To the greatest Raiders of the Lost Ark/James Bond knockoff ever produced:
In a world of world of connectivity, I had learned about you initially by way of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. Zombie 2 led to me exploring more Fulci films which lead to his film, The Black Cat, staring David Warbeck. Warbeck’s charismatic on-screen presence inspired to me to explore the films that he had done with Antonio Margheriti, which finally led me to his 1984 film, Sopravvissuti della città morta, also known as Ark of the Sun God.
At a surface level, you appeared to be, in a typical genre-filone fashion, a mixture of both the James Bond films and Indiana Jones films that were popular. David Warbeck, who was reported to be next in line after Roger Moore to portray Bond, stars as a cat burglar named Rick Spear, hired to retrieve the scepter of Gilgamesh. In the process, Spear outwits a Turkish cult, done in spectacular car chases realized with models and miniature cars that wouldn’t fool anyone.
Yet, in contrast to other Italian action vehicles of the era, you lacked cynicism. You weren’t a gory film, or morbid, or even excessive. Instead, you were fun and lighthearted, with your lead actor Warbeck seemingly always winking at the camera.
Most action/adventure films fall into the same love story cliché, that the male hero begins the journey single, but at the end of his adventure (stopping the terrorists, retrieving the artifact, repelling the alien invasion, saving the local recreation centre via dance contests, etc), he also wins over the girl. In other words, the journey was just a metaphor to get the woman (and save the day, of course).
In a brazen display of genre disruption, you began your narrative with Spear already in a relationship with another woman, Carol (played by Susie Sudlow in her only credited film appearance). He doesn’t get into a fight with her, and they never break up; they stay a happy couple through the entire film. Perhaps this is borrowing a bit from Raiders of the Lost Ark which also challenged the baroque conventions of male-female interaction. (Indiana Jones ties Marion back up and seeks out the Ark of the Covenant rather than freeing her.) Spear flirts with Carol, calling her various pet names, buying her a necklace, and demonstrates many instances of overt public display of affection. A healthy, happy couple portrayed positively in an action film, let alone an Italian action film, known for their low budgets and embracement of grindhouse aesthetics?
This observation didn’t elude me at the time of watching you back in the late 2000s. I was enrolled in the Master’s program at the University of Washington, searching for a thesis topic. Seeing all of the things you had accomplished in your narrative (your positive portrayal of relationships being one of them), I had decided to focus my academia at the time on the films of Margheriti. I did my first ever academic presentation at the SW PCA/ACA conference in 2009 on you. I’ve kept the PowerPoint slides to this day.
Revisiting you, I was afraid that the charms you had held over me early in my academic career would’ve waned. That I would see the various flaws in you that are inherent in low-budget, Italian populist cinema. But, I didn’t. The charm was still there. Warbeck was still winking at the camera, his adventure silly but exciting, and your message that a positive, healthy relationship can be portrayed in an action/adventure film successfully.
While other scholars and aficionados of Italian cult cinema may still view you as a James Bond/Indiana Jones-all'italiana, I think you’ve successfully shown that you’re much more than that.
Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, peplum films, and H. P. Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.