Sandokan The Great (Italy 1964)

Rating: **
Review Date: 5/27/19
Cast: Steve Reeves, Genevieve Grad, Andrea Bosic

"You must learn how to defend your freedom, or else you will never be free!"

When the revered Malaysian pirate Sandokan (Steve Reeves) attempts to rescue his father from the tyrannical Lord Hillock, he ends up with Hillock's niece, Mary Ann (Genevieve Grad), as a hostage instead. Desperate to escape the island and head home, Sandokan and his men are ruthlessly pursued by British soldiers and savage headhunters. Mary Ann slowly accepts the awful truth about colonial barbarism and her uncle's cruelty, and falls in love with the dashing Sandokan and his efforts to liberate the oppressed people.

It's a big budget jungle adventure and the Asian locations are gorgeous, but the pacing is dreadfully slow and the extended action scenes go on way too long. The film could definitely benefit from some editing, but it's typical of the time period. Steve Reeves cuts an impressive figure as Sandokan, with his piercing blue eyes, rugged features, and stunning physique. Genevieve Grad is pretty and plays well off of Reeves, although their jungle romance reeks of pulp adventure sensibilities. While most of the film plays it safe and straight, there are several awkward scenes involving a chimpanzee that are played for laughs and feel wildly out of place. It's like they had a contractual obligation to include a chimp in the script. Many of the scenes involving animals and native tribes look like they were lifted from a different movie, but it could just be that they were shot by a second unit with different equipment and film stock. It's the product of a more innocent and naïve time, and if you can survive the sluggish pacing and cheesy romance, it's a fun and heroic adventure that speaks to standing up for freedom and justice, no matter the cost.