We were talking in another thread about how some of the Spanish DVDs are amazingly preserved, when it was well known that they were heavily censored under Franco's dictatorship. Some of you asked what sort of stuff went missing when these movies arrived in the US, so here's an example:
SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES is 74 minutes long in the longest version that I managed to find. This compares with the 92 minute running time of the original film MACISTE ALLA CORTE DEL GRAN KHAN which has recently been released on DVD from IMPULSO in Spain in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The Spanish title is MACISTE EN LA CORTE DEL GRAN KHAN, and the DVD comes with both Italian and Spanish Language tracks.
So what's missing from 7 MIRACLES, that we've never seen ?
Well, the first 10 minutes for starters. Have you ever wondered what those coolies are doing under the title sequence of 7 MIRACLES? They're actually trying to ring the Bell of Freedom. In the original, there's a shot of the Emperor and his advisors watching, and discussing how impossible it is to ring the Bell. Apparently China is under the Tartar Yoke, and if the Bell of Freedom can be rung, then all of China will arise to defeat the Tartars. But since no-one has the strength to ring it, not even an army of coolies, they decide to ask Garak, the the Great Khan of the Mongols, to come and help them drive out the Tartars. Much of this is explained in the narration, which is quite different to the 7 MIRACLES narration
So then Garak arrives, having defeated the Tartars, and there's a celebratory feast where they watch a Chinese pantomime depicting the triumph of good over evil. In return, Garak offers some Mongol entertainment in the form of a knife thrower, who at the appropriate signal from Garak throws a knife into the Emperor, killing him.
The knife thrower is taken to the torture chamber to force him to admit who armed his hand, but he refuses to speak, and dies as his limbs are being torn out. Garak smugly whispers to his concubine (Helene Chanel) that the best way to stop a man speaking is to remove his tongue. When Garak leaves, the Buddhist High Priest (Valery Inkijinoff) examines the assassin's body and realises his tongue has been cut out, making him instantly suspicious of Garak.
With the Emperor dead, Garak takes control of the Empire, supposedly until the infant Prince and Princess come of age.
So all this is missing from 7 MIRACLES, which now picks up at the "Ten Years Later" point with some different narration explaining how the Mongols rule China with a heavy hand.
The result is that, quite cleverly, it brings earlier the moment at which our hero Samson first appears, and dispenses with what the distributor must have felt was a lot of unnecessary detail regarding the political scene in China, and how the Mongols supplanted the Tartars.
Most of the other cuts are speed-ups of action. For instance when Samson exerts his strength to uproot the "Tree of Mystery" or the "Rock of Freedom", the US cut has him doing it more quickly than the Italian cut, by both shortening and eliminating shots. This makes Samson look more efficient, and therefore stronger.
An unfortunate omission is the terrific shot of Samson's first appearance: The prince is in the tiger pit, and there's a cut to some bushes moving, where you expect to see the tiger suddenly leap out. But instead, the bushes part to reveal Samson stepping out and posing heroically. That's gone, so Samson now just appears in a standard cut, as if he'd been there all the time.
The tiger fight is slightly trimmed - in particular, they've removed a shot of the stuffed tiger's face being pushed at the camera, perhaps because it did look a bit too fake.
The fight in the tavern is missing a huge chunk where Samson has a witty conversation with the Chief of the guards and makes him look a complete fool. In the US cut, Samson just turns round and whacks him.
Then, after the tavern is completely wrecked, and the inn keeper picks up the one jar that is still intact, to then smash it over the head of a groggy Mongol, Les Baxter pops up with a wah-wah comedy tune, which Maestro Innocenzi had the good taste to keep silent. (Les Baxter re-scored 7 Miracles with some bits from his GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS score, Carlo Innocenzi wrote the original score for GRAN KHAN)
The rebel leader Cho (Gabriele Antonini) then goes to visit the Princess (Yoko Tani) in a fisherman's hut where she is hiding. He doesn't know she's the Princess, but within seconds of him arriving in 7 MIRACLES, she's lifting up her sleeve and displaying the Royal Dragon tattoo.
In the original, the scene is much longer. Cho tells the princess how he has been unable to forget her eyes, and how pure he believes her to be. He's very shy, and tries to find out if she already has someone who loves her. When he guesses she hasn't, he says he wishes he could be with her, but because he's a rebel, he's always having to hide. Finally, when Cho complains that she'll never understand what drives him to liberate China, she shows him the Royal tattoo. It's a really tender scene, beautifully acted, and beautifully scored. But hey, that's not what US audiences want, is it ?
Cho then leaves and promises to return for her that night. The Italian version has Cho going to town and seeing people being dragged away for execution. It makes him realise how serious the situation has become. The US print omits that, but inserts a shot of a horseman (supposedly Cho) riding across a river. Quite where that shot has come from, I can only speculate.
The "Chariot of Death" execution scene is somewhat truncated in 7 MIRACLES. In the Italian print, Garak makes a big show of studying a parchment containing the names of the 8 condemned rebels, and then demonstrates his benevolence by sparing three of them.
In the US print there are still clearly 8 rebels, but the soundtrack says there are 5, and there's no footage of Garak offering to spare anyone.
This moves things along, but loses the connection between this execution scene and the one at the end where Cho is to be beheaded, and where Garak once again studies the parchment, but this time insists that no-one will be spared.
After Samson has destroyed the Chariot (That really is Gordon doing all those stunts !!!!), he races into the backstreets, and this is where the Italian and US prints are quite different.
In the Italian print, Gordon comes up against a high wall, and can't see any means of escape. Then it cuts to the pursuing soldiers who arrive at the same wall, but Gordon is no longer there. The soldiers then head off to search elsewhere, and it cuts to Gordon inside the Palace emerging through a concealed door and surveying his surroundings.
In the US print, Gordon comes up against the high wall; cut to pursuing soldiers; cut to a door suddenly opening in the wall, and Gordon entering; cut to Gordon emerging inside the Palace through the concealed door; cut to the soldiers arriving at the high wall; cut to Gordon surveying his surroundings.
So how did the US dubbers get hold of the exterior trapdoor shot, when Riccardo Freda's Italian editing team had removed it from the print ? Presumably when American International bought the movie, they bought all the rushes as well.
Finally, there's one really odd cut in the Italian print, right at the end where Gordon meets the Princess out in the Palace gardens before going to ring the Bell of Freedom. It's a high angle shot of Gordon running up to the Princess, having a few words and then heading off for the bell. Inserted in the middle of the dark high angle shot is a bright shot of Garak in close-up looking very angry, stolen from an earlier scene where he chews out the Captain of the Soldiers for not capturing the Princess. The filmic language here, suggesting that Garak has seen Samson and the Princess meet, and is furious.
In the US print, the high-angle shot is continuous, and we do not see Garak at all, which is certainly less jarring.
That reminds me of one curious bit of stupidity in the movie: The Captain of the Soldiers who fails to capture the princess is played by Franco Ressel. Garak is so angry with his incompetence that in the US print he orders him to be tortured, and finished off; and in the Italian print orders him to be executed.
Curiously, Franco Ressel must have survived the punishment, because several scenes later he turns up as the Captain in charge of the rebel executions, who describes how the Chariot of Death is supposed to work. Maybe it was his twin brother ;-)
A mention should also be made about the quality of the dubbing script, where anything from the original that was poetic or profound, or got in the way of the plot was insantly changed.
For instance, when Samson takes the wounded prince to the monastery, and the monks ask who he is, the US conversation goes something like: "I am Samson ... The Prince is wounded". Whereas in the Italian, he says: "I am Maciste ... Born of Rock."
Later, they meet the old Hermit, who has lived in solitude and silence for a thousand years. But moved by the plight of the rebels and the goodness of Maciste, he speaks and tells them about the Bell of Freedom. In breaking his silence, he dies.
As everyone kneels in prayer, mourning the death of the old man, the rain falls around them like tears, whilst sudden flashes of lightning illuminate the darkness. Cho tells the Princess: "By his silence, he staved off death. But to help us, he was prepared to embrace it."
That was obviously a bit too much for the US dubbers, who have Cho saying: "But we'll never be able to ring the Bell of freedom. It's just impossible".