Helen of Egypt – The Lion of Thebes (1964)

After the Fall of Troy, the infamous Helen and her bodyguard Arion flee the city and make their way to Thebes where they encounter the Pharaoh Ramses. Ramses falls in love with Helen, like almost every man before him, yet she does not feel the same – instead loving Arion. Additionally, there is an assassination, intrigue with Rosalba Neri, plottings by trusted men, war, gold, traps and more. The Lion of Thebes does not lack for anything and it makes for one of the most enjoyable peplums to ever hit the big screen.

Starring in one of his last films would be Mark Forest, one of the greatest musclemen to feature in the sword and sandal genre and here he plays Arion, the man sworn to protect Helen of Troy. Yvonne Furneaux stars as Helen and she has the looks to pull off the roll, not to mention the talent. The aforementioned Neri plays the fiancé of Ramses who in turn is portrayed by Pierre Cressoy and the villainous Tutmes by Massimo Serato. For the most part, everyone is on point, all that is except Forest who would turn out to be a little stiff in the role, but nevertheless sell it enough that one could not help but root for the guy. The best thing about the various actors that would take on these roles like Forest did here, is that no matter the level of talent they brought to the character, cheering for them is easy because they have that larger than life presence that screams and shouts hero. They are easily identifiable as the good guy and despite any faults in script or story, seeing the leading man fending off the villains, defeating traps and monsters or whatever might lie in his path while rescuing the maiden, always makes for captivating viewing.

Visually, the movie looked great with its bright and bold colours, its beautiful women and handsome men as well as the lavish sets and the wonderfully choreographed battles. Despite being a somewhat strange mashup of Greek myth and Egyptian history, the film worked on every level, combining the best of both worlds into one surprisingly good epic where Arion must not only protect Helen, but try to fend off the various sides that surround him without falling prey to their machinations. Though the movie might have dabbled in the fictions of both Egypt and Greece, the two known for their fantastic storytelling and larger than life gods and creatures, it remains grounded as it avoids many of the wilder parts of those stories and it does so for the better. The Lion of Thebes might be pure fantasy, but it is a good one that lets its audience escape into a world where things were far simpler than they are today.

4 out of 5

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