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GLI INVASORI (1961, Italian-French co-production)
Director/Cinematographer: Mario Bava
Story and Screenplay: Mario Bava, Oreste Biancoli, and Piero Pierotti
Camera Operator: Ubaldo Terzano
Editing: Mario Serandrei
Music: Roberto Nicolosi (U.S. version rescored by Les Baxter)
Main Players: Cameron Mitchell (Eron); Giorgio Ardisson (Erik); Alice Kessler (Daya); Ellen Kessler (Roma); Francoise Christophe (Queen Alice); Andrea Cecchi (Sir Rutford); Folco Lulli (King Olaf); Franco Ressel (King Charles)
Alternate titles: Erik the Conqueror; The Invaders; Fury of the Vikings; The Viking Invaders
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
SYNOPSIS:

In 786 AD, three great Viking ships land in the British isles, heralding the beginning of an attempted invasion. Many other ships soon follow, and an all-out war is instigated. King Harald, the only Viking chieftain interested in maintaining peace, makes a plea to King Charles. The English King sends Sir Rutford, commander of the British sea forces, to work out a deal with the Vikings. However, Rutford is not interested in making bargains, and so he stages a surprise attack on the Vikings. In the ensuing battle, Harald and his people are savagely slaughtered. When King Charles hears of this, he is enraged. Upon his arrival in the Viking village, he threatens to strip Rutford of his command of the sea forces and to put him in prison. Rutford retaliates by having one of his cohorts kill the king, and blaming the crime on a wounded Viking. Queen Alice is greatly distressed by the death of her husband, and when she finds a little boy on the beach, she takes his discovery as a gift from the gods. The boy is actually Harald's child, but the Queen takes him for her own and names him Erik. The Queen takes the boy with her to England, not realizing that he has a brother who shares a similar mark: a tattoo of the family crest is imprinted on the chest of both boys. The brother, Eron, is rescued by his people and returned to the Land of the Vikings, though he spends the rest of his life hoping to be reuninted with his brother and to wreak vengeance on the British for the death of his father.

Twenty years later, the Vikings plan to wage war on the English. Eron has fallen in love with a vestal virgin named Daya, but because she is promised to the gods, they cannot make their love known. Eron realizes that only a King is permitted to marry a vestal virgin, so he plans to take advantage of the forthcoming battle to prove his valor and leadership abilities. King Olaf, leader of the Vikings, makes a pact with Norway and Sweden. Together, they will launch an attack on the English. Because of his age and physical infirmity, Olaf determines that a younger man will have to lead the attck in his place. He chooses Eron, and the Viking ships are soon under way.

In England, Erik is appointed Duke of Helford, and leader of the English sea forces. Erik's first duty is to stave off the impending Viking invasion. Sir Rutford is jealous of the young man, and decides to sabotage the mission by planting a spy on board who will set fire to the ship while they are at sea.

The two forces meet at sea, and a battle ensues. Erik is still unaware of his real heritage, and he actually engages in a fight with his brother. However, as Rutford planned, the English ship is sabotaged, thus enabling the Vikings to continue on their way with little difficulty. Erik is subsequently washed ashore in the Viking village, where he is discovered by Daya's twin sister, Roma. Upon seeing her, Erik inquires, "Are you real? Or an angel?" Roma is similarly smitten with him, but she does not understand the significance of the cross he wears around his neck. Erik replies that it is a kind of talisman which keeps him safe. Roma fears that she will be missed, so she points Erik in the direction of a nearby village. Because of his Nordic features, Erik is accepted as a ship-wrecked fisherman.

Back in England, Sir Rutford proposes marriage to the Queen. He accepts the fact that she cares nothing for him, but claims to see it as an opportunity of uniting the country -- in fact, he is only interested in becoming King. The Queen sees through his deception, and remarks, "Your ambition shows -- it devours you."

When the Vikings arrive, Rutford grants them admission to the castle. Eron and his men take over with little difficulty, and Rutford is appointed Regent, with the objective of ruling in Eron's absence. Eron then takes the Queen hostage back to his village, promising to kill her if anybody rebels against Rutford and his men. Before departing, Eron promises to kill Rutford if he ever betrays him. There is some indication that Eron recognizes Rutford's true nature, yet he fails to trust this instinct, a mistake that will eventually prove to be fatal for him.

Roma is put in charge of looking after the Queen when the latter woman is imprisoned. Roma happens to notice that the Queen also wears a cross, and she mentions this to Erik when they meet again. Demanding to know the prisoner's identity, Erik is shocked to discover that it is his "mother." Erik surmises that his presence in the village is an act of fate, brought on so that he can rescue his mother, while finding happiness in the form of Roma. When Erik remarks, "All men carry in themselves a vision of a perfect woman," he is explicating a theme which haunts many Bava films. The idea of surface appearance, or the seductiveness of beauty, is a major issue in Bava's work. Typically, as in SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO or IL ROSSO SEGNO DELLA FOLLIA, this obsession leads to destruction. Where GLI INVASORI differs is in the basic purity of its characters. Daya and Roma are both vestal virgins -- as such, they can both be seen as being "pure." Likewsie, both Erik and Eron are positive characters who reveal loyalty of their respective friends and societies.

The next day, Eron and Daya are to be married. Roma and Erik plan to take advantage of the ensuing ceremony to flee to England with the Queen. However, as Erik watches the ceremony, he is under the impression that it is Roma who is being married. Enraged by this imagined "affront," Erik confronts Daya, thus sacrificing his anonymity. He is then captured and imprisoned, and Eron intends to execute him at dawn. Such confusing issues of identity mirror other Bava films, including LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO and LA VENERE D'ILLE.

After drugging the men who are guarding Erik, Roma explains that the woman he saw marrying Eron was her twin sister. Erik is relieved to hear this, and together with the Queen they make their escape. Eron follows in hot pursuit, but he is unable to prevent their escape to England.

Upon their return to England, Erik is pleased to discover that the Scots have volunteered to help stave off the Vikings. Before they can charge the castle and re-claim it from Rutford, Eron and his men arrive. Eron leaves Daya in Rutford's care, while he accepts a challenge from Erik. In the ensuing fight, Eron notices the tattoo on Erik's chest. Over-joyed to be reunited with his long-lost brother, Eron announces a cease-fire. This is upsetting to Rutford, who responds by firing an arrow at Erik. Eron sacrifices himself by throwing himself in front of the arrow intended for his brother. The Vikings attempt to storm the castle, but Rutford promises to kill Daya if they do not disband.

As Eron dies, he names Erik as his successor as King of the Vikings. Becoming more and more delirious, he asks to see Daya one last time. Erik determines to do this by breaking into the castle and retrieving her, but Roma recognizes that Eron will not last very long. Instead, she poses as her sister, and Eron is totally oblivious to the deception. This rare example of positive deception ends movingly as Eron declares his love for Daya and dies in Roma's arms.

In time, Erik manages to scale the castle wall. After rescuing Daya, he lowers the drawbridge and the various forces charge forth. After a brief battle, Rutford and his men are killed, and peace is restored.

The film ends with Erik and Roma returning to the Land of the Vikings, while Eron is laid to rest in a traditional Viking burial.


CRITIQUE:

There is much to admire in GLI INVASORI. Like so many of the director's films, it was designed to cash-in on the success of a "bigger" film (in this case, Richard Fleischer's THE VIKINGS, 1960, with Kirk Douglas) but Bava's utter commitment to the project insures that it takes on a life of its own. No matter how superficially pulpy the scenario may appear, Bava succeeds in investing it with all the drama and pathos of a Shakespearean tragedy. In its emphasis on essentially decent people, GLI INVASORI has a warmer, more inviting tone than most Bava films. If it lacks the emotional scope and complexity of Bava's second and last Viking drama, I COLTELLI DEL VENDICATORE, that is not to suggest that it is at all simplistic.

The characters of Daya and Roma can best be interepreted as symbols of mercy and virtue. Their physical similarity is not employed by Bava in an ironic fashion. They do not fulfill the same role as doppelganger relationship between Asa and Katia in LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO, for example, meaning that they do not represent flip sides of the same spiritual coin. Like Erik and Eron they are distingusihed by their basic decency and by their sympathetic disposition. The comforting effect these two women have on their respective mates is matched by their ethereal beauty. Clad in the purest of white gowns, they often take on an angelic cast. Bava accentuates this aspect of their appearance by often bathing Daya and Roma in pools of pure, unfiltered light, and by accentuating the flowing of their diaphanous gowns as they move from room to room.

GLI INVASORI also benefits from some of Bava's most beautiful color photography, and from some spectacular action set pieces. Considering the low budget, many of these scenes (notably the opening attack on the Viking village) are nothing short of miraculous. Bava also indulges in some colorfully fetishistic set pieces. When Rutford imprisons Daya, he chains her to a wall, and dangles a glass case containing a poisonous spider over her face. If she does not give into his commands, Rutford promises to unleash the spider. The obvious pleasure which Rutford gleans from this act speaks of his sexual displacement. For many Bavian protagonists, violence takes the place of sex, and Rutford is no exception. Anticipating the approach to the murder set pieces in SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO, Bava lends an air of cinematic perversity to Rutford's torture of Daya by staging their encounter in a seductive and beautifully stylized fashion. Though the audience's sympathies clearly rest with Daya, the spectator cannot help but share in Rutford's pleasure. Bava's suggestion here is obvious: the dark, repressed aspect of the human psyche is a part of us all.

In the role of Eron, Cameron Mitchell gives a sincere and energetic performance. Despite his preference for technicians over actors, Bava developed a close relationship with his star, and they became close friends. The l and I COLTELLI DEL VENDICATORE for Bava, once said of the director: "I loved Mario Bava; in many ways, he might have been the best director -- certainly the best one I've worked with in Europe, and maybe the best of them all. I've worked with Kazan, I've worked with Orson Welles. . . I've worked with John Ford. I've worked with the best. Bava's right up there. And when I think of the limited money he had, and the corners he had to cut, it's unbelieveable! He never really had a good script, but he could make a film out of anything. He was so clever! He was a really wonderful man and I loved him dearly." (Quoted by Tom Weaver, in FANGORIA).


Review © Troy Howarth


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