I didn’t need any of the gypsy queen’s gift of prophecy to know that when her clan swiped a bunch of horses that belonged to the evil della Rocca family that there would be a level of hell to pay that not even the evil eye of the bosomy she-tiger gypsy hussy who may or may not be a traitor could counter!
That these della Rocca roaches were also the same family that cold-bloodedly wiped out the ruling Altavila family fifteen years before and that the dude who actually did the horse thieving was Fabrizio, the only surviving member of the Altavilla family, but who doesn’t know his true identity, only served to amp up the tension at the castle were so many people suffered from unrequited love when they weren’t out relieving that tension by burning down gypsy encampments!
I guess I was supposed to be sympathetic to the gypsies and Fabrizio. After all, they weren’t out murdering families, including little kids, but they did stupidly stir up a hornet’s nest when they went and stole those horses.
And they didn’t help matters any when Contessa Ottavia della Rocca sent her foster kid, the delightfully slimy and power-crazed Braccio, to get the horses back and the gypsies just smart off to him and force him to fight Fabrizio for the right to take the gypsy wench back to the castle as payment for the stolen horses. I mean, come on – this dude is just trying to get his horses back! Why can’t these gypsies get jobs instead of forcibly implementing their old world communism on these nobles? After all, they’ve got their own freaking soap opera back at the castle to deal with!
The relationships up at the castle are punctuated by longing looks and knowing comments, but also a nice layer of ick, too. The middle-aged Ottavia longs to feel the brawny young embrace of Braccio, whom she raised as her son!
To his credit, Braccio isn’t grossed out so much as sees it as an opportunity to work an angle to gain power and the respect of being a noble, instead of just being some crappy bastard son of the long dead Altavila duke.
While Ottavia entertains fantasies best suited for a really skeevy porn movie, perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film, Captain Mellina, hopelessly pines away for her. It’s a bit bizarre and a testament to director Luigi Capuano (The Mystery of Thug Island) and Livio Lorenzon (the creepy cripple from The Black Archer) who plays Mellina that you feel for this guy when he spends much of the film killing and brutalizing people including a nice scene where he is about to stab a very young Braccio until Ottavia steps in and stops him.
Mellina is a bad dude, but ultimately he does all these dirty deeds to impress his true love Ottavia. She acknowledges his efforts but never returns any affection to him and the fact that he spends at least 15 years in her employ as Captain of the castle’s military force in the vain hope of getting just a whiff of Contessa cooch makes the final scene between he and Ottavia more touching than any scene in a 1960s Italian adventure movie has a right to be!
If the emphasis here seems to be not on Fabrizio and his goody goody efforts to reclaim his rightful title and to lay Ottavia’s bland daughter Lavinia, but on all the broken freaks inhabiting the castle, you would be right. And it is (along with Capuano’s generous helping of a variety of energetic action scenes) why the film succeeds a lot more than its rote “guy discovers true identity, gets revenge, regains throne and pumps the head cheerleader” story normally would allow it to.
The film of course comes to dead stop whenever Fabrizio and Lavinia utter their junior high level pledges of undying love for one another. And when the gypsies ambush a coach carrying her and take her prisoner, threatening to hang her unless Fabrizio (who had unsurprisingly gotten himself captured) is released unharmed, you are simultaneously wishing things would shift back to the castle to see what Braccio and Mellina have cooked up amongst themselves as they scheme for their respective goals and a bit put off by how they gypsies are bullying this chick.
All’s well that ends awesome though once Braccio is left friendless and virtually alone in the castle while descending into a drunken MacBeth-inspired fugue just before being confronted by Fabrizio.
More than the sum of its parts, Sword in the Shadows merits a look because the castle intrigue is for once intriguing and if it all ends in a predictable manner, at least it was entertaining getting there.
Fairly violent, Capuano’s film delivers the brawls and frenetic sword fights with enough regularity that the required gypsy dance scene, the mostly annoying comic relief provided by a pair of poncy cousins who arrive with Lavinia and the mooning couple’s dimwitted romantic moments don’t sink all the tasty melodrama from the unexpected love triangle in the castle.
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