Spanish title: El príncipe encadenado
Genre: Historical Adventure
Director: Luis Lucia
A Eurofilm, Europea de cinematografia S.A. production
Story and screenplay: Jose Rodulfo Boeta
Music: Cristobal Halffter
Cinematographer: Alejandro Ulloa
Art director: Sigfrido Burmann
Cast: Javier Escrivá <and> Antonio Vilar <in El Principe Encadenado> <with> Luis Prendes, María Mahor, Javier Loyola <of Teatro Espanol>, Luis Morris, Antonio Molino Rojo, Juan Cortés, Ángel Menéndez, Antonio Queipo, Lorenzo Robledo, Pedro Rodríguez de Quevedo, Alfonso de la Vega, M, Vidrie, J. Martin, J. Roses, P. Osinaga, Anastasio Campoy, M. Soriano, E. Rincon, L. Rico, S. Rivero, J.A. Claret, Margarita Laos <and> Katia Loritz
King Basilio of Poland (Antonio Vilar) is engaged in a difficult battle against the Mongol hordes, who are nibbling at the borders of the country and looking for any opportunity to invade. After hearing a prophecy that the throne will fall if his son Sigismundo (Javier Escrivá) is allowed to roam free – and influenced by some of his self-interested courtiers – he imprisons the poor fellow in an underground dungeon from which there’s no chance of escape. Eventually he relents and decides to release him, but Sigismundo proves increasingly difficult to control, killing people who anger him and freeing a number of prisoners. So Basilio sends him back to his dungeon, drugging him and persuading him that everything he experienced during his brief spell of freedom was in fact a dream. But the people of his country rather liked what they saw of the deluded prince, and they rise up in his support.
This was a big budget release – for a Spanish film at any rate – and was directed by the acclaimed Luis Lucia, who is generally considered to be among the most important filmmakers in his own country but is little known elsewhere. Produced in Eastmancolor, it featured a high quality cast and lavish production values; which was only appropriate considering it was adapted from the classic seventeenth century play La vida es sueño by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, one of Spain’s greatest writers.
Whereas Calderón’s original play was an allegorical historical drama rather than an adventure film, Lucia’s adaptation is very much in thrall to the Italian cape and sword films that were proving popular around the world at the time. Therefore you have an ongoing battle between King Basilio and the Mongol invaders (who didn’t feature in the original play); plentiful swordfights; extras extravagantly collapsing to the ground while holding big spears in their chests; and a comedy sidekick who keeps on getting accidentally knocked out. Sigismundo, who roams around a rocky outcrop bare-chested and with his hands in chains, appears to be as much inspired by Steve Reeves’ Hercules as the character from the original play (although he proves to be rather more ineffective than the heroes of Italian peplums, depending more on the actions of others than being the master of his own destiny). In fact, to play up the links it was even retitled Il principe dei vichinghi in Italy, despite the fact that it doesn’t feature anything resembling a Viking (vichingi) [note: Italian synopses include refer to Sigismundo and Basilio being Vikings, so the film might well have been redubbed to give the impression it was set in an entirely different period]. Despite all this, it retains some of the more philosophical elements of Calderón’s work, especially the way it examines the blurred lines between dreams and reality and the paternal conflict between father and son.
It’s a somewhat strange affair, fluctuating between a kind of stodgy theatricality and something more modern, suggesting it suffers from an internal conflict between wanting to be a prestigious adaptation of a classic but at the same time playing up to an audience who had become accustomed to the more lightweight, entertaining and action packed historical adventures. Lucia directs it capably and gives it a sense of gravitas and atmosphere, but it lacks a real sense of rhythm, it’s far too wordy and frequently reverts to melodrama. Perhaps Lucia wasn’t 100% committed to the project – despite being a prolific scriptwriter, in this case he wasn’t involved in the writing, instead working from a script by lead actor Javier Escrivá and documentary filmmaker José Rodulfo Boeta – but equally he came from a generation of Spanish filmmakers who didn’t really understand how to make actions movies. It does feature very good cinematography from Alejandro Ulloa, who makes excellent use of the wild Spanish locations – he would later work on a number of Italo-Spanish historical adventures including Goliath Against the Giants, The Slave Merchants – and is as technically accomplished as any of its Italian equivalents, albeit lacking the sense of wit and vitality which characterizes the best of the them.
Review by Matt Blake, 2016
Press coverage & reception
Benefiting from a high profile release – the tagline positioned it as ‘a jewel of Spanish literature now turned into a genuine jewel of the silver screen’ – it did brisk business domestically, partially due to being released during the Christmas holidays (a traditionally productive period for Spanish cinemas). It was well received critically and won several awards, although some reviewers did observe that choosing to film a work by Calderón seemed to be rather out of step in the modern age. This was perhaps one of the reasons that the film failed to make a mark on the international scene; it might have been well made and well-intentioned, but that couldn’t disguise the fact that it was an old fashioned attempt at old fashioned type of project.
Notes and further information