Peplum Rides Again

TREASPSTR

Hey out there, all my wonderful readers in Internet Land!  It’s time to look at—another Peplum Movie!  Hip, Hip, I say!  (Considering what a peplum is, hips are certainly apt).

Today’s Peplish entry is a 1965 opus titled:  Treasure of the Petrified Forest.  Which sounds like a fan-made Humphrey Bogart compilation movie-mash showing at the bi-annual Humphrey Bogart Ultimate Impersonation Rally (held in this small town no one’s ever heard of, teetering on the San Andreas Fault, but that’s another story…)—except it’s not.  It’s Peplum, all right—a genre set in the Ancient World, featuring big, muscled guys wearing teeny-weensy skirts and not much else, who fight monsters, armies, or each other, while scantily clad ladies cheer them on from the bleachers.  The films are cheaply made, badly acted, dumbly written, preposterously plotted, and loads of fun.  Hip, Hip!

HERC

However, this particular Peppy film is a bit different.  Its mythology is not the usual Greco-Roman or Biblical pastiche, with guys named Hercules, Samson, and Ulysses (coincidentally the title of a peplum film I looked at here).  Instead, it’s Norse folklore, with heavy borrowings from Wagner.  The guys here are named Sigmund, Wotan, and Hunding, and the gals Siglinde and Brunhilde; plus a character IMDB identifies as a “Bearded Nibelung.”  One lady is given the anomalous moniker of Erica, which doesn’t sound Wagnerian-Norse at all, but like the name of someone I knew waaay back in high school, who styled her hair in a 1960s Bombshell and headed the Mean Girls Club, but being that this movie’s Erica does top her scalp with a Bombshell and is also a Mean Girl—well, maybe it’s apt, after all.

Hippie, Hippie…

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BMBSHL

One other thing is that no one wears a peplum in this movie.  Probably because it takes place not in the usual sunny Club Pep resort but in cold Northern European forests (though I think it was filmed in Spain…), but it’s still Peplum, and, anyway, I like it.

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The plot isn’t much.  Sigmund and Hunding lead two rival tribes battling each other over which gets the Nibelung Treasure in the Valley of Petrification in the Black Forest.  Or something (locations keep changing…).  Meanwhile, Siglinde and Erica are both in love with Sigmund, but Sigmund prefers Siglinde, so a snit-riven Erica goes into Mean-Girl mode and allies herself with Hunding.  Loitering on the sidelines are Wotan, dressed like Santa Claus on his way to a Walpurgis Night party, and Brunhilde and her Valkyrie band, riding in and out of scenes while Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” plays on the soundtrack.  It doesn’t make much sense why they do this, but Sense is not why we watch Peplum.

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The film’s story is typically Peplumish in that the lines between Good and Bad are clearly drawn.  The heroes are noble and dull, the villains are hissably entertaining, and the performances follow suit, being either nonexistent or superbly over the top.  The actor—I use that word advisedly—playing Sigmund emotes by raising his head and heaving his chest, a look of constipated pain on his face.  Whereas the actress playing Oddrun, a blind seeress, gives it her all—shrieking, moaning, backbending till her head hits her heels, then collapsing like a sack of wet laundry.  I even applauded her.  A for Effort, and well deserved.

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As with everything in Peplumville, the film has that endearing Amateur-Night quality, like a bunch of high-schoolers (Erica no doubt one of them) collecting in a barn to put on a show.  So we have a few dozen horsebacked extras aimlessly galloping to and fro in front of the camera, switching between forest and desert landscapes, all depending, I suppose, on where that day’s filming was taking place.  In the battle scenes the actors move as if afraid of stepping out of their marks (and wasn’t anyone taught how to hold a shield?), while the plot ambles between Sigmund winning a battle, then Hunding winning a battle, and no one getting any nearer to the Nibelung Treasure or the Petrified Valley or the Black Forest and where were we going again?

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And there are those wonderful lines!  In their wonderful translations!  “Don’t come with me when I’m fighting!” barks Sigmund (rather ungraciously) to his fiancée.  “I must interrogate the fire of our destiny,” cries Oddrun the seeress, as she broods over a pot on the stove.  (I’m offering this line to any politicians out there as how to respond to a question on the Budget at their next press conference.)  And my favorite, “The Vikings are coming!”  Which might serve for a cool movie title all its own.

The best thing about this film, however, is Peplum-stalwart Gordon Mitchell as Hunding.  A famous bodybuilder (Arnold Schwarznegger, Lou Ferrigno, and Mickey Hargitay attended his funeral), who once performed in Mae West’s muscled-hunk revues, Mitchell made around 200 movies, mostly in the Peplum genre, with titles like Atlas Against the Cyclops, Vulcan, Son of Jupiter, Kerim, Son of the Sheik, Brennus, Enemy of Rome, and Let’s Go and Kill Sartana (in which he’s billed as “Greg The Crazy Person”).  I’d never seen this fellow before in a film, but I assure you, I’m now making a list.

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Seriously, though, Mitchell’s great as Hunding.  Standing about seven and a half feet tall, with shoulders as broad as the Parthenon, Mitchell grins with the savage glee of Charlton Heston, baring his teeth right up to the gums.  And wotta face!  He’s got an amazing set of cheekbones—they bulge as if plums were planted under his skin—a neck as thick as a tree, and eyes that burn like lasers.  Mitchell throws himself (almost literally) into his performance, with a pep and brio that slashes right through the screen.  He’s clearly having a ball.  “Nothing’s difficult for me!”, his character shouts at one point, and you sense that Mitchell himself approached acting, work, even life itself, with that same kind of zest.  If this film has a real treasure, he’s it.

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You can watch (and I know you want to!) Treasure of the Petrified Forest (AKA The Stone Forest) on YouTube here (on Peplum TV) in a version with English and German dubbing; or a slightly longer version here, an English dub combined with a Spanish one, the scenes veering between (but no fear, what’s going on is always clear).  Unfortunately, the prints look as if they were smeared with a wet sponge before the paint dried; and the screen ratios also look off, with the frame lopped at the edges.  But the film is enjoyable enough that such detriments can be overlooked.  As one YT commenter wrote on the Peplum TV post, “you’re doing God’s work.”  Amen, I say.  Let’s all give thanks for Peplum!

Hip Hip and Happy Thanksgiving.

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Bonus Clip:  Gordon Mitchell as Hunding leads his merry men against some kind of rotating weapon device somewhere in the Valley of Petrification down in the Black Forest in this Italian-dubbed clip from Treasure of the Petrified Forest.  Avanti!  Presto!


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2 Comments

  1. Brian Schuck

     /  November 22, 2022

    Nice find, Norse peplum with Gordon Mitchell! Mitchell has a face you don’t soon forget, perfect for villain roles, but in his long career he played heroes about as often (or maybe more often). Not that long ago I watched The Giant of Metropolis, which is set in Atlantis and has Mitchell in a hero role going up against an Atlantean super-scientist; before that Brennus: Enemy of Rome (a nice villain role). The IMDb trivia page for Giant of Metropolis amusingly relates that instead of learning any lines (he was just going to be dubbed anyway), he recited bawdy limericks during filming.
    That clip with the weaponized merry-go-round is wild, kind of like an amusement ride from hell. “You must be this tall in order to invade the Black Forest.” 🙂

    Reply
    • I like your description of the “weaponized merry-go-round” – perfect! I also wonder if viewers are able to lip-read Gordon Mitchell’s lips in Giant of Metropolis, to ‘read’ what limericks he’s reciting! I really must see more of his films; he’s terrific in Treasure of the Petrified Forest and his movies sound like fun. The Wikipedia Peplum page (which is called Sword and Sandal films) lists a HUGE number of peplums, most seeming to have been made in the early 1960s. It was such a prolific genre, yet, like the western, no one seems to make many of these movies anymore. Thanks, as always, for commenting!

      Reply

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