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  Kings of the Sun Culture Clash
Year: 1963
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Yul Brynner, George Chakiris, Shirley Anne Field, Richard Basehart, Brad Dexter, Barry Morse, Armando Silvestre, Leo Gordon, Victoria Vetri, Rudy Solari, Ford Rainey, James Coburn
Genre: Historical, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: It was the time of the Mayans in Central America and they were among the most advanced civilisations of their era - in some ways, yet in others they were truly barbaric. Their most heinous crime against humanity was their practice of human sacrifice, which they believed to be greatly beneficial to their lives and a blessing to those who were killed in such a fashion, but for one new King, Balam (George Chakiris), it did not sit well with him. However, he had bigger problems to worry about as a warrior monarch had been laying waste to the surrounding settlements - and his city was next.

Kings of the Sun was one of those historical epics which proliferated during the fifties and sixties and treated the general public to an eyeful of movie spectacle, the equivalent of the special effects extravaganzas we have today. Scripted by Elliott Arnold and James R. Webb, the story actually took the Mayans we were introduced to at the beginning, courtesy of an uncredited James Coburn's narration, and transplanted them to a different location as they fled their homes so as not to be killed off.

Not that there were many authentic Mayans in the cast, so Chakiris had to be slathered in makeup, as was his love interest Shirley Anne Field, though they didn't think to cover her baby blue eyes with contact lenses, making her a highly unlikely-looking member of the Central American race even with that long, black wig. Anyway, off these supposedly advanced examples of civilsation go across what would one day be called The Gulf of Mexico and end up somewhere in Texas, where they set about building a town for themselves to live.

So far so good, but there are natives there who are taking an interest in these "intruders", and they are an Indian tribe led by Chief Black Eagle, rather splendidly played by Yul Brynner. If the rest of the cast tend to look a little self-conscious as their characters, he takes to his role like a duck to water, bare chested throughout to underline his overpowering masculinity, just the thing to make Field's Ixchel swoon. The Chief is captured while on reconnaissance and ends up jailed in a very dark hut for far too much of the film, as indeed the rest of the story is taken up with not a great deal occuring, something you can't help but notice if you were hoping for an action-packed thrill ride.

Of course, if you were looking for that then perhaps Mel Gibson's Apocalypto would provide a more pulse-pounding version of the Mayans, yet where they are the villains in that, here we have to be sympathetic towards both the natives and their visitors because Black Eagle forces them to question the whole human sacrifice thing and Balam comes around to his way of thinking, creating peace between the two sides. Wait a minute, were we not promised some battles? They were in the trailer! Yes we were, and to make up for that the bad guys we saw at the start turn up again, leading to some very impressive scenes of countless extras hammering away at each other as if they were swarms of soldier ants. Trouble is, it's too late and the weighty tone has dragged the potential excitement down to dutiful and patient expectation that something more interesting will happen along in a while. Worth seeing for Yul, though, as he was in his element. Music by Elmer Bernstein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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J. Lee Thompson  (1914 - 2002)

Veteran British director frequently in Hollywood, usually with stories featuring an adventure or thriller slant. Among his many films, including a number of Charles Bronson movies, are capital punishment drama Yield to the Night, adventures Ice Cold in Alex and North West Frontier, the original Cape Fear, Tiger Bay, wartime epic The Guns of Navarone, What a Way To Go!, horror Eye of the Devil, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes and slasher Happy Birthday to Me.

 
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