Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Atlas (1961)

Roger Corman was never shy about chasing a buck, and the success of Hercules in 1958 and its sequel in 1959 led pretty quickly to his decision to try a sword and sandal film of his own. The result was Atlas, which unlike most such movies was actually filmed in Greece, where it was set. Well, except for the footage they shot in California.

The movie opens with an evil tyrant besieging a town. He lacks the men to storm the place, but he can eventually starve them out. The defenders know this, and suggest single combat to resolve the issue. Because you can trust evil tyrants to stick to deals like that. He agrees, subject to getting 10 days to find a champion. Then he, his advisor and his concubine Candia head to the Olympic Games, where the tyrant decides his representative will be the winner of the wrestling: Atlas.

Now I'm not sure about the wisdom of bringing a wrestler to a swordfight, but the tryant is determined to get Atlas to fight for him. He puts to use his considerable if rather oily charm, and the flirtatious attentions of Candia (though he makes it clear to her that she is not to get too close to Atlas). Atlas proves something of a philosopher in temperament, and - when assured that his prospective employer has gone to war in a just case (which is all lies of course) - agrees to accompany the tyrant as part of his lifetime study of 'creation and destruction'.

Since this movie is titled Atlas, not "The Guy Atlas Fights", I'm sure you can guess who wins the duel. Although Atlas doesn't actually kill his opponent in what is supposed to be a fight to the death, the besieged town surrenders. Of course, the tyrant's true nature quickly becomes apparent once his victory is won. Atlas soon decides he will have no further dealings with the man. Perhaps more importantly, Candia's interest in Atlas is far more real than feigned, while even the tyrant's advisor starts turning against him as his actions get ever more extreme.

The cheapness of the production sometimes shows through, but Atlas is largely redeemed by Frank Wolff's fine turn as the tyrant, and the sometimes clever banter of the script. Certainly not the worst sword and sandal film I've seen.

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