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June 22, 2010

The Revenge of the Crusader

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Genoveffa di Brabante
Jose Luis Monter - 1964
Mya Communications Region 0 DVD

The Revenge of the Crusader is not a great film, nor is it a very good film. But it does function as satisfying a peculiar nostalgia I have for the kinds of films that usually showed up on the bottom half of double features in in early 1960s. Not that I actually saw many of these films, but I loved the lurid posters that always promised much more than would actually be delivered. Most of these movies were made in Italy, and featured women more voluptuous and unmistakably sexual than any of the stars of Hollywood, the stuff of early adolescent dreams.

Revenge of the Crusader was filmed in Spain with Spanish and Italian actors, with a primarily Italian crew. The authorship is a bit murky with the opening credits stating the film was "realized" by Riccardo Freda, but directed by Jose Luis Monter. Some sources claim that Monter took credit either for completing the film, or as a requirement for financial and quota purposes. What is known is that Monter also worked as the Assistant Director on Freda's version of Romeo and Juliet. This second collaboration uses some Shakespearean elements in this variation of a classic story.

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The film is vague on such things as history and geography, as well as motivation for many of the key characters. Count Sigfrid saves a man from a gang of bandits, only to get wounded for his trouble. The saved man is a rival royal, the Duke of Brabante, although their grudge is not explained. In spite of being sworn enemies, Sigfrid is nursed back to heath by the duke's daughter, called Jennifer according to the less than accurate subtitles. Sigfrid and Jennifer get married, and go to Sigfrid's castle. Much to the dismay of his right hand man, Golo, Sigfrid has given up pillaging and assorted banditry to go straight. Wedded bliss in interrupted when Sigfrid is ordered to join the Crusades, leaving his castle and servants under the control of Golo. And Golo does indeed go low, attempting to force himself on Jennifer, finally imprisoning her under false charges of infidelity.

Not listed in the IMDb credits is that some of the cinematography was done by Stelvio Massi, as well as by Julio Ortas, the cinematographer to Freda's Romeo and Juliet. There are a handful of moments that provide Revenge of the Crusader with more in common with some of the Italian genre films of the time. The entrance of Maria Jose Alfonso, with a knife in her hand, is the type of image seen in many horror films. Later, Golo takes Jennifer's servant, Berta, down to the dungeon to be whipped. One of Sigrid's loyal men is killed with an ax by Golo, his face covered in blood. In their final duel, Golo tries to attack Sigfrid with a giant crossbow and a well placed bucket of flaming oil. For those with keener interest in Italian cinema of a certain era, there is enough to remind one that Freda was one of the creators of the Italian horror film, and that some of the peplums, the sword and sandal movies, would contain elements of horror films as well.

An earlier version of the story, also titled Genoveffa di Brabante, was filmed in 1947. The couple of posters alone suggest that even then, the filmmakers were most interested in the most exploitable aspects, with one poster depicting a scene of bloody torture. A 1951 version, starring Rosanno Brazi, titled Mistress of Treves, appears to have had greater interest in the more romantic side of the story. For unknown reasons, this 1964 version never was released in the United States theatrically. What The Revenge of the Crusaders offers is some undemanding pleasure of watching a film made at a time when little films could be made with sword fighting characters dressed in the costumes of a long ago era, all without bombast or pretension.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 22, 2010 12:46 AM