Monday, September 6, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA (1982)

As we mentioned in the RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY review, the Italians were quick to jump on the Indiana Jones bandwagon. To the best of my knowledge, HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA was the first RAIDERS rip off to play in theaters, debuting in its native Italy in August 1982. Directed by proficient Antonio Margheriti (under his reliable Anthony Dawson pseudonym), HUNTERS is one of the best Indy clones to arrive, overflowing with action, humor and thrills from beginning to end.

HUNTERS drops the audience right into the action with a 20 minute prologue in the Philippines during 1944.  American Bob Jackson (David Warbeck) and Brit Capt. David Franks (John Steiner) sneak into a Japanese base to stop double agent Yamoto from absconding with a valuable property. With Yamoto escaping in a bomber, our heroes follow suit in a stolen Japanese fighter plane. When Yamoto’s plane goes down (he shot the pilots midflight – d’oh!), Jackson parachutes down to the wreckage. Once there, he spots Yamoto and the valuable they are after, a golden cobra statue. The glimpse is short, however, as Yamoto is killed by natives shooting poison darts. Jackson is hit by a dart and stumbles down to the river. Passing in and out of consciousness, Jackson sees the natives and their (naturally) gorgeous white queen (Antonella Interlenghi, billed as Almanta Suska), who takes the poison dart out of him before he floats down river.

Cut to a year later. Capt. Franks locates the (naturally) sauced Jackson taking in some cock fights. After a few “thanks for stranding me, pal” fisticuffs (watch for Steiner’s hilarious attempts to throw punches), Franks brings Jackson to a group of politicians who give him the history of the lost ark, er, golden cobra. Their mission – should they choose to accept it – is to locate this “sacred symbol of the Ay-moks” before a dangerous snake worshipping cult gets a hold of it. How dangerous is this cult? They have penetrated the service industry in the Philippines (as exampled by a machete wielding water boy)! Jackson accepts but wants (naturally) double the fee. Along the way, our exploring duo reluctantly pick up Julie (Interlenghi again), the twin of jungle queen April, and her uncle Greenwater (Alan Collins aka Luciano Pigozzi) as they head back into the jungle to find this valuable treasure and (naturally) encounter danger at every turn.

If you are looking to get your Indiana Jones facsimile freak on, this might be the best place to start. This film really moves with barely a lull in the action. Margheriti is the consummate craftsman and knows he won’t be able to match the big budget thrills of Lucas and Spielberg. But he works amazingly well with what he has and tries to set his imitation apart. Instead of getting shot-for-shot replications, we get similar scenes done up Italian exploitation style. For example, wouldn’t it have been better if the guy shot with poison darts in RAIDERS had one sticking out of his detached eyeball? Or when Indy is receiving the lecture about the ark, wouldn’t it have been better if it ended with a machete swinging cult member attacking him before he is shot 10 times? Just the sort of stuff the Italians do to spice things up a bit. The only place Margheriti slipped up is in not recognizing that – per Italian exploitation film law – the white jungle queen is supposed to be topless. One thing I find really interesting is the similarity between the lava surrounded temple in this and the one in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984). Hmmmmm.

The New Zealand-born Warbeck is great in the lead role. Having previously traipsed through the jungle for Margheriti in THE LAST HUNTER (1980), Warbeck is an affable and natural lead who combines the best of Jones with a little bit of James Bond flavor too. You can’t help but laugh at his delivery, like when Steiner saves him from a snake pit in a hilarious hat and he quips, “Where did you get that hat?” Steiner really plays up the stuffy Brit role and is a hoot. You could have a drinking game for every time he said “jolly” or “old chap”, but viewers would die of alcohol poisoning by the 45 minute mark. I also love how he just walks into Warbeck’s room during a fight and shoots everyone dead. How does he know Warbeck didn’t start a fight with some busboys over lousy tipping? Warbeck and Steiner just have a great on screen rapport, which is probably why Margheriti re-teamed them a year later in the similar Jones-infused adventure THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1983).

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