Thursday, 23 July 2015

KINGS OF THE SUN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Chakiris/Brynner: Foes Become Friends

Kings of the Sun (1963)
Dir. J. Lee Thompson
Starring: George Chakiris, Yul Brynner,
Richard Basehart, Shirley Anne Field, Leo Gordon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

How do like your cheese? Ripe, runny and mouldy or a nice solid brick of good, old fashioned Wisconsin Cheddar? Well, though there is much to be said for the rich, flavourful qualities of the former, sometimes the latter is just what the doctor ordered. Kings of the Sun is clearly of the Wisconsin variety, though happily, it's an old white cheddar and as such, a mite more savoury than your garden variety slab of straight-up orange-coloured curd.

This delightfully melodramatic action-adventure epic of manly men and exotic women is set of 1000 years-ago when a nation of wooden-sworded Mayans on the Yucatán are besieged by a much powerful rival tribe who use metal swords. The wooden-sworded nation are led by the brave young King Balam (George Chakiris, the handsome Greek-American dancer who copped the 1961 Supporting Actor Oscar in the role of the Puerto Rican leader of the Sharks in West Side Story). Balam decides to flee from the nasty take-no-prisoners-lest-they're-women-to-be-raped metal-swordsman King Hunac Ceel (Leo Gordon, the stalwart veteran of numerous TV westerns and one of director Don Siegel's favourite bad guys).

Balam, betrothed to the comely Ixchel (Shirley Anne Field), leads his people through a secret tunnel in their majestic Mayan Pyramid, loads them into boats and sets sail for the mysterious lands far north (Tex-Mex country) to bolster their resources and create a new kingdom - maybe to even someday reclaim their ancestral lands.

Once Balam and his people land up in Tex-Mex territory, they put their ingenuity to good use and build a powerful fort, new abodes and begin a whole new Pyramid so they can start sacrificing humans to the Gods as soon as possible.

Ah, but hiding in the woods and observing the Mayans is an indigenous Native American tribe led by Chief Black Eagle (Yul Brynner) and he's royally fuming (like only Brynner can, flaring those sexy nostrils). He plans to battle these oddly costumed intruders, but unfortunately he's wounded and captured by the Mayans, then held hostage to keep the Injuns at bay.

The real power amongst the Mayans is their wacky blood-thirsty, blood-sacrifice-endorsing Witch Doctor Ah Min (played, I kid you not, by the whiter-than-white Richard Basehart, star of TV's Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea). Adorned in a ridiculous wig and flowing robes, Ah-Min looks like he should be an emcee at an octogenarian drag performance club in Slovenija, and as such, he's able to convince Balam and all the others that they must nurse Black Eagle to health so he may be their first official sacrifice when the Pyramid is finished.

A love rivalry twixt Ixchel, Black Eagle and Balam begins to brew and as these lovebirds begin smouldering, little do they know that the crazy Hunac Ceel has loaded up his boats with thousands of warriors to wipe out Balam for good and they're just around the corner.

If the Mayans sacrifice Black Eagle, they'll not be able to count on the necessary allegiance with the Natives to fight Hunac. Hmmmm. Dilemmas-dillemmas. I doubt it's going to come as a surprise to anyone, but get to a rousing final battle sequence, we must submit to a whole water-tower full of roiling melodrama.

I can't actually say that any of this is especially well-acted, but it is exuberantly over-acted and where the picture really succeeds is in its gorgeous cinematography by the legendary Joseph (My Darling Clementine, Viva Zapata, Niagara, Pickup on South Street) McDonald, a rousing orchestral score by Elmer Bernstein, stunning sets and costumes, a cast of thousands and some of the most beautifully directed battle scenes ever committed to film by the stalwart J. Lee Thompson (Taras Bulba, Guns of Navarone, Cape Fear).

So if you're in the mood for some solid cheese, feel free to whack off a few hunks of this Kings of the Sun brand. It'll bind you, bind you real good.


Kings of the Sun is available on a gorgeous Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray.