Release Date(s)1961 (August 16, 2022)
Studio(s)Unidis/AIP (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B
In 1958, the Italian-made film Hercules starring Steve Reeves was released in the United States and did huge business, prompting a demand for sword-and-sandals epics. Hollywood producers looked to Italy for many of these pictures, which became hits on the drive-in circuit and were double-billed with other action features. Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World, originally titled Maciste in the Court of the Great Khan—an Italian-French co-production—debuted in Italy in 1961, and was later released in the US in 1962.
Since “Maciste” was a name unfamiliar to American audiences, “Samson” was substituted, though in the film the character is still referred to as Maciste. Samson (Gordon Scott) appears in 13th century China, where the Mongols have taken over the royal court. The young Chinese prince Tai Sung is emperor in name only and his sister, Lei-ling (Yoko Tani, The Savage Innocents), is banished to a Buddhist convent. The power behind the throne is Garak (Leonardo Severini), the sadistic Great Khan of the Mongols. Garak hatches a plan to have Tai Sung killed during a tiger hunt while Mongol soldiers disguised as rebels attack the Buddhist convent and kill the princess. But Samson appears out of nowhere (his explanation: “I come from the west”) to save the prince from a ferocious tiger, and Lei-ling escapes the convent massacre, finding refuge with the rebels.
Once Samson is on the scene, the film focuses on his exploits and superhuman strength. His battle with the tiger is the first of the miracles in the title. Though Scott writhes on the ground with a real, drugged tiger, close-ups of him slugging a stuffed tiger wouldn’t fool a ten-year-old. His pulling a thick tree up by its roots later on is more convincing. The highlight is a sequence in which Samson grabs a racing chariot from the rear and uses his brute strength to slow the team of horses before a blade beneath the chariot can decapitate five freedom fighters. If you look closely, it appears that Scott is performing this dangerous stunt himself.
Director Riccardo Freda (Catliki, the Immortal Monster) is ambitious in his use of extras and staging of exciting action sequences. Though the story is simplistic, it offers plenty of energy, a brisk pace (especially in the American International Pictures version), a stereotypical movie villain, a sexy mistress (Helene Chanel), and scenes of torture, including a sadistically imaginative method of conducting numerous beheadings at one time.
The mix of Asian and European actors as Chinese and Mongols adds a bizarre look to the proceedings, but if the film isn’t taken too seriously, it pays off in some well-staged big moments, including an especially exciting finale when Samson, chained in a coffin-sized crawlspace carved out of a subterranean wall, attempts to extricate himself.
Scott, who played Tarzan in a series of films between 1955 and 1960, shows off his physique by wearing a variation on his Tarzan loincloth through the entire firm, yet no one on screen ever seems to notice his choice of undress, even in a busy marketplace. In any case, Scott plays his character straight—a strongman with a mission to fight against tyrants. The theme of the film is summarized in Samson’s statement, “Justice doesn’t recognize any boundaries or any difference of race or tongue.” He departs as suddenly as he appears and, in an exit speech that echoes the Lone Ranger, he says as he walks off into the distance, “Destiny brought me here and now I must go wherever there is a fight between right and wrong,”
In order to fit Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World on a double bill, American International cut 22 minutes from the Italian version, eliminating backstories for the characters in favor of non-stop action. Both the international and the American cuts are included on this Blu-ray release.
Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World was shot by director of photography Riccardo Pallottini on 35 mm Eastman color film using Supercinescope process (advertised as Colorscope in the USA), finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The picture quality on the Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is sharp, with details nicely-delineated, such as patterns in costumes, interior decor, the manes of charging horses, rock formations, and trees and bushes. Complexions are a mixed bag. Scott has a healthy tan, as if he’s just come from a California beach. Yoko Tani and Helene Chanel wear modern-style make-up, and Leonardo Severini (Garak) is made up to resemble Fu Manchu. The chariot scene is beautifully staged and filmed. Special effects vary from excellent (earthquake chaos) to so-so (Samson’s fight with the tiger).
The soundtrack is including in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. The dubbing is less than perfect, and many of the voice actors are stiff and fail to convey appropriate feeling in many scenes. This makes for sometimes comical line readings. Two come to mind: “I will follow you and be your protective shadow” and “It won’t do you no good.” Considerable excitement is created by charging horses, a racing chariot, rocks bombarding Mongols on horseback, and a climactic earthquake complete with collapsing structures. A narrator provides establishing information. The original score by Carlo Innocenzi was replaced in the US release by Les Baxter’s music.
The Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics features reversible artwork and a slipcover. Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
- The 76-minute AIP US Cut of the Film
- The Revolt of the Slaves Trailer (2:10)
- Arabian Adventure Trailer (2:54)
- Jack the Giant Killer Trailer (3:20)
- The Magic Sword Trailer (2:42)
- Sinbad of the Seven Seas Trailer (1:10)
- Kino Cult Promo (1:08)
Tim Lucas’ commentary can be heard only on the American International cut. The film was made in July and August of 1961 and re-edited later in the year for the US release. American International Pictures did its best, after Hercules, to corner the sword-and-sandals market. In the original film, the first reel sets the location and provides backstory. AIP felt that young people, to whom the film was geared, wouldn’t sit still for this and brought the hero out quickly, cutting footage. The director, Riccardo Freda, liked to work wild animals into his films. The tiger was borrowed from a three-ring circus and was drugged for the scenes in which Gordon Scott wrestles with it. A stuffed tiger was used for close-ups. Scott was willing to do whatever the director wanted and can be seen doing his own stunts. The title was chosen mostly for marketing, with AIP selling the film based on action highlights and a lurid poster. However, Lucas methodically enumerates each of the seven miracles as they occur in the film. He discusses similarities and “points of resonance” between Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World and an earlier film by Riccardo Freda, Revenge of the Black Eagle. Career overviews are provided for Gordon Scott and other key cast members. Scott was 6’3” tall, weighed 213 pounds, and had 19” biceps. Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World premiered in the US in Abilene, Texas in 1962 and first appeared on TV in April of 1970. It was in theatrical release until 1977.
Though no cinematic classic, Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World is highly entertaining. If you can get past Scott fighting a drugged tiger and a stuffed model in close-ups, sub-standard dubbing, and predictable plot developments, the film delivers in excitement and action.
- Dennis Seuling