Combustible Celluloid
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With: Victor Mature, Rita Gam, Gabriele Ferzetti, Milly Vitale, Rick Battaglia, Franco Silva
Written by: Mortimer Braus, based on a story by Ottavio Poggi and a treatment by Alessandro Continenza
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100
Date: 12/21/1959

Hannibal (1960)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Rome Is Where the Heart Is

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Today, Edgar G. Ulmer is one of the most highly praised of studio-era "B" movie directors. Yet in his time, Ulmer could not break out of poverty row. He began as an art director in Germany for such acclaimed directors as F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, then came to Hollywood at the beginning of the sound era, making cheapie Yiddish and black films. He finally graduated as a full-fledged genre director with The Black Cat (1934), a Bela Lugosi/Boris Karloff horror picture. He cranked out dozens of films during the next 30 years including Westerns, horror films, costume epics, and the legendary Detour (1945). Made at the tail end of his career and newly released to DVD, Hannibal was perhaps his one chance at something like the big time. Certainly, Hannibal looks like it might have been an expensive picture, but fans of Ulmer's will easily recognize how he cut corners and turned a routine programmer into a full-color, Cinemascope extravaganza. The only thing that kills it is acting so atrocious it might not seem out of place in an Ed Wood film.

Hannibal tells the story of a Roman-hating Carthaginian general (Victor Mature) who crosses the Alps with his army and his team of elephants and attacks the Romans. On the way he kidnaps a Roman beauty, Sylvia (Rita Gam), but ruins his own plans by falling in love with her. The press materials claim that 45 elephants were used in this film, but it looks more like Ulmer re-used the same six over and over. After three decades, Ulmer was a genius at getting the most out of his meager budgets; he compensated with his unerring eye for mise-en-scene and montage. The sheer movement in the film is a thing of beauty. Ulmer captures the terrain, temperature and sheer fatigue of crossing the mountains, and his battle scenes flow smoothly, much more visually rapturous than any of our recent epics (The Last Samurai, Troy, Alexander, etc.). Mature, perhaps best known today for his Doc Holliday in John Ford's My Darling Clementine, is the film's frosting. He's a wonderful warrior, at least six inches taller and broader -- and quite a bit better trained -- than any other actor in the film. He provides more of a presence than a performance, but his little touches shine through; whenever anyone challenges him to a duel, he smiles like a kid at Christmas. Ultimately, Hannibal did not change Ulmer's career path one bit. Later the same year, he made two sci-fi cheapies, The Amazing Transparent Man and Beyond the Time Barrier.

DVD Details: VCI Entertainment has released the film on DVD, and though their full-color, widescreen picture shines, the mono sound mix leaves a bit to be desired. The bass rattled my Bose speakers, and when I decreased the volume, I couldn't hear the dialogue (which is probably just as well). Additionally, the disc comes with no subtitles, which sometimes helps in cases like this. Other extras include a photo and poster gallery (See Hannibal and his crazed elephant army!), the original theatrical trailer, trailers for other VCI releases, bios for Ulmer, Mature and Gam, and, best of all, a 34-minute audio interview with Ulmer by Peter Bogdanovich.

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