Tuesday, June 12, 2018


American actor Tony Russel (It’s usually spelled with one “L”—his real surname, which he used in his early films in the US before his European sojourn, was Russo) had a good run as a lead in European action and adventure films, starring in 12 films there in the 1963-1967 period (and another one in Japan). He returned to the US in the late 60’s and worked extensively in both television and films in supporting roles (I remember seeing him in the early 70’s in THE HARD RIDE with Robert Fuller, and recognizing him from his Italian films which I’d seen at 2 a.m. on UHF stations—I later saw him at the drive-in a few years later in the excellent SOUL HUSTLER, aka THE DAY THE LORD GOT BUSTED, starring Fabian). He was handsome (see B&W pic), athletic, charismatic, and a good actor overall, so it’s a treat to enjoy any of the films from his European starring period (I’ve seen 6 or 7 of them), and KNIGHTS OF TERROR is a solid entry both as a film and as a starring vehicle for Russel.

In this dubbed Italian costumed adventure, set some time around 1600 in the duchy of “Bled,” a mysterious band of red-clad, red-masked marauders attack and pillage and burn at night, terrorizing the locals. People who speak up seem to be later singled out and killed. The well-meaning but over-burdened Duke of the area, an older man with an adult daughter, does not seem up to defending the area and his people, and he finds himself tempted, against his better judgement, to enlist the services of a sleazy soldier of fortune who roams the area, Captain Mirko. Mirko has had his eye on the Duke’s daughter, Cristina (played by Scilla Gabel, well-known and well-loved from the Stewart Granger Euro-spy film TARGET FOR KILLING, made three years after this), and he plans to work getting Cristina into any “deal” to help defend the Duchy.

About 20 minutes into the film, a few brave outsiders, also clad in Red, begin to stand up to Mirko and to attack him and his men. Their leader initially poses as a priest, and while hiding in a church, hears Cristina’s confession….and later, he takes off the clerical garb and introduces himself, and that character, the film’s hero, is played by Tony Russel. As Cristina hates Mirko, and Mirko is out to get Russel (though not knowing exactly who he is), Russel becomes close to Cristina. So you’ve got action, intrigue, AND romance going on here.

Whoever did the location scouting and production design for this film did a superb job, as the woods and fields, green and/or brown and ancient-looking and full of old historic structures which are integrated into the action, put the viewer into a fully-realized world where you can lose yourself. One of the few people to have commented on this film (presently, there are NO reviews on the IMDB!) complained that it has too many shots of galloping horses and too many swordfights, but they are well-spaced between OTHER scenes that are dialogue-driven, and can you REALLY have too many swordfights when they are well-done as these are? I think not. Director Mario Costa has already been praised here at BTC in my review of GORDON, THE BLACK PIRATE (with Ricardo Montalban and Vincent Price) a while back, and he’s a master of action and adventure here too—with good pacing in addition to shots and angles that put the viewer into the action, KNIGHTS OF TERROR makes a strong impression for the fan of European historical adventures. My DVD-R copy (clearly taken from an old VHS tape with Dutch subtitles, but somewhat widescreen) is a bit dark, especially in the scenes at night where the Knights of Terror are riding with lit torches and setting villages and shacks aflame, but we’re unlikely to see Criterion or Kino-Lorber putting this out anytime soon.

I need to get a good quality copy of director Mario Costa’s Gordon Scott western BUFFALO BILL, HERO OF THE FAR WEST. I had it many years ago on VHS from a pan-and-scan television print. With Costa doing so well with the pirate and the swashbuckler genres, I’d love to see him handle a western (I DID see it way back when, and it struck me as somewhat odd and anachronistic, but I’ve loosened up since them and can go with the flow more), and he seemed to like working with Gordon Scott, as Costa and Scott made THREE films together. You can expect to read more reviews of Gordon Scott’s films here in the future.

While I’m not an Amazon Prime member (and don’t plan to become one), I am always surprised to see some of the odd European genre films which find their way onto Prime. I guess Amazon wants to amass as many films as possible on the service to claim they’ve got 50,000 films or whatever, and as with the days of UHF television or the early days of VHS, these films get exposure because content providers desperately need product, a LOT of product. The films they use as filler (and I’m sure that’s how they view them, then and now) are precious to someone like me—I’ll take them however I can get them! If they’ve got Lex Barker’s obscure Spanish western WHO KILLED JOHNNY R., then maybe this will eventually surface there….

Tony Russel passed away in 2017, so watch KNIGHTS OF TERROR in tribute to him. He may be best known in the US for the two 1966 Italian sci-fi films he starred in, WAR OF THE PLANETS and WILD WILD PLANET, which were released here in 1967 by MGM and played widely, and then became staples on television. Those ARE in print and available from the Warner Archive in beautiful widescreen editions. Both were directed by the legendary Antonio Margheriti, aka Anthony M. Dawson. Check them out. If any BTC readers are affluent enough to own a large-screen TV, these Warner Archive releases should look amazing—invite me over to see them at YOUR house after you get them, please.

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