Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Edgar G. Ulmer Week: Hannibal (1959)

One thing is very clearly about the career of Edgar G. Ulmer: he could direct everything - and it turned out really good if it had that extra edge in the story. I can easily see why he directed Hannibal, but more to that later. This wasn't the first time Ulmer worked on a bigger budgeted costume-extravaganza. Pirates of Capri, also shot in Italy 1949, for example. When Hannibal came it was at the end of the trend in Hollywood and the only one who really cared about making similar movies was the Italians - but with smaller budgets: the so-called Peplums. Hannibal probably had a modest budget, maybe around one million dollar and Ulmer did everything to put those money on the screen.

Hannibal (Victor Mature) leads his army of the Alps and after adventures and lots of deaths the arrive in Italy. One day he and his men catches a young woman and her best friend, Sylvia (Rita Gam) and Quintilius (Terence Hill, under his real name of Mario Girotti). But Hannibal is a wise man and lets them see his powerful elephant-army and sets them free. But Sylvia falls in love with him and they keep contact, even if he's preparing to invade the city. Her uncle - and the father of Quintilius - Fabius Maximus (the great Gabriele Ferzetti) soon finds out what she's done and won't understand that her plan is to make Hannibal and the Romans come to a friendly solution. The war-starved Romans don't give a fuck about peace-talk and attacks... and tastes the first rage of Hannibal's killer elephants!

The budget might be lower than usual, but Hannibal is still one of the best historical epics from this time. It delivers the best on all fronts: melodrama, action, dialogue and cool actors. Not only does this movie have Terence Hill, Bud Spencer is in there somewhere also! What makes this movie so strong is first of the down-to-earth gritty style of Edgar G. Ulmer. Much of this can of course be explained by the low budget, but it has a very cynical view on humanity and it's far more violent and disturbing in others in the same genre. I've seen bloodier movies, but it's still pretty graphic (arrow in the mouth, cut of arm, soldiers being crushed by elephants, falling down from mountains, eaten by wolves etc) and the nasty screams mixed into the soundtrack during the battle scenes makes everything so much brutal. If you don't like nasty horse-falls maybe you should stay away from this flick, because it's horses who falls because they're trained to do but because of wires!

The second detail that makes this movie so good is the charters. Victor Mature, a quite stiff and not exactly a colourful actor, makes a perfect Hannibal. He's like a grizzled old fart, too bitter to stop himself from fighting - even if he hates what he's doing. He's not that far away from Tom Neal's character in Detour - a talented man who wants to do good, but fuck things up whether he like it or not. Most of the times when young women falls in love with older men in movies like this I laugh, but Sylvia's love for Hannibal is well-written and I can buy her fascination - a father figure. She even calls Quintilius, a man in her age, a "child" several times. She wants a father, nothing else.

Hannibal has it's fair share of faults of mistakes, everything because of the low budget and probably a quite fast shooting schedule for this form of epic project. But if you can look beyond shaky sets, stuntmen visibly holding spears meant to penetrating them, some less-than-impressive extras in the background and some really lousy night-for-day shots you'll find a damn impressive and pitch-black epic, more edgy and interesting than all others in the genre. The ending is super-black, very downbeat in that wonderful Ulmer-way and in a way very ironic. He builds up a story that ends in a way that even I couldn't expect (and forgotten after watching it several times before).

Hannibal is out on an OK-looking DVD from VCI, the best it probably have looked since it was out in cinemas - but still would need a new released with a restored print as a source.


Anonymous said...

Victor Mature could be good when given the opportunity I think.

Especially in My Darling Clementine (1946).....interesting review...sounds like a very cool epic.

Ninja Dixon said...

I like him more and more, but I've seen very few movies with him also. And it's a very good mini-epic. Give it a try!

Anonymous said...

Off topic a little bit. Seeing Terence Hill and Bud Spencer in Supercops on a swedish tv channel last week made me realize again how much i love those movies. And i always will. I checked with an old friend if he watched it. Yep he even taped the event even though he have the bloody film on dvd. That is what i call a fan.

Ninja Dixon said...

I was raised on their movies. Still love 'em!

Anonymous said...

Ninja: That second post is another anon...not me..hahhahahahhah....maybe I should use an alias..?

Ninja Dixon said...

Are you sure? ;) You write in exactly the same way! Maybe I've been talking to two persons all the time here? :D

Anonymous said...

Ninja: seems that way at you two stalkers..hahahhahah