Iron Crown, The / La corona di ferro (1941)

3.5 out of 5

This must certainly rank among the most sumptuous and ornately mounted fantasies ever put on film and, in hindsight, it's interesting that each major country involved in the ongoing struggle up to that time invested in a splendidly escapist, but not apolitical, extravaganza, the others being, of course, England's The Thief of Bagdad and Germany's Munchhausen.

Director Blasetti would go on to make another celebrated milestone of Italian cinema, the even more elaborate Fabiola. The plot of The Iron Crown is a convoluted mix of The Nibelungen, William Tell, Macbeth and even Tarzan but, thankfully, it moves at such a lightning pace that what one remembers most is not the court machinations but the splendid pageantry and impressively-staged action and crowd scenes, never more so than during the remarkable, extended jousting sequence.

The performers are also notable: Massimo Girotti as the afore-mentioned "Tarzan" figure; Elisa Cegani as a princess imprisoned in her own castle by her despotic father; Osvaldo Valenti as a seemingly unbeatable knight at the joust whose winner will take the princess for his wife; Rina Morelli as the omnipresent soothsayer; famed wrestler Primo Carnera as a long-suffering he-man; and, best of all, the larger-than-life villainy of Gino Cervi as the illegitimate ruler, having killed his own brother to claim the throne, and calls everyone around him "beast" and Luisa Ferida as Tundra, a sort of blood-thirsty Jungle Girl who is eventually reformed by her love for Girotti. It's worth noting here that the three leads each have dual roles playing the parent of the character they portray later on in the film.

Surprisingly enough for such a commercial if undoubtedly artistically valid venture, the film emerged the winner of the Venice Film Festival where, ironically, it was greeted with contempt by the guest of honor, the Nazi Propaganda Minister Dr. Josef Goebbels! Incidentally, another person who was unimpressed with the film was director Riccardo Freda, who should know a thing or two about fantasy film-making, being the helmer of several "sword-and-sandal" epics in his time.

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