Sandokan (Steve Reeves) is a man with a grudge, a grudge against the British who are occupying the Malaysian island he belongs to because he wants them to leave, and they want to stay, to the extent that they have been killing all insurgents. That includes Sandokan's family, leaving him the sole survivor, but he has plans to depose the vicious Lord Guillonk (Leo Anchoríz) who has brought him so much grief. Trouble is, Guillonk has similar plans to get rid of him, and has thought up a way to get his rival out in the open; Sandokan doesn't know it yet, but there's a traitor in the midst of his supposedly loyal men...
Steve Reeves was nearing the end of his short movie career when he made Sandokan the Great, or Sandokan, la tigre di Mompracem to give this its original tiitle, although not because he was growing tired of playing the musclebound hero, simply that he suffered a shoulder injury soon after making this which meant his days as an action leading man were numbered. Indeed, after Sandokan he only made one brief comeback in a western and that was it for his movie stardom, although there have been fans of his around ever since, captivated by his screen magnetism, most of which is due to that imposing physique of his.
Sandokan is your typical freedom fighter character, much aggrieved for what the authorities have done to his land and him personally, looking for justice all the while, you know the type of chap: Robin Hood, Zorro, Luke Skywalker and so on as long as they continue to make adventure flicks. Reeves approaches the role in much the same manner as he did the rest of his good guys, stoic, physical and leaving us in no doubt he is on the side of right. Here he doesn't whip off his shirt as much as in most of his other films, but he does wear a turban for some of the time, looking more as if he belongs in India, especially as one of his opponents turns out to be a tiger.
Well, a mix of real, live tiger and obvious, stuffed dummy tiger at any rate, which provides a spot of uninentional hilarity if nothing else, but those are the hazards of spending your time in the jungle where Sandokan has made his home. Accompanying him are a group of fellow freedom fighters, one of whom is working for Guillonk but he doesn't know who he can trust, and neither do we, for that matter. This supplies suspense, or was intended to, but as this is strictly on the level of a Saturday morning matinee then you have no doubt that the protagonist will save the day and the identity of the spy is less important than offering Reeves further action to get involved with.
Sandokan has a sidekick, Yanez (Andrea Bosic), who is supposed to be Portuguese yet can pass as an Englishman, and does so when he becomes a spy too, only this time for the good guys. This enables the rebels to kidnap Lord Guillonk's niece, Mary Ann (Geneviève Grad), who of course starts out protesting this state of affairs, then ends up falling for Sandokan and going along with everything he says when she witnesses how corrupt the British are with her own eyes. This was an early assignment by Umberto Lenzi, later more notorious for his jungle exploitation movies, and here he seems to be laying the groundwork for those by having his cast traipse through the undergrowth and muddy rivers, even meeting "headhunters" along the way. In a curious forerunner of the next year's Zulu, the climax here sees natives lay siege to the British fort, which might wake you up a bit with all the explosions and gunfire, but for the rest of it, this was fairly run of the mill. Music by Giovanni Fusco.
Prolific, workmanlike Italian director and writer who dabbled in most genres throughout his 40 year career. Started work as a film critic before making his directing debut in 1961 with the sea-faring adventure flick Queen of the Seas. The two decades years saw Lenzi churn out westerns, historical dramas, Bond-esquespy yarns and giallo thrillers among others.
It was his 1972 proto-cannibal film Deep River Savages that led to the best known phase of his career, with notorious gore-epics Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive and zombie shlocker Nightmare City quickly becoming favourites amongst fans of spaghetti splatter. Continued to plug away in the horror genre before retiring in 1996.