Monday, May 23, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological, sociological*

GIANT OF METROPOLIS is one of the few "sword and sandal" films to which I've given a good rating. Its quality may have something to do with its appearance in 1961, which predates the descent of the "Italian muscleman" films into total predictability. It's also of interest that this was one of only five films directed by Umberto Scarpelli. Though he might have left filmmaking for any number of reasons, it's somewhat fitting that his last work for Italian cinema turns out to be among the best in its genre-- though, to be sure, Scarpelli is not credited as having conceived the main idea, only for providing dialogue. Since the script's three writers don't have a ton of outstanding credits to their names, perhaps METROPOLIS is just one of those occasional "perfect storms" of creativity.

The title alone suggests ambition on the part of the creators. The basic idea derives from the myth of Atlantis, a super-scientific civilization destroyed before the rise of recorded history, and a prologue even establishes that the action takes place on "the continent of Atlantis." But the city is plainly named after the future-city of Metropolis as seen in the classic 1927 Fritz Lang movie, though there's no real attempt to follow the plot-action of the silent film. I suspect what happened was that the writers were inspired by the basic pattern of Lang's masterpiece, which was a melodrama about the struggles between the high and low classes in a future-city-- including both romantic and familial conflicts. Lang's film is basically optimistic at the conclusion, and the city of its title is seen to endure all of its travails. However, since Scarpelli's film follows the pattern of the Atlantis myth, the only positive thing about this Metropolis is that its destruction clears the path for younger, less corrupt descendants.

Hulking Obro (Gordon Mitchell) wanders with his savage-looking tribe-- possibly cast out from some other land?-- until they come near the continent of  Atlantis. Like Moses seeking the Promised Land, Obro's aged father dies before the tribe reaches its goal, and as he dies the old man turns over the stewardship of their people to Obro, and encourages the hero to seek out Metropolis.

This doesn't turn out to be good paternal advice. When the savages approach the city, weird magnetic vortices assail them, and all but Obro are disintegrated. No reason is given for Obro's survival, but the city's ruler becomes curious about the stranger and orders him brought into Metropolis-- which will be a mistake on the ruler's part, though possibly one he was destined to make.

King Yotar (Rolando Lupi) is not your routine city-tyrant. Yotar is the heir to a long Atlantean tradition of super-science, and he will do anything to keep Metropolis on top of things, particularly because of dire stellar predictions about the city's demise. Most of the populace has been converted into obedient zombies, but one thing you've got to say for Yotar: he doesn't play favorites. Instead of letting his own father pass away peacefully, Yotar has transferred his dad's intelligence into an artificial body, so that Yotar can consult him whenever he pleases.

He doesn't treat his immediate family any better. His first wife died, leaving him a nubile daughter, Mercede (Bella Cortez), who initially thinks that her father hung the moon. But Yotar's second wife Queen Texen (Liana Orfei) knows better. Though she loves her husband, she fears his propensity to try to control her and everyone else. Her greatest concern is with his plan to transfer his father's intelligence into his small son Elmos. This transfer will give Elmos eternal life, but at the cost of his childhood. Yotar doesn't see why this should be a problem; doesn't everyone want to bypass the troubles of childhood? 

He doesn't seem to harbor any dire plans for Mercede, but there's a peculiar scene in which she does a revealing dance before his throne, flanked on either side by a white male dancer and a black male dancer. One can't help but think of Salome dancing to impress her stepfather, and the addition of her dancing with a racially mixed pair of males adds a little race-fetishism to the fire. Yotar shows no overt reaction to the dance. However, when he leaves his throne-room, he immediately seeks out his current queen and embraces her, despite her protests that he only wants to control her. Later Obro will comment that Yotar is not a villain, just a man mistaken in his priorities-- and the fact that the King doesn't have any designs on his daughter would seem to bear this out.

Yotar, tasked with prophecies that the stranger may spell the city's doom, subjects Obro to assorted ordeals. In an arena Obro is forced to fight a big hairy cave-guy, and later gets defeated by a gang of vicious pygmies. Yotar even tries to show the hero that muscle is no match for scientific magic by forcing Obro to struggle against magnetic forces-- which struggle Obro loses, unlike most such challenging feats in these type of films.

However, Texen and her minister Egon liberate Obro, wanting him to use his martial prowess to dispose of Yotar's guards so she and Egon can prevent Elmos from being subjected to his father's experiment. Egon's insertion is necessary because when Yotar finds out about Texen's betrayal, she takes her own life-- which doesn't seem to be a very good strategy for taking care of Elmos. However, her sacrifice earns Obro another ally, for Mercede sees Texen die, and she turns against her father and succors the stranger-- with whom, inevitably, she will become romantically linked.

I'll conclude my account there, for from then on the die is pretty much cast as to what's going to happen to the Atlantean kingdom. But all of the dramatis personae of METROPOLIS are much more vivid than those of the average historical epic, largely because they're all playing off the hubris of Yotar, who only realizes the evil of his actions in his last moments. The basic theme of seeking to control others, even for their own good, makes much better drama than tinpot tyrants who just want to beat the people down. Mitchell, though not capable of nuanced acting like his cast-mates, nevertheless has an impressive presence, especially when he's mowing down guards with what looks like a Samson-style "jawbone of an ass." 

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