In order to narrow down last week’s choices for Swashbuckler week, I eliminated those films dealing with magic. As that is enough to fill another week *surprise*, this week is Sword and Sorcery week. I’ll start with some quintessential Arnold. Conan the Barbarian is currently available on Netflix instant play.
WATCH: Conan the Barbarian (1982) – rated R
“Catch Arnold before he became a politician! A pure swords-and-sorcery flick, Conan the Barbarian is one of the best and sparked a wave of fantasy films in the early ’80s. When Conan’s parents are killed in a raid, he’s sent to a slave camp where his master trains him to be a warrior and use his skills in high-stakes fights. Once granted his freedom, the muscle-bound bruiser seeks to avenge his parents’ brutal murder and solve the riddle of steel.”
You know when a film opens with a quote from Nietzsche that it’s likely to be dripping with testosterone. Manly John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now, Dillinger, Dirty Harry) both directed this and co-wrote it with Oliver Stone. This film overflows with machismo and is well done apart from a bizarre third-act twist. Basil Poledouris’ ponderous bass and drum heavy score is not only fitting and rousing but has been ripped off numerous times for other movies’ trailers. There are many wonderful action pieces throughout the film especially the big end battle.
While not Arnold’s best film, it is hard to hear the word Conan without picturing Arnold’s incredible physique. Arnold is of course Arnold but that is perfect for this film and without him this film would not have amounted to much. Arnold’s love interest Valeria holds her own and is played ably and very physically by dancer Sandahl Bergman who unfortunately did not receive anywhere near the post-movie boost that Arnold did. They did their own stunts but stuntwoman Corrie Jansen (as a priestess of Doom) took the cake when she set a record by taking a 182-foot free fall plunge.
James Earl Jones oddly plays villain Thulsa Doom. I say oddly because in the books, Thulsa Doom was actually an enemy of Robert E. Howard’s other hero, Kull the Conqueror. Thulsa’s thread runs through the film and he makes a fine villain but in the third act, he becomes the leader of a snake cult that believes in flower power (?!?). The Jim Jones massacre occurred in 1978 and was obviously fresh in the writers’ minds but I’m not sure whether the cult is supposed to reflect them or ‘flower power’ or a mixture of the two. At any rate it seems really jarring especially with the incredibly fake 2nd worst cannibal stew in one sequence – worst goes to the Richard Chamberlain stinker, King Solomon’s Mines. Other than those flaws, the film is very enjoyable.
People Watch: Max von Sydow has a brief but welcome role as King Osric