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Starting with the late fifties the Italian film industry enjoyed a major renaissance that lasted until the early seventies and yielded such wide-ranging international box office hits as Hercules (1958) starring Steve Reeves, Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960), and Sergio Leone's influential spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), to name a few. Italian producers seeking to increase their profits lured American actors, some of them fading former stars and others up and coming leads, for their marquee value and largely succeeded with this gamble. Clint Eastwood, of course, became an overnight star, thanks to this three spaghetti Westerns with Sergio Leone but other American actors found themselves in demand as well such as Alan Ladd (Duel of Champions, 1961), Guy Madison (Sword of the Conqueror, 1961), Rory Calhoun (The Colossus of Rhodes, 1961) and Jeffrey Hunter (Gold for the Caesars, 1963). Add to this list former teen idol Tab Hunter, who was enticed into appearing in The Golden Arrow (1962, Italian title La freccia d'oro), a fantasy-adventure of the sword-and-scandal variety that was such a popular staple at the time in the European film industry.
Set in Damascus, the story follows the trials and tribulations of Hassan (Tab Hunter), a skillful thief who turns out to be the long lost heir to the throne of the kingdom. When the sultan's daughter Jamila (Rossana Podesta) is kidnapped by enemies of her father, Hassam vows to rescue her and, at the same time, prove his true identity by retrieving a magic amulet. On his journey, he must undergo various feats of strength and cunning involving a wizard who turns men to stone, a sorceress who rules an underground labyrinth of flaming creatures and other dangers. Through it all he is aided by three comical genies, a flying carpet, a magic mirror that looks like a precursor to the iPad, and the legendary weapon of the title.
Tab Hunter had no allusions that he was making a masterpiece or even a good movie and was already at the end of his brief reign as a Hollywood heartthrob; his career peaked in the late fifties with Damn Yankees! (1958) and They Came to Cordura (1959) representing high points. After that, his popularity faded rapidly so with encouragement from his agent and actor friends like Tomas Milian, who enjoyed steady work in Italian films, Hunter decided to take his chances abroad.
In his autobiography, Hunter recalled, "Not being able to speak Italian wasn't a drawback. The script of La Freccia d'Oro - my copy was the only one in English - featured page after page of truly horrendous dialogue....All I could think of was Tony Curtis in The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951): "Yonda lies da castle of my fadda." I spend every night in my hotel, rewriting my lines so I'd at least have fun delivering them. I camped it up shamelessly. Not that it mattered - all my dialogue was eventually dubbed by a stiff-as-a-board Italian baritone with no sense of humor. I ended up sounding like Rossano Brazzi. Disappointment over being stuck in a stinker was eased considerably by weekly infusions of cash, delivered personally by the production manager. I'd sign a voucher and he'd hand over a bundle of lire, some of the old notes as big as place mats."
Despite the derivative nature of The Golden Arrow, it is a handsomely mounted production, shot in Technicolor and the widescreen format, and lavish in comparison to similar genre efforts at the time. In fact, the budget was so large that it almost resulted in bankrupting Titanus, the production company, when the movie didn't turn out to be a box office hit.
Movie buffs who are fond of this period in Italian filmmaking should be quite familiar with Hunter's gorgeous and curvaceous co-star Rossana Podesta, who has graced such similar efforts as Ulysses (1954) with Kirk Douglas and Helen of Troy (1956) in which she played the title role. She also appeared in everything from horror fare (Horror Castle, 1963) to spy thrillers (Last Plane to Baalbek, 1964) to sex farces (The Sensuous Sicilian, 1973). Antonio Margheriti, the director of The Golden Arrow, is equally well known and often goes by the pseudonym Tony Dawson, turning out stylish and entertaining genre pictures such as the gothic chiller Castle of Blood (1964) with Barbara Steele and the sci-fi adventure Wild, Wild Planet (1965).
"Considering what he had to work with," Hunter stated in his memoirs, "Antonio Margheriti wasn't a bad director. He worshipped American movies and didn't seem to care how lousy the material was, as long as he could follow in the boots of his boyhood idols. Sporting a ten-gallon cowboy hat and a five-gallon belly, he'd ride up on his horse, rein in, and say, "Very John Wayne, no?" That was about the extent of his English."
When The Golden Arrow was released in the U.S., it was targeted toward juvenile audiences and often booked for kiddie matinees, a distinct step down from Hunter's teen idol days. Nonetheless, Hunter appears to be having a great time as a dashing blonde Arabian prince and admitted that the movie "was a fun shoot. How could I not love racing a purebred Arab across the desert, hamming it up like Errol Flynn?" An extra bonus for making The Golden Arrow was an introduction to one of Italy's greatest directors, Luchino Visconti. Hunter found himself invited to Visconti's villa for dinner with such international stars as Annie Girardot and Renato Salvatori and, at one point, the director discussed the possibility of working with Hunter on a future project. It didn't pan out but it might have changed Hunter's fortunes as an actor if it had.
Producer: Goffredo Lombardo (uncredited in the US version)
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Screenplay: Giorgio Arlorio, Augusto Frassinetti, Giorgio Prosperi, Filippo Sanjust, Bruno Vailati
Cinematography: Gbor Pogny
Art Direction: Flavio Mogherini
Music: Mario Nascimbene
Film Editing: Mario Serandrei
Cast: Tab Hunter (Hassan), Rossana Podest (Jamila), Umberto Melnati (Thin Genie), Mario Feliciani (Baktiar), Dominique Boschero (Queen of Rocky Valley), Renato Baldini (Prince of Bassora), Giustino Durano (Absent-Minded Genie), Franco Scandurra, Gloria Milland, Renato Montalban.
C- 92m. Letterboxed.
by Jeff Stafford
Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller (Algonquin Books)