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Film Review: “Hannibal”

HannibalRegular readers may have noticed that peplum or sword and sandal flicks are a favorite diversion from the misery of the human condition, along with martial arts movies and westerns, both the oater and spaghetti variety. Hannibal, supposedly a chronicle of the brilliant Carthaginian general’s campaign in ancient Italy, had some moments although it seemed weak compared to other sword and sandals.

Mature did his share of peplum related roles, notably Biblical gigs as Samson and Demetrius the slave in The Robe. As he remarked, “they like how I make with the holy look.” Despite other, sincere performances, Mature seemed to phone it in here, reciting his lines with dull disinterest and rarely showing much verve despite playing a charismatic, forceful military leader. A confessed coward, the closest Mature comes to action is waving a short sword in some extras’ general direction.  When he loses an eye (an actual event in Hannibal’s life) and they tie a patch over the bad eye, I wondered why they didn’t just bind the other eye too so Vic could sleep through the rest of the film.

Rather than concentrate on the exciting part, namely, the battles, most of Hannibal is wasted on a boring romance between Mature and Sylvia, a beautiful young Roman aristocrat played by Rita Gam. Gam is actually somewhat interesting, especially when she’s dressed like a traditional Roman with a stola and her hair elaborately done up. Slender with distinctive, delicate features, Gam really didn’t get to do much other than look noble and sad. Mature didn’t provide any support either with his tepid clinches and desultory declarations of burning desire.

The military parts of the film were the most entertaining part, but they still left something to be desired. Hannibal was shot on location in Serbia and there are actual compelling shots at the beginning as the Carthaginians traverse the Alps on foot in the dead of winter, a feat of arms not repeated until 2,000 years later by Bonaparte. The film conveys the savage cold, endless misery, and constant danger. Subsequent battle scenes aren’t bad either. They do a fair job with what they had depicting Cannae, Hannibal’s greatest victory and one of Rome’s worst defeats. The trouble is that at most there are about five hundred extras involved with the action shown in a fragmented, incoherent fashion. Only a couple of shots are really impressive. The film never achieves the scope and sweep movies like Spartacus had. The IMDB site states that the director, Edgar Ulmer, complained that Hannibal was badly cut without his OK. This may account for a lot of the film’s failings.

A final note. I know only a nitpicking nudnick like myself cares, but Hannibal is riddled with more anachronistic boners than most peplum flicks. Examples:

  • Horsemen use stirrups to ride, something not seen in Western Europe until the Middle Ages (although given how hard riding bareback is, I can’t blame them for this);
  • The film has a stock shot of Rome (a maquette) that shows structures like the Coliseum that weren’t built until three hundred years after Hannibal;
  • Only one elephant survived the grueling crossing of the Alps. In this flick, Hannibal has a whole circus troupe, but dinky Asian elephants, not the big, mean African kind. The elephants are still the biggest stars in the film (sorry, couldn’t resist); and
  • People are shown traveling in chariots like they were sports cars. Chariots weren’t taken out for a spin in the ancient world the same way you don’t go shopping for groceries in a M1A1 tank.

Although not a good peplum, Hannibal still has a few laughs, if you like this sort of thing.

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