Hearts and Armour (1983)

Country: Italy
Starring: Rick Edwards, Barbara De Rossi, Tanya Roberts, Ron Moss, Leigh McClosky, Tony Vogel, Maurizio Nichetti, Zeudi Araya
Director: Giacomo Battiato
Writer: Giacomo Battiato, Sergio Donatti
Cinematographer: Dante Spinotti
Music: Cooper and Hughes
Producers: Nicola Carraro, Franco Cristaldi
Original Title: I Paladini – storia d’armi e d’amori

Hearts and Armour is essentially a clone of John Boorman’s Excalibur. While Excalibur mined Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur for inspiration, likewise Hearts and Armour has gone back to a classic poem called Orlando furioso, written by Ludovico Ariosto in the early sixteenth century. Allegedly this film was also made into a television mini-series, and what we have here is presumably the edited down version. The only reference I can find to this is in my battered copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide 1996 (I really should update it some day — but with the internet it kinda seems superfluous). Scouring the internet, searching under the different names that this film has traveled under, I can find no positive proof or reference to the TV mini-series; so a part of me almost doubts that it was made. Possibly nobody put up the extra cash required for a longer version? But, hey I could be wrong — and it wouldn’t be the first or the last time.

Now if you’re going to attempt to watch this movie, the first thing you have to get past is the music by Hughes and Cooper — being David A. Hughes (one time member of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark — AKA: OMD) — and Martin Cooper. It is an absolutely dreadful electronic rock score that doesn’t follow the film at all. It provides no modifying or emotional effect. The music is loud — really loud — and uptempo regardless of whether a fight scene or a tender love scene is on the screen. I know many people rave about the music, but all I can say is ‘kids, don’t do drugs!’

As the film open Bradamante (Barbara De Rossi) is meeting with a sorceress in a deep dark grotto. The sorceress informs her that she will fall in love with a Moorish Prince named Ruggero. Then the sorceress’ vision, which is displayed on the cave wall like a television monitor, shows the Knight who will kill Ruggero. This knight has a metallic flame emblem on his helmet.

Bradamante runs off horrified at the visions she has just witnessed. Whether she is upset about falling in love with a Moor, or upset that she falls in love with a Moor and then he is killed, is never really explained. But whatever thoughts go on in her mind, have urged her to make a journey. To where is never really explained either. But she travels on horseback along a shallow creek bed which is surrounded on both sides by high rocky cliffs. From the rocks a band of men leap down, knocking her off her horse and into the water. These men are after a little ‘R and R’ — Robbery and Rape. Actually I don’t even think that they were too interested in the robbery, because rather than check her horse for valuables, they proceed straight to the raping. First the brutes start to rip off her clothing and then start to fight each other for first dibs. Just as it seem as if things are are going to get ugly, a knight appears at the end of the waterway mounted on a mighty steed. Seeing Bradamante in peril, the knight gallops at full speed to her rescue, and then proceeds to lop off the limbs from the horny horde of robbing rapists.

As the rapists thrash and wail around in the water — they were not killed — the knight speaks:

‘Bradamante, you left your wealth and comfort behind. But your bravery is not enough. Take my armour and sword and no-one will ever hurt you again’.

The magical thing is, that there isn’t a knight inside the suit of armour. When Bradamante pull back the face guard, she finds that the suit is empty. It is a magical enchanted suit of armour — just for her.

Meanwhile the knight with the flame emblem on his helmet, from the sorceress’ prophecy, rides into a small village. He stops, waters his horse and then takes off his helmet. We are greeted by the good, blonde haired, blue-eyed Christian knight, Orlando (Rick Edwards). Because he has blonde hair and blue-eyes, he must be the hero of this film. Orlando makes a few repairs around the village and then rides on until he meets up with a group of fellow Christian knights.

Elsewhere, a Moorish Princess, Angelica (Tanya Roberts), and a troupe of bodyguards are riding down the waterway – you know, the same one that Bradamante traveled down. Up above them the ‘robbing rapists’ have regrouped — albeit without their severed limbs. One of them has even been so industrious to make an appliance where he can plug his sword where his hand used to be. The ‘robbing rapists’ leap down from their hiding places and start clawing at Princess Angelica’s clothes. But once again, the mysterious knight appears at the end of the waterway and begins to charge at the rapists with a drawn sword. The rapists flee. Of course, this time Bradamante is inside the suit of armour.

In the Moor encampment, by the sea, Ruggero (Ron Moss) is preparing to leave the camp. Why? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because his sister, the Christians have taken Angelica prisoner. Actually it couldn’t be that — because that hasn’t happened yet. That’s in the next scene. Oh well, Ruggero must be restless, and want to roam the countryside looking for Christians to kill.

As I suggested above, indeed, Angelica is taken prisoner by Bradamante, who takes her to her Christian King as a prisoner. Along the trail she runs into Orlando and his stout-hearted band of Christian knights. They continue their journey together. Ruggero continues his quest to retrieve his sister, and he too is soon caught by the Christians. Now all the cast is gathered together in one spot, the love stories can begin. After all, this film is called Hearts and Armour. We’ve had a lot of armour — really silly armour — but now it’s time for a bit of romance. In this film there are tow love at first sight stories going on. Firstly, Ruggero and Bradamante fall in love — well that’s hardly surprising because the sorceress at the beginning of the film told us so. But, we didn’t expect Orlando to fall for Angelica. How’s that for a bizarre emotional entanglement. Fate has deemed that Orlando will kill Ruggero, but yet Orlando has fallen in love with Ruggero’s sister. And meanwhile, Bradamante is just trying to play peacekeeper.

The films continues to spiral towards its fateful and inevitable showdown, and despite the clumsiness of the first half, the film begins to pick up momentum in the second half. The introduction of a few new characters adds a bit of zest to the story. The first is a wizard named Atlante (Maurizio Nichetti), who is like a small live action version of Yoda — that is, if Yoda had been tarred and feathered. He enlivens things with a few invisibility spells and some not so prophetic wisdom.

The second character is a crazy Moorish knight named Ferreau (Tony Vogel). During his quest or travels, he discovers Princess Angelica who has managed to escape from her Christian captors. He promises to protect her and lead her back to the Moorish encampment and safety. But like most of the male characters in this film, instead he tries to rape her. In fact, poor old Angelica spends most of the film in a torn dress with her right nork hanging out, as various characters try to rape her. At one point, even an invisible priest tries to rape her. It’s tough work being a Princess in medieval Italy.

Now I am trying not to talk about the armour in this film, because many other reviewers have talked at length about the costume design — but in all fairness, I cannot shy away from it. The screencaps throughout this review will not do justice to weird, wild and wonderful armoured creations that populate this film — especially on the tops of their helmets. Orlando has this weird lopsided crest of flame. Bradamante has a circle disk — which could be all sorts of things (the sun, a halo, or a piece from a nice table setting). One of Orlando’s men has a sword jammed into his head, the actual blade runs down the front of his armour. Another has what looks like rams or goats horns. And one has what looks like a tulip. Along the way, they battle men with even weirder armour. Farreau’s costume make him look like some kind of bird, the Japanese Samurai wears a facemask that makes him look like ‘V’ from V for Vendetta. One set of armour even has a little tree at the top. Obviously, whoever was in charge of costume design, and the armoured creations was a person of great imagination and skill. But somehow, despite all the work and craft that have gone into the designs, at times I can’t help but think ‘man that looks really stupid!’

Many of the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, and that may simply be because it is hard to choreograph fight scenes between people in suits of armour. Conan, Dar (from The Beastmaster), an Talon (from The Sword and the Sorcerer) were not weighed down by heavy armour and as such were free in their movements. Nearly all of Orlando’s fight scenes are in heavy armour, and they are slow. Some people, who are into medieval authenticity may claim that the film is simply trying to be truthful, but the movie only runs 100 minutes and if all the fight scenes were played out in real-time, the film would give Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace a run for its money in screen time. Ruggero comes off a lot better, because he doesn’t really don his armour too often. He has freedom to move around, and pose stoically. That’s another thing you can’t do in a suit of armour, is hold a pose while the wind rushes through your hair.

The film is plagued to two major short-comings. The first is the serious tone throughout. It is po-faced without an ounce of humour — well not intentional anyway. I laughed at nearly every scene with Ferrau, because Tony Vogel’s acting performance is off the chart. It’s like the man has a rubber jaw and cannot deliver a simple bit of dialogue without pulling a face. The second flaw, is the lack of narrative. People appear to do things for no reason — they just travel. I think we are supposed to see the film (most of it) through Bradamante’s eyes, but even she is hard to relate to. Like at the beginning, why is she seeing a sorceress? Then, where is she going. The suit of armour tells us she has given up a life or privilege — where and why? Then she receives an enchanted suit of armour — again, I ask why? It’s not like she used it for some noble purpose. At least the other characters are knights and as such their motivations can be distilled down to simple patriotism, and then later lust.

I know it seems like I am giving Hearts and Armour a right proper kicking, but the truth is that it isn’t that bad. There are quite a few good moments, and the cinematography is first rate, with some striking images that will stay in your head for a long time after you’ve watched the film. Of course the female leads are easy on the eye too. Tanya Roberts doesn’t have a nude scene under a waterfall, which I believe she should have written into every film contract. But you can’t have everything. However, she does look stunning in her torn blue dress. Barbara De Rossi appears to have a bit of spunk too, but her character is such a grumble-bum, sometimes it’s hard to warm to her. Finally there is Zeudi Araya as Ruggero’s sister, Marfisa. She doesn’t get much screen time, but she makes a strong impression with the scenes she does have.

The two male leads, Rick Edwards and Ron Moss come off pretty good. They are both good looking fellas and even though the film lacks narrative, you feel like you have been on a journey with both men — even if that journey leads them to a simple understanding that ‘there is no honour in war’.

I think my problem with Hearts and Armour stems from the fact that it is one of the few films of its kind that I didn’t see when it was originally released. Others like Conan, The Sword and the Sorcerer, The Beastmaster and a whole slew of others, I saw either at the cinema or later, immediately when they were released on video. I saw these films during my formative years and at a time of where these films were relevant to my peers. In that regard I probably overlook and forgive many of the flaws in those films because I know them so well or I simply have a retrospective positive association with each film. But not so Hearts and Armour. I have no inbuilt love for the film.

Ultimately Hearts and Armour is a second tier Sword and Sorcery movie from the early eighties. Just that simple sentence should tell you a lot about the film. If you’re tolerant of such fare, you may find a bit to enjoy here — I found a little bit. However, if you are after something a little more swashbuckling and driven, then this film may try your patience.

Hearts and Armour (1983)

Ator IV: Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990)

Eric Allen Kramer as the mighty Ator

AKA: Ator III: Hobgoblin, The Lord of Akili
Country: Italy
Director: Joe D’Amato
Starring: Eric Allen Kramer, Margaret Lenzey, Donal O’Brian, Dian Morrone, Chris Murphy, Laura Gemser, Marisa Mell
Editor: Kathleen Stratton
Cinematographer: Joe D’Amato
Writer: Joe D’Amato
Music: Idra Music, Carlo Maria Cordio
Producer: Carlo Maria Cordio

Ator IV is inept on every level. I found it to be one of the more harrowing viewing experiences of recent times. Now, here you may be thinking that I am just being mean-spirited. But take for example a film like Barbarian Queen 2, which is a film that has a minuscule budget, piss-poor acting, un-convincing choreography and a plot that has been cobbled together using every swashbuckling film cliche imaginable. And yet the film is fantastic. A good time is had by all concerned. Ator IV also has a minuscule budget, piss-poor acting, un-convincing choreography and a plot that you wouldn’t wrap fish and chips in. But there the similarities with BQ2 end. Ator IV is cold, lifeless and downright incomprehensible.

Grindle the cantankerous Troll

The film opens on ‘the day of justice’, and Prince Ator (Eric Allen Kramer) sentences a man to death for rape. As these guys in white robes and lizard masks (or are they lizard people — I don’t know) watch on, Ator lops the head off the guilty party. Then this warrior named Thorn turns up and throws a spear at Ator. The point finds it’s target and the prince is skewered. Then in a puff of smoke, Thorn turns from this warrior type into a hairy monster type. Ator is dead and his “mighty sword” is broken.

Later Ator’s widow and son pay a visit to a cantankerous white haired troll named Grindle. Mrs. Ator is heartbroken and cannot go on living without her prince. She intends to take her life. But she wants Grindle to reforge the ‘mighty sword’ and give it young Ator when he turns eighteen. And since she will be dead, she also wants the troll to bring up her son.

One of the many challenges Ator must face

Now Ator may be dead, but he seems to be in some kind of limbo. It’s not heaven and it’s not hell. Limbo appears to be beside a lake, and Ator receives reports about what is happening in the real world from a witch played by Marisa Mell. Now I am a big fan of Marisa Mell. Anyone who has seen Danger: Diabolik is a big fan of Marisa Mell — and needless to say my fantasy life does include a rotating bed with Marisa Mell on it, covered in money, but enough of that. But my memories of Mell in far better films just make this much too painful. Here, Mell plays a frizzy haired hag forced to spout the most ridiculous dialogue.

Now Ator junior is eighteen — and he too is played by Erik Allen Kramer who looks on the wrong side of forty. He asks Grindle for the sword but the old troll refuses to give it to him. So Ator starts a search around the cave — you know, looking under rocks, behind shelves, everywhere and anywhere really.

Kramer and Marisa Mell

Eventually he finds the sword and well, great. That should be it then — Quest complete. I wish. No, Marissa Mell turns up again, and she sends the lad off on another quest to claim the ‘Treasure of the Kingdom of the West’. So off he goes. Along the way he battles all sorts of people and things — what was that weird two headed robot thing? And there’s a weird creepy bit where Ator meets his mother once again. Ick! There’s also some other weird subplot about this chick named Denera. She has feelings for Ator Sr., but here people aren’t allowed to have feelings. As punishment, she is trapped behind a wall of fire.

The music is awful, the acting is worse, and the story is unintelligible. And as for the casting, at least in the earlier Ator films Miles O’Keefe registered as a person. Eric Allen Kramer is just a huge slab of wood with thinning — rather than flowing — hair. Which seems even more silly when you realise he is playing an eighteen year old boy. The final crime this film commits is the misleading title: Quest for the Mighty Sword. It’s not really a quest is it? It’s more of a search around the house. To me, the idea of a quest is more a journey of discovery.

Fans of Joe D’Amato’s Troll 2 may find some amusement in watching this, as he recycled some of the costumes for this flick, but for all others, just don’t do it. Don’t watch. Ignore it and it’ll go away!

Ator IV: Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990)

Beowulf & Grendel (2005)

Director: Sturla Gunnarsson
Starring: Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgård, Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson, Sarah Polley, Eddie Marsan, Martin Delaney, Tony Curran, Rory McCann, Ronan Vibert
Music: Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson

This review is not for the recent 2007 CG animated version starring Ray Winstone, but the live action version starring Gerard Butler. The film features plenty of swordplay and hacking violence, but this film is not your standard Sword & Sorcery fare. Nor should it be. The epic Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf is the oldest living piece of literature in the English language. As such, the story should be treated with a certain amount of respect and not turned into a Conan The Barbarian movie.

In the film, King of the Danes Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård) has one great big problem. Every night a giant troll, named Grendell (Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson) attacks his village. He is ruthless in his attacks but he only kills the men. He never touches the women or children.

Beowulf (Gerard Butler) is a heroic warrior from Geatland, and he is friends with Hrothgar. When Beowulf hears of Hrothgar’s problems, he and a band of stout-hearted warriors set sail from Geatland to Daneland to help out King Hrothgar, and to rid the land once and for all of the giant marauding troll, Grendel. Beowulf and his men are cocky and confident that they can quickly put an end to Grendel’s reign of terror, but as in all these stories, the task isn’t as easy as it first seemed.

This film plays like a moody character piece. The real star of the movie is not Butler, Skarsgård, Sigurosson or Polley, but the brutal location cinematography. The harsh volcanic Icelandic landscapes are unforgiving. On top of the hostile terrain there is the foreboding weather. Short of a snow bound story (and even then some fall short), visually this is one of the coldest films I have seen.

Beowulf & Grendel is a very good, rich and rewarding film, but those after a big sprawling Sword & Sorcery epic will be disappointed. This isn’t that kind of film.

Beowulf & Grendel (2005)