Treasure Of The Four Crowns

Director: Ferdinando Baldi
Tony Anthony, Ana Obregón, Gene Quintano

That annoying movie critic Pauline Kael may have once said that she lost it at the movies, but in my case, I was born and raised at the movies. Many of the childhood memories I have involve me being at a movie theater and experiencing many "firsts". I can remember the very first movie I saw at a movie theater - it was the Disney movie Snow White. A magical experience, especially since the technique of using animation and live action made the movie unlike anything I had seen before. Disney was also responsible for teaching me that you can't always get what you want - I believe I once discussed on this web site that Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas taught me that movies were not always a special treat. But enough about Disney - I want to discuss another milestone movie I saw as a child, and that was the movie Raiders Of The Lost Ark. As it turned out, it was more than one milestone movie for me. It was the first movie that I saw twice in a movie theater. As you can probably guess by that fact, the movie made a great impression on me. How so? Well, in several different ways. The main way was with its depiction of action. I had seen other action movies before it (like Superman), but I had never seen so much action in a movie before this one. And the action was a lot different than with other action movies I'd seen before. The action was fast and relentless; it grabbed me by the throat and dragged me along with nary a pause in its fast pace for its one hundred and fifteen minute running time. Also, the movie had way more brutality and violence than any movie I had seen up to that point, with people being torn apart by propeller blades, or faces melting.

Not that long ago, a cable channel that my television service subscribes to played Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and I decided to take a look at it to see if it still held up. For the most part, it did. What surprised me was that what once was swift and relentless seemed somewhat less intense today. Obviously, countless movies since Raiders have really upped the pacing and intensity of modern action movies. Anyway, while I was watching the movie, a thought suddenly came to my mind. That thought was: Since Raiders was so successful, why haven't that many movie producers decided to make their own clones of it? I'm sure I wasn't the only moviegoer at the time of Raiders' initial release who wanted more more more. And other action movies have been ripped off to death, as Die Hard has been. Well, I think there are several reasons. The first reason is the pedigree of Raiders - it was produced by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, a one-two punch so powerful that I think many filmmakers were afraid of copyright infringement and getting sued. I think that another reason why there haven't been a terrible number of Raiders clones is that it's harder to disguise and make your own version. Die Hard clones have taken place in numerous (and vastly different) locations, while the elements of Raiders are more definite and harder to alter. The third and probably the strongest reason for the lack of clones is the expense of the genre. Raiders had to spend a lot of money to feel authentic, and that expense has probably scared off low budget movie producers like Roger Corman.

Still, despite all of those pitfalls, there have been some clones made during the years. They include King Solomon's Mines and its sequel Allan Quatermain And The Lost City Of Gold, and Firewalker. These three movies have something in common other than ripping off Raiders - Treasure Of The Four Crownsthey were all produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus for their film company Cannon. Ripping off movies on lower budgets wasn't something they were frightened of. They produced one other Raiders clone as well, Treasure Of The Four Crowns. That particular movie was another movie first for me - it was the first Golan and Globus production I saw, seeing it as a young child. When I first saw it, I loved it. I was so starved for more Raiders action - and in some ways I was a stupid kid - that I completely embraced it. Years later as an adult, I rewatched it, and my reaction was somewhat less enthusiastic. But since then, I have seen some really bad movies, so I decided to watch it for a third time to see if it really was as bad as I thought it was the second time around. The main character of Treasure Of The Four Crowns is a mercenary named J. T. Striker (Anthony, Comin' At Ya!). In the opening of the movie, Striker executes his latest assignment - to retrieve a jewelled key from a tomb that's in the middle of an ancient booby-trapped Spanish castle. He succeeds against all odds, and he takes the key to the people who hired him. We learn that the key opens legendary ancient crowns holding treasure. While Striker's patrons have one of the crowns, we learn that two others are being held in a compound of a crazed religious leader known as Brother Jonas (Emiliano Redondo, Tuareg - The Desert Warrior). Striker's next assignment is to retrieve the two crowns so that his patrons can get the treasure. Striker in short order assembles a team of skilled professionals, which includes the circus trained Sócrates (Francisco Rabal, City Of The Walking Dead) and his daughter Liz (Obregón, Monster Island), to pull off a next-to-impossible caper to get the two crowns.

You probably did some math while reading that above plot description and wondered why the movie is called Treasure Of The Four Crowns when the number of crowns I mentioned adds up to only three. Well, as one character explains, there was originally a fourth crown, but it was destroyed years earlier. Anyway, I think that the title of the movie sounds better with a "four" in it rather than a "three", helping to have some of that magic of the title of the movie that's being ripped off. As it turns out, Treasure shares more than just a similar title to Raiders. Remember me telling you in the opening of this movie, our hero seeks a treasure that's in a booby-trapped environment? No doubt when you read that, you remembered that Raiders started off with more or less the same thing. In fact, at one point J. T. Striker finds himself running from a gigantic sphere just like Indiana Jones did in his opening scene. After returning to home turf, Striker is told of the treasure his patrons want, a treasure that can do both good and bad depending who gets their hands on it - just like in Raiders. A short time later, after Striker gets his new assignment, he travels to a wintery environment to get help from his old pal Rick (Jerry Lazarus, Hot Chili) who likes to put away the booze in great quantities - just like what Marion did in Raiders. After Striker gathers his help, he learns that the treasure is stashed in an area camped out by fanatics, which is what Indiana Jones faced. And the climax of Treasure has the crowns showing off their supernatural powers with great force just like the ark did in Raiders. As you can see, Treasure is more than just inspired by Raiders, it's essentially just a reworking. Though the movie finds time to pilfer from other movies as well. For example, the opening text that is displayed onscreen to explain the setup to the audience unfolds just like the text in Star Wars did.

While I of course wished that Treasure didn't follow its inspiration so closely, personally I wouldn't have minded that fact so much had the execution been at least competent. But as you probably guessed from that last sentence, director Ferdinando Baldi (Comin' At Ya!) doesn't manage to make the movie as a whole work. Now, I will admit that every so often, Baldi does manage to give the movie a touch that isn't so bad. In the opening scene, for example, Baldi does give the castle interiors and exteriors a little atmosphere. Here and there he also stages some impressive pyrotechnics. There are also some risky stunts clearly performed by the cast and not with stunt doubles that do manage to capture your attention. But despite those things, the showcase of the movie - which is of course action - simply isn't executed very well as a whole. There are several reasons why this is so, one of the biggest being that the movie often has a cheapjack feel to it. The movie is poorly photographed, with dirt and hairs on the camera lens throughout. The special effects are often laughable, with floating objects manipulated by clearly visible wires. But I might have overlooked the often poor production values had Baldi put some energy into the action. Take the last third or so of the movie - the raid on Brother Jonas' compound. It should have been a real nail-biting sequence, but under Baldi's direction, the sequence for the most part feels surprisingly casual. Another problems comes from the fact that the movie was originally filmed in 3-D. Baldi seems more interested in things constantly flying into the camera lens than staging action that would be exciting in 2-D. It doesn't take long for all this stuff being flung into the direction of the audience to become both silly and monotonous. I'm sure that even when this movie was shown in 3-D in theaters, this bombardment got old very fast.

The cheapness and unsatisfying action of Treasure by themselves sink the movie, but even if there had been more money and better direction, there would still be some major problems. Actually, most of these other problems come from one source: the script. The story often doesn't make a great deal of sense. How, for example, did the (easily accessible) booby-trapped castle escape great publicity for many centuries? Why does the magic key glow and fly through the air at several points for seemingly no reason at all? Plus, there are several loose ends when the end credits start to roll. It's not just plot points that were badly conceived - the writing for all of the characters is extremely poor. J. T. Striker may be the hero of the movie, but in part because he doesn't have that much dialogue, we learn next to nothing about him. He's very bland and boring. Brother Jonas may be the bad guy in the movie, but he doesn't make his first real appearance until more than half of the movie has passed, and almost all of his footage simply consists of him doing one of his charlatan religious routines in front of his followers. So he doesn't exactly exude any threatening behavior. The inadequately written characters may explain why none of the actors seem interested in giving lively performances; Tony Anthony (who here looks like a cross between Mickey Rourke and Henry Silva), for one, is very stiff. By now, you are probably wondering if there is anything about Treasure that gets high praise. Believe it or not, there is one high class thing to be found in this otherwise sorry product. And that is the musical score by Ennio Morricone. It has an epic quality, one that is strong enough that it could fit in an Indiana Jones movie. Morricone seems to be the only person connected with this movie who had some idea of what a clone of Indiana Jones should be like. I can't help but feel that if he had been pressed to script and direct Treasure - despite his utter lack of experience in those fields - the end results would have to have been better than they are now.

(Posted June 13, 2020)

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See also: Allan Quatermain, Treasure Of The Lost Desert, Year Of The Comet