The word peplum derives from the Roman word for pleated skirt, and a “peplum movie” is one in which the characters wear such skirts. SON OF SAMSON (originally Maciste nella Valle dei Re [“Maciste in the Valley of the Kings”]) was the second of Mark Forest’s muscleman movies (his first was GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON) and one of the earliest competitors to the highly successful HERCULES, which had kick-started the sound revival of the peplum genre. Forest would play Maciste 7 times and appear in 12 different pepla movies.
Traditionally, Maciste was the son of Hercules or even an alternate name for Hercules, but this film identifies him as the son of the biblical Samson instead. The character of Maciste is one of the longest-running cinematic characters, having been featured in over 50 films; he made his initial appearance in Italian cinema is the incredibly impressive silent epic CABIRIA( 1914), directed by Giovanni Pastrone and loosely based on Flaubert’s Salammbo. As in that silent film, Maciste here tells another character that his name means “of the rock” (macis is the Latin word for “rock”).
SON OF SAMSON follows the standard plot of a Maciste movie, which usually involves a young lady who runs afoul of an evil ruler and who must be rescued. Maciste also helps the rightful ruler overcome a usurper and confronts an evil queen with carnal designs who attempts to seduce him with a belly dance. In 11th CenturyEgypt, the Persian Queen Smedes (played by Folies Beregeres dancer Chelo Alonso) rules Egypt despite being secretly in league with the kingdom’s Persian invaders, who are raping and pillaging their way across the countryside. When Pharaoh Armiteo (Carlo Tamberlani) hears that Smedes participated in selling Egyptian women as slaves, the Pharaoh berates her for exploiting his subjects; however, one of Smedes’ minions shoots an arrow into the Pharaoh’s back. Meanwhile, Kenamon (Angelo Zenoli), the son of the Pharaoh, who has been traveling and fighting across Egypt, recovers from his wounds and spends some time with Norfret (Frederica Ranchi), who pines for him when he returns to Tanis. Persians attack Norfret’s village, killing the men, burning the huts, and rounding up the women to be sold as slaves.
Maciste, the Son of Samson (Mark Forest), viewed by the Egyptian as a potential savior, lies sleeping by a mountain when a lion stalks him. Seeing this, Kenamon shoots the lion with an arrow and as Maciste thanks him, another lion approaches. There follows the typical shots of Maciste hugging a lion followed by him struggling with a lion skin rug with roars and growls dubbed in. Finally, Maciste beats the second lion to death with his fists. In gratitude, Kenamon gives Maciste a ring as a token of his friendship. Taking his leave of Kenamon, Maciste comes across the Persian raiders, whom he crushes with boulders and a huge stone wheel, rescuing the Egyptian women and escorting them back to their village. Kenamon in turns finds the streets of his city of Tanis empty following the death of his father, Armiteo. Visiting the mummy of his father, Kenamon is advised by the Grand Vizier (Petar Dobric) that he is the new Pharaoh.
To secure her position, Smedes proposes she wed Kenamon, who declines saying that it is too soon after his father’s death. Smedes immediately assumes that another woman has won Kenamon’s heart. She leaves him declaring, “Our marriage must take place on order of the Persians.” Distressed, Kenamon finds his egress blocked by spear-carrying guards. He dispatches a servant to carry word to Norfret, but the servant is quickly intercepted by guards and pumped for information. Aware of Kenamon’s interest in Norfret, Queen Smedes plots to use the mystical “Necklace of Forgetfulness” on Kenamon, which will make him her slave. The Vizier, who is in cahoots with Smedes, places the necklace of forgetfulness around Kenamon’s neck, and he instantly falls under Smedes’ spell. Suddenly he relishes her company and accedes to her every request.
Meanwhile, Maciste drives the rescued women in a carriage to an oasis in a failed effort to find water. They find a similar situation once they reach the town of Memphis, where greedy merchants conceal what little water there is in their animal skins. Maciste. hearing that Kenamon’s coronation is about to take place in Tanis, resolves to find men to aid in the fight against the marauding Persians. Waiting until nightfall, he moves part of a mountain side to create a natural spring and supply the populace’s water needs.
The corruption of Tanis is established in that travelers must bribe the guards to be admitted. The merchant with Maciste gains him entry by disguising him as a merchant whose rich caravan will be arriving shortly. Once inside, Maciste sees a young boy cry out for mercy for his father, who is being whipped. The boy throws rocks at the guards from a nearby rooftop after being chased away, so the guards climb up a ladder to pursue him. Maciste grabs the ladder with the guards on it, walks it over to the Nile and throws the guards into the water.
The gods having decreed to Maciste that Egypt will be free, Maciste goes to the slaves who are erecting an obelisk. When the obelisk slips down, crushing slaves and guards like, Maciste arrests the descent with his mighty muscles, and has the slaves pull from the other side. That night he tells the slaves to construct weapons while he seeks out Kenamon and enlists his aid in their cause. However, Kenamon doesn’t recognize the man he once saved in the jungle, and Maciste is beset by guards. He backs into what proves to be a swiveling wall and enters the “Cell of Death,” wherein the walls close in to crush him. With his incredible strength, he makes it to the gate of the cell and escapes, arranging for the slaves to attack during the next day’s chariot race.
At the chariot race, the winner is told by Smedes that he will have the honor of punishing some escaped slaves. He is given a chariot with long scimitars welded to the hub. The women Maciste rescues are brought into the arena blindfolded, and the chariot is driven among them, eventually cutting down the blind seer who prophesized Maciste being Egypt’s deliverer. Angered, Maciste throws off his disguise and grabs the back of the chariot, arresting its progress and bring the team of horses pulling it to a stop.
Impressed, Smedes falls for the mighty Maciste and grants him his wish of releasing the women prisoners. That night, she attempts to seduce Maciste with a seductive dance that allows Chelo Alonso to show off her dancing talents, though who knew that Persian queens were so versed in bellydancing? This allows Maciste to get close to Kenamon again and spell out his plans; unfortunately, Smedes can overhear them. Enraged, she gives Maciste a knock-out potion and orders him thrown to the crocodiles. Still, the mighty hero makes quick work of these reptilian foes and escapes to find the women safe and the slaves ready to revolt. After knocking down a few dozen soldiers, the rest of the royal force arrives, led by Kenamon. Maciste ties a rope to a support on the bridge they must cross, and as the leaders of the royal force almost reach the other side, Maciste pulls away the support, causing the bridge to collapse.
This causes the necklace to fall from Kenamon, and he once more remembers Norfret and turns against Smedes. Leading everyone back to the palace at Tanis, he tells the crowd that Smedes, for her perfidy, will be burned until she is embers, and that the crowd will deal with the overthrown Vizier. Smedes proclaims, “You win Maciste, but you will never burn me.” She runs through the wall passage of the cell of death and into the crocodiles’ lair. Norfret reunites with Kenamon, and Maciste, his destiny fulfilled, leaves to find other people to free and possibly other films to appear in.
The refreshing thing about this movie is the Egyptian settings, complete with authentic looking costumes and shots of the pyramids. SON OF SAMSON is directed by Carlo Campogallani, whose career stretches back to Italy’s silent era, when he directed some of the earliest Maciste movies, including MACISTE I (1919), LA TRILOGIA DI MACISTE (1920), MACISTE CONTRO LA MORTE (aka MACISTE VS. DEATH) (1920), and THE TESTAMENT OF MACISTE (1920). His other peplum include GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS, URSUS, and SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR. Campogallani keeps things moving and gives a fairly spectacular feel (the film is shot in Technicolor and Totalscope) despite the limited budget.
The fantasy elements of the film are largely limited to Maciste’s supernatural strength, the blind seer with the gift of prophecy, and the magical necklace that bends Kenamon to Smedes’ will. The horror elements include a generous application of bright red Kensington gore during the battle scenes, the crushing walls, the crocodile pit, whippings, and torture of a prisoner using a red-hot poker. Campogallani also gives us a disturbing image of the Persian depredations near the opening when we see snakes slithering past the heads of victims buried up to their necks in desert sand.
While not one of the more impressive 1960 genre efforts, SON OF SAMSON is a reasonably entertaining historical adventure that doesn’t make the mistake of presenting fantastic creatures it cannot quite pull off, unlike its immediate predecessor GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON. It is colorful and, like most pepla, features very fetching female leads with an impressively muscled bodybuilder at its center.
SON OF SAMSON (originally Maciste nella Valle dei Re [“Maciste in the Valley of the Kings”], 1960). Directed by Carlo Campogalliani. Story and screenplay by Oreste Biancoli, Ennio De Concini. Cast: Mark Forest, Chelo Alonso, Angelo Zanolli, Federica Ranchi, Carlo Tamberlani, Nino Musco, Zvonimir Rogoz, Ignazio Dolce, Andrea Fantasia, Petar Dobric, Vira Silenti, Ada Ruggeri.
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