A one-time Hollywood Tarzan, Oregon-born Gordon Scott was one of many bodybuilding thesps who went to Italy for a career in muscleman fantasies. The best of these is probably 1961’s GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, but Scott would continue headlining in various peplum epics until the genre totally died out in the mid 1960s. Directed by the reliable, occasional horror specialist Riccardo Freda (THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK, THE GHOST), SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES (or SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD) is typical in plot structure, but it absolutely delivers the Saturday matinee thrills expected from these types of pictures.
Originally known as “Maciste alla corte del Gran Khan”, SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES takes place in 13th Century China. Mongol warriors are bent on taking over the land, and their first objective is to send a young prince (soon to take the thrown) to his death by trapping him with a ferocious tiger. Out of nowhere, the beefy Samson (Scott) comes to the rescue, wrestling the tiger to his death and saving the prince. Confiding in a group of Buddhist monks, Samson also finds himself protecting a virgin princess (Yoko Tani, FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS), who is also in line to be assassinated. Our hero teaches the good people how to defend themselves against the cutthroat Mongols, but not before torture and death intervenes and Samson must seek the aid of a high priest.
Released in the United States by American International Pictures, SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES renamed the lead character after the Biblical hero “Samson” as the name “Maciste” meant absolutely nothing to stateside theatergoers. AIP’s in-house composer Les Baxter rescored some of the music, and it was dubbed into English by Titra, so you’ll recognize some of the voices from various fantasy films and TV series. Sticking out like a g-stringed stripper in a monastery, Scott sports only a loincloth and sandals throughout, as he battles the upper body of a stuffed tiger, saves a string of peasants from beheading during a stunt with a chariot, fights a band of Mongols with a T-shaped support beam in a restaurant and defies death by rising out of the ground, causing enough tremors to shake up the population during the turbulent climax. Freda is a capable enough director, but the film benefits from lavish sets, extras and even the female lead (Tani) all leftover from the Italian-made MARCO POLO, a Rory Calhoun vehicle which was also released in the U.S. by AIP.
The disc has been furnished with a bonus feature, ALI BABA AND THE SEVEN SARACENS, another Italian-made semi sword and sandal epic dubbed into English and released here by AIP. Ali Baba (Bruno Piergentili under “Dan Harrison”, a moniker he would use for many spaghetti westerns) is saved by the lovely Fatima (Bella Cortez, THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS) and soon falls in love with her. She is later kidnapped by the evil Omar (muscleman movie staple Gordon Mitchell), who happens to be her uncle, and Ali Baba must duel to the death, gladiator style, with the leaders of eight tribes before coming face on with Omar to decide who will be the new king to the Golden Throne of Majii. Ali gets assistance from a number of freedom-fighting prisoners, including a humorous midget named Jookie, who spends a lot of time slithering through stone crawlspaces. In the original Italian version, Ali Baba is actually called Sinbad, which is probably more suitable since there are no 40 thieves. Although Gordon Mitchell is often seen as the beefy hero, his face is actually better suited for villains, so it’s great to see him hamming it up here as the baddy in this fast-paced effort with a lot of fight scenes and a decent amount of jiggle (Cortez is absolutely gorgeous) for its time.
Although SAMSON is presented 2.35:1 anamorphic, it’s not exactly the title you want to show off that new widescreen TV you got for Christmas. Colors are mostly faded and dull, and a number of scratches hinder the 35mm print source, but the biggest flaw is the choppiness of the print which trims it down from its 79-minute American incarnation by over 10 minutes. The mono audio is scratchy at times, but not at all incomprehensible. ALI BABA has been panned and scanned from its original 2.35:1 ratio to full frame (it appears to be an AIP-TV print), and although colors are somewhat better than on SAMSON, the image tends to be soft and grainy. It seems as though some footage from the first reel is missing. The mono audio is sufficient.
Extras are over 13 minutes of “Super Muscle Trailers”, all of them 2.35:1 widescreen: HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN with Mark Forest, URSUS AND THE TATAR PRINCESS with Yoko Tani again and Akim Tamiroff, ALI BABA AND THE 7 SARACENS (the onscreen title reads “Sinbad contro I sette saraceni”), THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR with Mark Forest and JULIUS CAESAR AGAINST THE PIRATES with Gordon Mitchell. All of the trailers look really nice in Scope, but it’s especially interesting to see what ALI BABA might've looked like in its original aspect ratio with impressive colors. Gary Smith scribes the liner notes on the back cover. (George R. Reis)
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