Directors: Silvio Amadio, Terence Young
Retromedia/Image Entertainment

Retromedia Entertainment, who has become one of the prime purveyors of vintage muscleman sagas on DVD, has now turned its attentions towards the lean ladies in a "Mammoth Doube Feature" hyped as “An epic battle of the sexes!” And what statuesque, stunning ladies they are as you’ll see in WAR GODS OF BABYLON and WAR GODDESS, two dissimilar Italian imports which demonstrate just how much cinema had changed in a little over a decade.

In WAR GODS OF BABYLON, gorgeous redheaded peasant girl Mira (Jocelyn Lane, here billed as “Jackie Lane”) has her village rampaged by wicked barbarians who murder everyone, including her father. An old bearded prophet/shepherd named Zoroaster brings Mira to the village of Ninive, where she comes to the attention of the young prince Samos, soon to hold the crown as King of Babylon. She becomes his maiden of sorts, but overwhelmed by her alluring beauty, he easily falls in love with her. Although Samos has a good relationship with his noble older brother Sardonopolis (vacationing American thesp Howard Duff), who happens to be the King of Ninive, he too falls for Mira, putting the love-starved brothers at each other’s throats and their lands at war.

Originally released in the U.S. directly to TV by American International, WAR GODS OF BABYLON is a fluffy costume melodrama with good production values, a couple of decent battle scenes, typical conspiracies by macho power-hungry evil doers, some surprising violence (a severed head on a stick, a fallen soldier impaled on spikes) and a thrilling climax that boasts some decent miniature special effects, depicting a catastrophic flood and a ranging fire. Duff (who was married to Ida Lupino at the time) manages to escape the film not looking as embarrassed or out-of-place as other American actors who did these things (remember Broderick Crawford in GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON?) but his own familiar voice is not heard on the dubbing, subtracting from his performance. As always, Austrian-born Jocelyn Lane is striking eye candy, and not a bad actress. She seemed to hit her peek as a sulty vixen in late 1960s AIP flicks like A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY and HELL’S BELLES, but retired from films shortly thereafter to marry a Spanish prince.

Since most of us are used to seeing the film as a full screen Saturday afternoon TV affair, Retromedia’s DVD presentation is quite rewarding. Presented anamorphic in its full 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the print source is in pretty good shape, with sufficient, if not overly vibrant color schemes and a nice level of detail. Print blemishes are minimal with some minor grain in spots, and the English-dubbed audio sounds fine, with only bits of scratchiness here and there. The main credits (except for a title card) are in French, and the film is presented uncut at its proper running time.

On the flip side of the disc is WAR GODDESS, which was released here theatrically in 1974 by AIP. Another grand “sword and sandal” costume drama, this one is about a tribe of very vivacious and outwardly men-hating lesbian Amazons. The women hold a skill competition to decide who will be named the next queen. It all comes down to blond Antiope (Alena Johnston) and brunette Oreitheia (Sabine Sun, the wife of the director), and after their topless wrestling match, Antiope comes out the winner and hence the new queen. Antiope immediately sets down some ground rules for her Amazon army, putting down men as weak creatures, declaring that they’re only good for one thing. That one thing is mating, so Antiope and her statuesque girls hire a troop of Greek soldiers to have sex with in the hopes of getting them pregnant with female offspring. The Greek King poses as a captain, makes love to Antiope, and after a number of perilous mishaps and battles, he eventually wins over her attentions.

One of the most fascinating aspects of WAR GODDESS is that the director was Terence Young, who respectfully helmed some of the early 007 films (DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, THUNDERBALL) and that his name in ownership form was attached to the title on the credits and in the advertising campaign as if this was some sort of glorious achievement. In actuality, it’s a silly but well-made and expensive-looking melodrama with a surprising amount of nudity, and a rousing score by the busy Italian composer Riz Ortolani. Battle scenes are broken up with some talky sequences and occasional softcore action, but the highlight is an impromptu total-nude brawl between Johnston and Sun (who conveniently applies “sacred oil” to her body beforehand). It’s obvious that the film was never to be taken seriously, with a good amount of jokey dialog containing pokes at the Greeks’ sexual preferences and suggestive pre-history women’s lib (“I don’t want to have to come to you every time I need a new pair of sandals.”). Fans of Spanish horror films will recognize Rosanna Yanni and Helga Liné, but both have little to do, and “guest star” Luciana Paluzzi is completely wasted in a minor part. The previous year, AIP released a similar R-rated Italian-made film called BATTLE OF THE AMAZONS.

The presentation of WAR GODDESS begins with an apology about the transfer quality, so you expect the worst, but the it's a serviceable job that really doesn't look too bad. It’s presented full screen, and since it wasn’t shot in Scope, nothing looks too drastically cropped or out of whack. Colors are pretty good for the most part, with some scenes looking too dark, and print blemishes come in the form of dirt and green emulsion lines. The mono English audio sounds fine for what it is. This version of the film runs about 84 minutes, which is apparently shorter than the various European cuts, but all the meat and potatoes seem to be in check here. (George R. Reis)