all the later Stooge features, in which the 50/60-something "boys" tag along with the story's de facto hero to aid the cause of True Love.

The director, Antonio Margheriti, is billed under that name but would soon adopt the moniker "Anthony M. Dawson" for many of his Italian exports. He dabbled in every genre imaginable, later directing sci-fi spectacles, spaghetti Westerns, spy films, horror and giallo films, etc. Like the best of those pictures, he seems to have been attracted to action-driven projects with fantasy elements, as here. Unfortunately, except for cinematographer-director Mario Bava, who mostly did in-camera composites incorporating careful lighting effects, the Italians were never very good with special visual effects requiring elaborate miniatures and postproduction composite work, and the visual effects in The Golden Arrow are mostly awful, undermining the more stately aspects of the production. The sound effects are equally bad: when both heroes and villains zoon through the skies aboard flying carpets, the sounds used are of commercial jet aircraft!

Video & Audio

Warner Archive's new Blu-ray of The Golden Arrow looks pretty impressive. The opening and end titles, bearing MGM's logo and copyright notice, are a bit soft, but they might just have sourced original film elements held in Italy for the rest of the picture. It's not quite as sharp as the best Blu-rays of other Technirama films, but it's clearly sharper than a good transfer of an ordinary CinemaScope title. The color timing is also quite good, but seems a bit off compared to the trailer that's included, the only Extra Features.

Supplements are limited to an isolated music track, excerpts from a Fox Movietone Newsreel, and a trailer. English subtitles are provided.

Parting Thoughts

Above average by sword and sandal standards but still far from the top of the heap, The Golden Arrow does have certain advantages and isn't bad. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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