It’s the Polish versus the Tartars! Obviously, I had no idea who to root for before the movie started. The Polish are best known for their delicious sausage, but the Tartars have that secret sauce that makes fish tolerable!
A toss up in the culinary department to be sure, so I would have wait and actually watch the movie, though that wasn’t much help since the good guy was a simpering blonde Polish dude played by Mel Ferrer named Andre while the barbarians (specifically identified as the Kyrgyz) are ruled by an evil queen who somehow is so unpleasant she makes Andre’s scuzzy traitor brother Sergei seem not so bad.
Sergei is easily the greatest thing in the movie. He’s the power hungry dark haired bad Polish brother who wants to marry the sexy blonde Mascia because her father is an important dude in the Polish leadership.
He also wants nothing more than to get named as the commander of the Polish army. But this is olden times! That means it’s not all about how high your score on some civil service exam is or whether your father-in-law is head of the country club that gets you that super sweet gig as General Bad Ass! It’s settled by a Polish version of trial by combat!
This combat is sort of a Middle Ages Triathlon. A bunch of hopefuls vie in three events. First up is the slow motion fights with monstrously sized swords. That’s followed by the crowd-pleasing flaming mace competition. And the teeth rattling conclusion sees the final two combatants swing big metal shields at each other’s heads! Surely, you would end up with the toughest guy after that, even if you do permanently maim every other capable high level officer in your army in the process!
Andre of course wins, much to the chagrin of Sergei. Andre being the pansified brother that he is, graciously offers to let Sergei be the commander anyway, but there’s no time to figure all that out because Mascia has gone and got herself kidnapped by the Kyrgyz!
Besides being pissed that they just lost the war to the Poles, the Kyrgyz also have their furry hats in a tizzy because Sergei had earlier captured their queen and treated her like the common Mongol trash she most definitely was!
Sergei demands to be sent to the frontier to get Mascia back and is allowed to do so, but is instructed not to cause a whole bunch of trouble by massacring a bunch of Kyrgyz. Really? A guy who looked like he was ready to kill his saintly brother when he lost the commander competition is expected to show some restraint against a bunch of barbarians who stole his woman? The dudes he spears and the village he burns on his way? The moronic king who sent Sergei definitely owns all that!
After being told Mascia is dead by the barbarian queen, Sergei battles to the death with the queen’s rival which he wins because the queen gave him a poisoned dagger.
When he finds out later the dagger was poisoned, Sergei becomes outraged in one of the film’s far too few laughable and entertaining moments as he whines that he may killed some people on the way there and burned a village, but now she has turned him into a murderer!
It was almost as good a speech as when he reacted to the queen telling him to kill his brother by shouting that he may be willing to invade his own country, betray his king, and enslave his people, but that he wasn’t going to kill his own brother! Good God woman, do you take him for some sort of amoral psychopath?
Sergei turns traitor as soon as he hears that Andre has been chosen to be commander of the army. He agrees to team up with the Queen to invade Krakow and take what he believes is his by force. Andre meanwhile shows that his blondeness runs straight to the bone as he volunteers to go and talk to Sergei and see if he’ll come back home peacefully.
The much too predictable capture and escape plotline promptly ensues and results in both brothers leading their respective armies against one another to conclude things.
More often dull than not, the film is marked by long stretches where the leadership of both groups are just standing around talking. The beginning of the movie telegraphs this with an unnecessarily lengthy scene of people presenting themselves in front of the king immediately causing the audience’s interest to wander. Just to make sure the point isn’t lost on us that this is a talk-filled Italian costume snoozer, there is a pointless dancing scene as well.
If you can make it to the end of things, you are at least rewarded with a decent battle between both armies including towers being burned and toppled. Likewise, the final sword fight between the brothers is nicely played inside the burning Kyrgyz palace. Still, the largely uninspired dramatization of an obscure conflict featuring a doormat for a hero is as much a chore to sit through as the Polish vs. Barbarian storyline would lead you to believe it was.
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