Sunday, June 13, 2010

Revenge of 3-D: TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983)

THE TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS brought back the trio of Anthony, Baldi and Battista who are again accompanied by American executive producer/actor/screenwriter Gene Quintano. This time out Baldi and company decided that RAIDER’S OF THE LOST ARK (1981) was surprisingly uncapitalized on aside from a couple of notable exceptions such as Antonio Margheriti’s ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1983), and in fact most of the Indiana Jones knock-offs were made after the release of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984).

Tony Anthony is J.T. Striker, a presumable getter-of-things-not-easily-gotten (he has no backstory aside from a few allusions), who is hired to retrieve a mythical key that fits the locks of four mythical crowns that were created by the Visigoths in the 6th century after the conquest of Spain. They are believed to contain secrets of unimaginable power. So unimaginable that the five credited writers couldn’t come up with anything (other than what is amusingly revealed at the end). Once in possession of the key, he is required to assemble a team and infiltrate the high-tech security rigged castle fortress of a demented ex-con who is using the crowns to pass himself off as a mystical guru. His team consists of an alcoholic electronics expert Rick (Jerry Lazarus), an over the hill circus strongman Socrates (Francisco Rabal), and his nimble and nubile daughter Liz (Ana Obregon). Also, Edmond (Gene Quintano), the operation’s liaison insists on tagging along to keep an eye on things and generally be a pain in the ass.

Early promotional art

The film opens with a twenty minute, dialogue-free sequence in which Striker infiltrates a European castle that has been outfitted with a huge variety of traps and a few ghosts as well. Of course we never see the ghosts, but we see things being puppeted around on fishing-line (another of the Seven Deadly Sins of 3-D Film Making). Imagine Indiana Jones’ opening scene in which he braves the trap-laden temple to snag the golden idol. Got it? Now imagine that it is done on a fraction of the budget with Tony Anthony in the lead set in a castle… in 3-D! This entire sequence has Anthony getting a year’s worth of cardio, leaping, falling, climbing, ducking, and dodging everything from flaming arrows, steel spikes, swords, halberds, muskets, crossbows, spinning spiked timbers, flaming spheres, dogs, bats, and snakes (why did it have to be… ah, forget it). Much like COMIN’ AT YA!, Anthony dodges projectiles that come within inches of doing him harm and many shots are repeated a few times in slow-motion just to make sure you are getting every nickel out of that $5 ticket price. For some reason, even though there is a vast amount of reliquary objects heaped about and clutched by random skeletons, Striker is single minded in his purpose and only grabs the key to the crowns, leaving everything else to go up in flames with the castle. Yes, the castle burns. Don't ask me, I don't know, it's like haunted fire or something! The really odd thing here is that while Ennio Morricone is justifiably famous for his incredible scores that often defy genre conventions, for this upbeat, big action scene he provides a slow orchestral score that feels like it needs a Red Bull. While the action flies fast and furious, Morricone’s score delicately meanders along with sweeping strings feeling like it should be used for an appearance by the Queen of England rather than an action-packed Indiana Jones rip-off. Love ya Ennio, but what the hell were you thinking here?

While COMIN’ AT YA! was a pretty decent, straight-faced western, TREASURE is patently ridiculous fun. The key to the crowns has some sort of paranormal power and is prone to going completely batshit at random moments causing earthquakes, explosions and random objects to fly out of the screen at the audience (cue comedic drinking via the alcoholic). The introduction of the villain, Brother Jonas (Emiliano Redondo) is a slide-show briefing cribbed straight out of ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) and his elite followers all wear animal masks. The entire ending (which I won’t spoil) is so far out in left field that it's not even in the stadium parking lot. The final scene is a “gotcha” bit in the final seconds that sets up the scrapped science-fiction follow-up, ESCAPE FROM BEYOND (aka THE MYSTICAL KNIGHT), but makes absolutely no sense on it's own.

In addition, some of the dramatic stuff is a little bizarre:
After Striker convinces Socrates to join him, Socrates has a sensitive exchange with the clown “Popo” (Lewis Gordon) that he shares his dressing room-slash-apartment with, in which Popo is emotionally overwrought by Socrates' impending adventure:
Popo: “You can’t do this kind of work anymore!”
Socrates: “I’m as strong as ever!”
Popo: “Except for your heart!”
Popo then exclaims that Socrates’ daughter “has a right to know” and makes him promise to tell her “everything” when he returns. Say what!? Does the Ringmaster know about you two? This is quite possibly the one of the few times in my life that clowns have made me laugh out loud... I just can't quit you Bamboozle.

One of the most interesting things about this film is that while it was a blatant rip-off of RAIDER’S OF THE LOST ARK, it seems to have actually inspired many films that followed. The robe-clad, evil “supernatural” cult leader is an awfully similar to the Mola Ram character in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984) and the whole “castle raider” theme seems to be echoed in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989). Interestingly TREASURE was released in Asia in '84 under the title TREASURE OF THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, while TEMPLE OF DOOM followed a year later. Even though those influences could be easily brushed aside, Tony Anthony’s laconic, gum-chewing, safari jacket and cargo pants attired fortune-hunter, color scheme aside, bears an uncanny resemblance to Jackie Chan’s laconic, gum-chewing, safari jacket and cargo pants attired castle-raider Hawk in THE ARMOUR OF GOD (1987). Go check, I'll wait.

In the end TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS continues the ultra-gratuitous use of 3-D effects that Baldi went nuts with in COMIN’ AT YA!, but has a somewhat less successful film underneath, probably due to the fact that Baldi was a little out of his comfort zone and working for Cannon Films meant that you didn’t have the same freedoms that you would if you were shooting an independent film back in Italy. Regardless of that, it’s an entertaining film, though probably not exactly for the reasons intended and it is the final big screen performance of Tony Anthony to date. It must have been having the plug pulled on the third 3-D outing, the aforementioned ESCAPE FROM BEYOND. I know because it kills me too.

Moments of Clarity:

0 Reactions:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...