Maciste (1915)

MACISTE (1915)
Article 4190 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-29-2013
Directed by Luigi Romano Borgnetto and Vincenzo Denizot
Featuring Bartolomeo Pagano, Leone Papa, Clementina Gay
Country: Italy
What it is: Thriller

When her father dies and her mother is abducted by a scheming uncle intent on acquiring the father’s fortune, a young woman, desperate for help, approaches the actor who played a heroic slave in the movie CABIRIA. He agrees to help her bring the criminals to justice.

CABIRIA is one of the touchstones of cinema history; it was one of the most impressive epics of its day, and it proved to be an inspiration for D.W. Griffith when he made INTOLERANCE. It also makes for an interesting footnote in the history of fantastic cinema, in that this is the movie to first introduce the character of Maciste to the movie screen. The character proved very popular, not just to audiences but to the actor who played him, muscular Bartolomeo Pagano. Pagano then made a career of playing the character, and even made “Maciste” his stage name. This was the first of his follow-ups to CABIRIA.

Oddly enough, the movie doesn’t really qualify as belonging to the fantastic genre on its own terms; though the character of Maciste is strong here, he does not have super-strength, and the story belongs to the realm of crime thrillers rather than fantasy. Nevertheless, I’m absolutely delighted at having had the opportunity to cover it, because it’s a real treat. The central conceit in itself is charming; Pagano is essentially playing himself (which is to say, the actor who played Maciste in CABIRIA), and he finds himself adopting the character of his persona to perform his own acts of heroism, and by the end of the movie, he’s even calling himself Maciste. There are two really striking things about this movie. First, Pagano performs his own impressive stunts. Second, a wicked sense of humor pervades the film; I laughed more often watching this movie than I do most comedies from the period. In particular, I liked a gag in which a criminal trying to escape from Maciste successfully jumps off of moving train… only to be scooped up by Maciste a few windows down and pulled back inside. Quite frankly, this movie was a lot of fun.

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