I Saw A Film!
The story is that this old Russian film featuring a compelling legend of a bard in Novgorod changing the fortunes of the poor through his adventures with magic and whimsy, was readapted in the states by none other than Roger Corman and a young Francis Ford Coppola. They reworked the film, which originally was based on a Rimsky-Korsakov opera, to remove the “Russian-y” features and changed Sadko to Simbad. The old film, which was decidedly literate and lavish was transformed into a kind of campy mess for American audiences.
Fairly, this film is loaded with ambitious visuals. The costumes, the landscape, and the magical effects are all beautifully produced through super imposition or puppetry. The colors are lavish and quite moving. The acting however is of the old stage style. Everything is too big and often has to be for distance or wide shots. It’s hard to know exactly what sorts of verbal approaches were used as Corman over-dubbed a kind of bombastic shouting style of voice acting.
Sadko (Sinbad) has to catch a golden-finned fish to keep his head and win a bet that will redistribute the miserly merchants wealth. A common enough old tale, from Jesus to Robin Hood to American Depression Era outlaws (nothing like a modern capitalism in which we prefer to suggest we have personal responsibility for our poverty) but one that never seems to fade from our collective imagination–still it’s hard to imagine the confidence our protagonist boasts as he gets actual help from a goddess (like a Greek mythology) to produce the golden fish. In another mission, seeking a bird, or a phoenix of happiness as it’s sometimes referred, he ends up in “India” and playing against a feudal lord in a game of chess. Chess is hard to represent as an exciting activity, but the overwrought and comical acting carries it as our hero manages to inexplicably win the game. The bird however, is a sourpuss, actually a lovely woman in an imaginative winged costume she attempts to lull the adventurers to sleep. They realize she’s not the bird of happiness, but take her in a bag anyway. Sadko also visits an undersea kingdom and wins the hand of the beautiful daughter of ‘Neptune’ I presume, in part by causing the king and queen to quarrel in Stiller-Meara style. This is a favorite bit, as the visuals are really cleverly produced in low-fi.
Ultimately the sappy realization of happiness being inside us, and the best place of all, like Dorothy’s realization from the Wizard of Oz, is home. There’s plenty of swordplay and Errol Flynn-like rushing about and kicking and punching. The fashions are unique, and while the story is childlike it’s still a lot of fun to watch this old bastardized product.
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