Hundred Horsemen, The / I cento cavalieri (1964)

3.5 out of 5

The most notable aspects of The Hundred Horsemen have so much to do with aesthetics and narrative form that writing about them is a rather thankless exercise. While in hindsight the film, being stylistically ahead of its time, can be seen as the zenith of that most disreputable of genres, the peplum, it was a commercial flop upon release ensuring that Vittorio Cottafavi spend the remainder of his career as a distinguished TV director!

The ‘epicaresque’ elements of the film are brought out as follows: the dwarfish painter seen at the beginning who addresses the audience and acts as a narrator, while the word "Fine" i.e. Italian for "The End," are written on his fingers as he cheekily waves at the audience in the very last shot of the film; Antonella Lualdi's comical intended who turns cowardly, bumbling collaborationist with the invading Moors but is subsequently reinstated into the Spanish community and made their head; a convoluted philosophical speech given, in a broadly theatrical fashion, by a long-fingered Spanish nobleman who dreams of conducting future wars between one super-soldier on each side but when he shows us his 'candidate', he is ridiculously decked out in a cumbersome, clunky armor which makes any movement impossible and, in fact, falls flat on his back when he tries to do so; and, best of all, Arnoldo Foa's Quixotic soldier who tries to recapture his former dignity by leading the rebels but is quickly cut down to his real size by a dwarfish bandit leader who joins their ranks in a hilarious confrontation.

Unhindered by a relatively low budget, dazzlingly fluid direction gives the film a visually arresting look, particularly when pitting the red-cloaked rebels against the blue-clad Moors with the enslaved white-robed monks in the middle. After a very funny first half, Cottafavi reserves his most outstanding trick for the climactic battle by gradually draining all the color from the image and shooting most of it in black-and-white, thus rendering his depiction of the bleakness and tragedy of war all the more powerful, as well as anticipating Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 by 40 years!

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics