Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

June 2, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #8, Le trésor des hommes bleus / Il Tesoro dei Barbari (France, 1961), starring Lex Barker

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Le trésor des hommes bleus / Il Tesoro dei Barbari (France, 1961)

starring Lex Barker, Marpessa Dawn (from Black Orpheus), Frank Villard, Odile Versios, and (uncredited) Walter Barnes

directed by Edmond Agabra

French language

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Lex Barker pretty much moved his acting career to Europe permanently in 1958 and then starred in 42 international productions until 1970, when he moved back to the USA and worked in TV guest shots until his premature passing in 1973 at the age of 54.

I’m happy to see that my blog posts on Barker’s films get regular hits year after year from his many fans around the world. Here is a film that is new to me, and I’ve never seen an English-friendly version of it on offer in 40+ years, but an excellent quality French-language copy is presently on You Tube and I highly recommend it.

This film comes after his run of Italian productions such as Pirates of the Coast and Secret of the Black Falcon, but before the two Dr. Mabuse films made in Germany, and before his resurrection as a major star through the series of Winnetou westerns with Pierre Brice.

Le trésor des hommes bleus is a French production shot entirely on location in Morocco, in both the beautiful coastal city of Mogador/Essaouria and in interior desert areas, with many Moroccan locals in supporting roles. One source states that the film is basically a French production, with the Spanish co-producers needed on paper in order to take money out of Morocco at the time, but not actively involved in the production. It certainly plays more like a French film than a Spanish one (Barker’s MISSION IN MOROCCO from 1959, though shot in English, was essentially a Spanish production and looks like one).

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Director Edmond Agabra is a new name to me, but he was assistant director on the Academy Award-winning 1956 short THE RED BALLOON, and Le trésor des hommes bleus has some of the same striking use of color and magical sense of place. His only other credit as director (and not assistant or second-unit) is a 1989 family Christmas film with marionettes, which has zero reviews on the IMDB!

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Barker plays Fred, an American adventurer (as I’m watching this in French, I’m sure some of the finer plot points are evading me) in the Mediterranean who befriends a sailor (Walter Barnes) and a French businessman and his daughter, who is attracted to Barker. He is part of a caravan heading toward the interior, and when he gets separated from the others, he stumbles across a community who all dress in blue. It turns out that there is a hidden treasure in this area, and a seedy character in the caravan named Fernandez, with whom Barker trades barbs and blows a number of times, is after this treasure by any means necessary. Barker being the attractive and virile man he is, there is another lady also interested in him, a local villager played by Marpessa Dawn, star of the classic BLACK ORPHEUS (who, I just discovered, was born in Pittsburgh! I always assumed she was French or perhaps from a French colonial possession), a lady who radiates charm (looking at her credits, I see that she had a small role in Dusan Makevejev’s infamous 1974 SWEET MOVIE, though that did not register with me at the time when I saw it—-there were too many bizarre and disgusting images in the film for me to notice the supporting cast, although it had others such as John Vernon (!!!) and George Melly in it!), and was an excellent choice for this role as she steals every scene she is in, seemingly effortlessly.

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The plot unspools in some interesting and unexpected ways (which I won’t give away) while at the same time hearkening back to the well-known world of older adventure serials and pulp stories. Barker here is in the tradition of B-movie adventure heroes such as Rod Cameron, and for much of the film he wears a loose and billowing white shirt which exposes a good bit of his athletic chest, in case you forget he was once Tarzan. Barker worked a lot in these exotic European adventure programmers set in a Colonial fantasy world, and he exudes just the right combination of thoughtfulness (he was a multi-lingual Ivy League man, after all), ruggedness, and wit to make him convincing in these films–no wonder he made so many.

In addition to the location shooting and many locals in supporting roles, the production design is quite impressive here, as is the photography. Though not a high-budget film, what interiors there are suggest, through colored lighting and use of small and suggestive details in the set dressings, much more than the producers could afford to depict. Every franc spent is on the screen.

The community of the “hommes bleus,”  when the film finally stays rooted there at about the halfway point, is peopled with local Moroccans who may well be doing for the cameras some variation on an indigenous celebratory dance-music program—-it would be interesting to know the backstory there.

In any event, Le trésor des hommes bleus / Il Tesoro dei Barbari is an entertaining and well-made escapist adventure and one of the least-known films in Lex Barker’s career.

It’s available in French on You Tube, and you can program (through the settings tab at the bottom of the screen, which looks like a gear) auto-translated English subtitles to give you an idea of the plot and its developments, but once you’ve got that, it’s not a film that requires a lot of linguistic information to provide characterization and explanation of incidents. Barker and the main actors went into this project knowing it would be dubbed into various languages, as did the writers, so even if you have minimal French, you can watch this and get carried away with it, forgetting what language it’s in.

A link is below….enjoy!

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