The Bandits of Corsica (1953)
Here’s a popcorn adventure for the Sunday matinee crowd that starred Richard Greene and drew me in for two simple reasons. The villains of this swashbuckler are played by Raymond Burr and Lee Van Cleef. Don’t forget that this was a number of years before Burr would become known to one and all as the crusading lawyer for the wrongly accused, Perry Mason. Back when he would deliver cold and deadly lines like …. “He’s not dead. He’s only fainted. We’re wasting time trying to get anything out of him. We’ll hang him in the morning.”
To introduce our pair of baddies, Michael Ansara, as a man of the people will speak out against the atrocities Burr and and Van Cleef are inflicting upon the population of Corsica. It will do him no good when Burr murders him in the name of justice for one and all to see while riding in front of an army of soldiers. And so begins our tale of Zorro …. excuse me, our continuing adventures of the Corsican Brothers.
The people of Corsica will turn to the well respected Greene #1 and his wife Paula Raymond for help when they are taxed to starvation. While he too wants Burr and Van Cleef removed from political office, they in turn want him to endorse them in front of the people. While these misdeeds are going on a traveling band of gypsies are passing through the territory featuring a fiery Dona Drake dancing for the crowds and a knife throwing Richard Greene #2. You see #2 had lost his memory years ago having no idea he is the heir to wealth and title. As for #1 who lives a life of luxury, he thought his brother, #2, was killed years ago though the body was never recovered.
Greene #1 turns Zorro like (or Robin Hood if you prefer) and takes to a horse and mask leading a gang of bandits in revolt. Burr is sure he has his man and when arriving with the ever present Van Cleef in tow for dinner at the swank surroundings of #1 and wife, Raymond, he will verbally spar in a game of cat and mouse with his opponent. Things are sure to get complicated for Burr and Angel Eyes when #1 eventually meets #2 and convinces him to rejoin the family fold against tyranny.
So while Burr is out chasing down the bandits led by #1 he can’t prove it because #2 is sitting with his sister-in-law, Raymond, under guard posing as … you guessed it, #1. The dilemmas associated with being a bad guy on screen can be mystifying.
To throw a little melodrama into our 82 minute popcorn adventure, Greene #2 was once in love with Miss Raymond and now that he’s lost his wealth and love to his brother, he may be looking for the double cross and claim everything for himself. Then there’s that gypsy girl setting men’s hearts a flutter on the island of Corsica. She herself wants to marry Greene #2 and might be willing to strike a bargain with the evil Burr just to have her way/man.
Swords, muskets and stock footage fill out the running time of this Ray Nazarro directed effort for Global Productions in glorious black and white. Would you believe Nazarro was slowing down with only three films in release during the 1953 season? He directed an astounding 22 feature films released between 1950 and ’52! Mostly B films in the western/adventure genres. He’d remain in westerns with Rory Calhoun features in the late 50’s doubling up with some TV work before retiring at the close of the decade.
Perhaps the TV producers of the 1955 television series The Adventures of Robin Hood had Greene in mind while casting the title role after seeing him in this swordplay adventure. Truthfully I don’t think I’ve seen a single episode of the 144 produced between 1955 and 1960 though I have seen him play the role in Hammer’s big screen version Sword of Sherwood Forest.
As for our chief villain, Raymond Bur, he was still mired in playing bullies and thugs of varying quality and would remain that way until TV turned him into a star in 1957’s Perry Mason series. A role he would play right up till his death in 1993 after bringing the character back to life in a succession of popular made for TV movies featuring celebrity guest stars enacting both the victims and suspects. 26 in total.
And finally there’s Lee Van Cleef one year removed from making his film debut in High Noon as one of Frank Miller’s gun hands looking to take out Gary Cooper when the clock strikes twelve. Like Burr, Van Cleef, would play numerous heavies and thugs before his image changed somewhat thanks to an Italian director in the mid 60’s. And the rest is movie history.
No original film poster in the vault here at Mike’s Take but I was thankful when a lobby card was gifted to me featuring our pair of chief villains seen in center and right shadowing the tempting Gypsy gal, Miss Drake. And how can you see the film? Well I got my copy on DVD thanks to the made on demand division of MGM.