Emilio Salgari and the Silver Screen
Salgari's tales have had quite an impact on film and television. Cabiria the landmark Italian epic directed by Giovanni Pastrone bears many similarities to Emilio Salgari's 1908 adventure novel Cartagine in Fiamme (Carthage is Burning). Salgari had never been employed or credited as a writer; however, it is evident that scenes and plot points had been 'borrowed' from his novel. Gabriele D'Annunzio was billed as the official screenwriter, but D'Annunzio had been brought on board to help revise the film after it had been shot, earning the credit by changing the title to Cabiria, changing the name of some of the characters and rewriting the captions, using more grandiloquent expressions than those originally employed by Pastrone. The three-hour movie with its grand proportions and cast of thousands created a sensation throughout Italy. It pioneered epic screen production, camera movements, and foreshadowed the work of D.W. Griffith, Eisenstein, De Mille and others. It would be the first of many films based on his work.
The majority of Salgari's big screen adaptations were taken from the pirate tales he had so skilfully brought to life. Just as Hollywood had its pirate swashbuckling era in the 20s, 30s and 40s, the early days of the Italian film industry brought many a high sea adventure to the screen.
Mr. Salgari's Corsair adventures have been the basis for over 20 films, including 8 adaptations of The Black Corsair. In the 1920s Vitale De Stefano made a series of silent films based on Il Corsaro Nero and it's four sequels. Amleto Palermi's 1936 version spared no expense. Ships were built specifically for the movie, the director filming a live boarding raid on location. It was popular throughout Italy and Latin America and subsequently remade as El Corsario Negro by Chano Urueta in Mexico in the 1940s.
In 1955 Lex Barker appeared as the tiger hunter Tremal-Naik in the B-movie The Mystery of the Black Jungle. Though it did well enough in Europe and Latin America to spawn a sequel, it failed to make much of an impression in the US.
The first Sandokan novel was adapted for the silver screen in 1941: I pirati della Malesia starring Luigi Pavese as Sandokan. Le due Tigri followed a year later. Twenty years later, legendary Hollywood body builder, Steve Reeves would take on the role and give North America its first glimpse of the Malay pirate in the 1963 MGM film Sandokan the Great, doing well enough at the box office to spawn a sequel, The Pirates of The Seven Seas, the following year.
Ray Danton took his turn playing the pirate in Luigi Capuano's Sandokan against the Leopard of Sarawak (aka Throne of Vengeance.) and later reprised the role along with most of the original cast in Sandokan Fights Back (aka The Conqueror and the Empress). But they too failed to impress. Though Salgari’s characters failed to capture North American audiences, his style of storytelling, fast-paced, filled with great battles, blood, violence and punctuated with humour laid the foundations for a genre that became quite popular across the Atlantic: The Spaghetti Western.
Iconic director Sergio Leone’s outlaw heroes were inspired by Salgari's piratical adventurers as were the plots and characters in movies by Primo Zeglio, Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Sollima. Leone’s work would influence numerous directors: George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino among them. Emilio Salgari, Grandfather of the Spaghetti Western, laid the foundations for the kinds of movies that helped to make actors like Clint Eastwood an international star.
A Masterpiece of the Silent Screen
There is some debate as to the first adaptation of Salgari's novels. Cabiria directed by Giovanni Pastrone bears many similarities to Emilio Salgari's 1908 adventure novel Cartagine in Fiamme (Carthage is Burning). Salgari, however, was never credited, Gabriele D'Annunzio being billed as the official screenwriter. In fact D'Annunzio had been brought on board to help revise the film once it had been shot, earning the credit by changing the title to Cabiria, changing the name of some of the characters and rewriting the captions, using more grandiloquent expressions than those employed by Pastrone. The three-hour movie with its grand proportions and cast of thousands created a sensation throughout Italy. It pioneered epic screen production and foreshadowed the work of D.W. Griffith, Eisenstein and others.
The Mystery of the Black Jungle
Lex Barker: Tarzan Fights the Thugs
In The Mystery of the Black Jungle(1953) Lex Barker played the intrepid Bengali tiger hunter Tremal-Naik fighting for the life of his beloved gainst the dreaded Thugs of the Kali cult. A "B movie" it later spawned the sequel The Black Devils of Kali (1955). He also played Enrico di Ventimiglia in another Salgari adapted swashbuckler Son of the Red Corsair (1958). Steven Spielberg later brought the cult back to the screen inIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Sandokan against the Leopard of Sarawak (1966)
Ray Danton: Another Hollywood Leading Man in Italy
In the mid-sixties Luigi Capuano directed two Sandokan adventures and cast handsome leading man Ray Danton to play the 'Tiger of Malaysia' in Sandokan against the Leopard of Sarawak (aka Throne of Vengeance.) He reprised the role along with most of the original cast in Sandokan Fights Back (aka The Conqueror and the Empress) later that same year. Guy Madison played Yanez in both films and would later go on to play the evil Suyodhana in the Salgari inspired Mystery of Thug Island.
Sandokan the Great (1963)
Steve Reeves: Hercules Turns Malay Pirate
After a series of films where he played classic heroes in ancient Greece and Rome, Steve Reeves turned in his sword and sandals to lead a band of Dyaks, Malays and Borneans against a corrupt British colonial ruler in 1963's Sandokan the Great. Umberto Lenzi's film proved popular enough to spawn the 1964 sequel The Pirates of The Seven Seas, where Steve Reeves once again played the legendary 'Tiger of Malaysia.' He also appeared as Morgan in Primo Zeglio's Morgan the Pirate, a sixties Salgari knockoff.
The Pirates of the Seven Seas (1964)
Steve Reeves: The Sandokan Adventure Continues
In the further tales of “Sandokan the Great,” the pirate hero helps save the heroine's father from an evil English Imperialist.
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