Friday, December 6, 2013

Rosalba Neri Friday # 14 - Esther and the King 1960 (Rosalba & Mario Bava Get Some Of That Ol' Time Religon !)

    A 21 year Rosalba Neri appears in Raoul Walsh's 1960 Biblical spectacle Esther And The King. Based (very loosely I suspect) on the Old Testament story of Esther (hence the book of Esther in the Bible), this Italian/U.S. co-production seems to juggle a spiritually uplifting story while at the same time wanting to put as much barely clothed female flesh on display as possible.

   Richard Egan (with a Brylcreem filled head of hair & American accent) plays King Ahaseurus of Persia who after returning from a long war discovers that his wife Queen Vashti (the very beautiful Daniela Rocca) has been catting around with various male members of his court. Casting her aside (but not before she does a wild dance at a banquet which climaxes in her stripping naked and spitting at his feet) he sets off to find another virginal queen and rather surprisingly ends up with everybody's favorite 1980's T.V. rich bitch Joan Collins who plays Esther.
  Like many of this type of film its a bit of a butt-numb to get thru and although marketed and based upon a Biblical story many aspects of this including the costumes & court intrigue (along with the presence of Rosalba) reminded me more of a peplum (just add a muscle bound hero & Carlo Rambaldi monster).

   Rosalba plays Keresh a mistress of the court who's carrying on with Haman (Sergio Fantoni from 1965's Von Ryan's Express) - who was also messing around with Queen Vashti. Haman has designs on the throne himself and has plans to get Keresh inserted into the role of Ahaseurus's queen as a means to that end. Although still quite a looker here (check out that Biblical take on a blue bikini top), but because of a few extra pounds in this early stage of her career (and a ton of make-up) she is without her distinctive facial angles & sphinx-like beauty that would be such a presence in her later films.

   The OTHER interesting piece here is future Italian horror master Mario Bava in the role of cinematographer. For whatever reasons (among them maybe being his fading eyesight & the language barrier) director Raoul Walsh became dis-interested in the project and along with directing most all of the second unit stuff Bava also handled a good chunk of the film itself. Coming immediately after his 1960 B&W directorial debut Black Sunday and filled with his trademark shadows and hallucinatory lighting Esther and the King at times look like precursor to his later color horror fantasies such as Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) & Black Sabbath (1963). Bava gives Rosalba several gorgeous close-ups and later used her in Hercules in the Haunted World, although her scenes were cut out of the finished film (her name still appears in the credits).

  Never given a proper video release as all previous versions destroyed Bava's breathtaking photography & use of color, a recent widescreen DVD release from Germany (titled Das Schwert Von Persien) finally restores its intended look. This is an absolutely beautiful DVD, plus is English friendly and it's a pretty decent bargain (I ordered mine from Amazon Germany for less then $15.00 shipped - well worth it for widescreen Bava & Rosalba).


  1. This looks incredible. I love what Bava does with lighting. I'm not the world's biggest peplum fan at the best of times but since it is a Bava I'm gonna have to see this!

    1. It's an amazing film, if only for the visuals alone. A MUST for any Bava fan. BTW, I've just discovered your blog and am really enjoying it.