Hearts and Armour

Director: Giacomo Battiato       
Tanya Roberts, Barbara De Rossi, Zeudi Araya

I've always loved Italian movies. The musclemen movies of the 50s, the spaghetti westerns of the 60s, the giallo of the 70s, and the Conan/Max Max rip-offs of the 80s. So it may be of surprise that I originally passed on the Italian Hearts and Armour. Why? Although I came close to renting it several times, the dull-looking box art is what ultimately made me decide against it. Recently, someone I know with similar tastes in motion pictures saw it and simply said, "Trust me; it's worth watching!" That gave me the extra effort into renting it, and I wasn't disappointed. Hearts and Armour is a knee-slapping exercise in unintentional hilarity. Wait - I'll give it some credit and label it the best-looking laugh riot I've seen in quite a while. While it's not up to the hilarity and energy of the Ator flicks (Ator the Flying Eagle, The Blade Master, and The Iron Warrior), it still a must for anyone with a taste for so-bad-it's-good sword and sorcery.

The opening credit crawl informs us of the time and situation of the movie - at least I think so, because it's all in Italian. Anyway, we soon get the general situation. It's during the middle ages, with the Christians and Moors having another of their endless fights. Bradamante (de Rossi) meets a witch and is shown a vision of a knight getting killed in a one-on-one fight with another knight. The witch tells her that the man ("A prince!" spits the witch - literally, for we clearly see several globs of spit flying out of her mouth) will be her love, and she is powerless to stop his fate.

She starts on her journey (where?), while the soundtrack thunders the endless electronic score. Along the way, she is attacked by some would-be rapists, but an empty suit of armor (with a frying pan on the helmet) rides by on the horse and chops off a selected piece of each one, with the blood, hand, scalp, hand, and foot flying. The armor tells her to put on the suit, and she'll be invincible. And she'll have an easier time making breakfast.

We then meet the Christian knights, who have even sillier armor. The chief knight, Orlando (Rick Edwards), has flames on his helmet. And two of his buddies have what appears to be a flower vase and a long sword handle on the top of their helmets. If the sword handle helmet was modeled after the screenwriter's head, it would explain a lot. And we meet the Moors, who have helmets somewhat less silly, though the crescents on their helmets looks like they have boomerangs embedded deep in their heads.

Bradamante, in the meantime, has rescued the Moor princess (Tanya Roberts) from those darn rapists, and bumps into the Christian knights. The Christian knights subsequently captured (never properly illustrated) the Moor prince, Ruggero - who is the knight seen in Bradamante's vision. Bradamante quickly fall into one of those cheesy "love at first sight" romances. To be politically correct, Orlando and the Moor princess have their own cheesy "love at first sight" romance. The others do not approve of these romances - obviously they symbolize the bigoted, conservative population of the modern 20th century society and illustrations into the evils of racism and anti-multiculturalism. Subsequently, there are fights, people get separated, and the lovers much find each other again while keeping their duties as warriors.

A Moor warrior named Ferrau (Tony Vogel) finds the princess. Vogel steals the show with his extremely hammy, bug-eyed performance, complete with howling. Though he rescues the princess, he tries to rape her but can't remove his rusted metal codpiece. Getting away, she finds the ruins of a church and a friendly priest. The priest isn't friendly for long, when he also attempts to rape her, though a swift kick to his balls and putting a magic emerald in her mouth that makes her invisible helps her get away.

Bradamante has better luck, eventually catching up to Ruggero and having PG-quality sex in a garden cave, despite the midget magician Atlante (who met Ruggero earlier) dancing around, making noises and warning the two of them that their relationship is doomed when Ruggero and Orlando finally fight.

Meanwhile, the Moor king has brought in three mercenaries (one a samurai), who knock off one of the knights and create havoc. Both the Christians and Moors are tired of fighting and being humiliated onscreen, so they decide to each send a few of their best warriors to fight, and the conflict will be resolved there. Is Ruggero doomed to die at the hands of Orlando? Will Orlando finally get some nookie from the princess? These questions are resolved in the final 20 minutes, the funniest part of the movie, complete with a "surprise" revelation that will be guessed by most of the audience before the characters find out.

Hearts and Armours is so silly, it would take a long list to write down all the laughs. They include some really lame decapitations, a sword that looks like a comb, an out of control horse supposedly tripping on the ground (but you can see the tripwire), the Moors wearing uniforms that strongly resemble jogging suits, and those wacky helmets. To top it off, the movie takes itself so seriously, it has the opposite effect, provoking laughs instead of generating awe, scope, or action.

Earlier, I mentioned that this was the best-looking laugh riot I'd seen in quite a while. No joke - the locations are well chosen and professionally shot, generating the little atmosphere in the movie. And the Dolby Stereo sound was above average, even on my TV's tiny speakers. Too bad that the heavy-handed electronic score spoils things somewhat.

Curious, I did some quick research after watching the movie. It turns out that the movie is based on Orlando Furioso, written by Ludovico Ariosto in 1516. Now, I've never read it, but I'm sure in its own way it was better than this adaptation. And there is evidence that this movie might have been better in its original form; it was originally an Italian mini-series, and cut for North America. That would explain a lot of the choppiness and unclear plot details scattered throughout. Though I'm sure that the missing footage also contains a lot more unintended laughs. In short, Hearts and Armour is a good bet for anyone in the mood for Italian cheese.

"Ed" sent this to me:

"Hello Greywizard!

"With a group of friends, I saw Hearts And Armour at The Director's Guild in Los Angeles in 1982.  It was a test screening of some sort; no credits and the back row of the theatre was full of executive types.

"Within minutes of the start of this movie, the audience knew what they were in for.  Some of my friends began loudly cracking jokes and soon the entire audience was laughing and joining in with comments and quips!

"Before the movie was halfway through, I took a look at the back row to find it quite empty.

"Thanks for reminding me of one of the best "so bad it's good" films I've seen!

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See also: Quest For The Mighty Sword, Troll 2, The High Crusade