Knives of the Avenger
This film has Mario Bava's coloring (thick and rich, with a lot of lingering shots of sunsets, sun on rolling waves, puddles reflecting lights, and the blue and red lighting like Bava's monster movies) but the tale itself is a mix-up of several other movies, notably Shane and Kirk Douglas' The Vikings (with a long bar scene that looks like it's from Chuck Heston's Agony and the Ecstasy).
Bava's film centers on the redemption of a viking raider (Cameron Mitchell as Helmut) who takes on the job of watching over the apparently abandoned wife (Elissa Pichelli) and child of a rival who hates him, and though the wife keeps repeating that she wants him to exit her woodland hut by the sea (she expects her vanished husband to return), he comes in handy when other raiders show up and have to be dispatched (which he does by deftly thrown knives, his particular skill and the title of the film). Complications ensue as the local bad chieftain wants the wife for his own, and there's a messy paternity for the child. The small army thrown against Helmut are no match for his combat skills for he can throw up to 3 knives simultaneously, which is quite handy as he must frequently fight off multiple attackers.
Substitute these Italian vikings (the movie was filmed at Titanus Studios, Rome) for cowboys and the movie could be a decent Western movie pastiche, which it probably is anyway despite the cast wearing long-horned helmets and furry clothing. The rapid knive-throwing and ducking behind barrels and bar-tops can stand in as a medieval gun-fight in a saloon, and the rotten bad-guy is as crooked and scheming as any lawless cinematic dude in a black hat.
Bava shot Knives of the Avenger in 6 days, and this shows up onscreen, but this film holds together really well for a 6-day movie, a minor-accomplishment coupled with Bava's ace directing chores. The English-language dubbing is as crude and unexacting as it was and many other 1960s Italian epics.
There are static shots but a great deal of the time Bava shows off his inventive camera work to compensate for the familiarity and low-budgetness of the rest of the movie.
Original page June 2015
Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Movemaking
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