T.it.: Il Re dei barbari; Sog.: Oscar Brodney; Scen.: Oscar Brodney, Barré Lyndon; F.: Russell Metty; Mo.: Milton Carruth, Al Clark; Scgf.: Alexander Golitzen, Emrich Nicholson; Cost.: Bill Thomas; Mu.: Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner, Joseph Gershenson; Su.: Leslie I. Carey, Corson Jowett; Int.: Jeff Chandler (Marcianus), Jack Palance (Attila), Ludmilla Tche- rina (Principessa Pulcheria), Rita Gam (Kubra), Jeff Morrow (Paulinus), George Dolenz (Theodosius), Eduard Franz (astrologo), Allison Hayes (Ildico), Alexander Scourby (Chry- saphius), Michael Ansara (Edecon), Leo Gordon (Bleda), Moroni Olsen (papa Leone I); Prod.: Albert J. Cohen per Universal International 35mm. L.: 2459 m. D.: 92’. Col.
The epic of Attila the Hun shown from the viewpoint of Byzantium/Constantinople. For his second film in CinemaScope, Universal allotted Sirk a budget of $1,300,000, borrowed Roman armour from the silent Ben-Hur and Quo Vadis, and transformed the bayonets from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) into swords. Unbridled fantasy, this California peplum in Technicolor brought together an unforgettable Attila, played by Jack Palance with an almost animal savagery (inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Sirk draped him in the sombre dignity of an Elizabethan superman), and the star of Serge Lifar’s ballet company, Ludmilla Tcherina, in her only Hollywood film. Too much plot and too little actual combat in this atypical fresco, except for the battle finale, entirely fabricated. Always sensitive to the funeral chant of civilizations in agony, the maker of Written on the Wind and A Time to Love and a Time to Die is most interested in the charismatic personality of the “Scourge of God” and his tormented daughter Kubra, whom he places in a magic universe peopled with skulls, premonitory dreams, ill-fated oracles, and superstition. This Attila, circling Rome in fury like a wild beast, is part of a gallery of typically Sirkian anti-heroes who “go around and round themselves and their unrealizable dreams”, except that here the Hun represents “a violent variant on the usually calm and introverted character of Hamlet” (Sirk). He is simultaneously fierce, vulnerable, and psychologically complex… Jeff Chandler, the official star of the film, had refused the role of Attila, not wanting to tarnish his “positive” image, and Palance steals the show. Particularly memorable is a scene bordering on the fantastic, when Pope Leo I, rising in white from the morning mists of the Tiber, sows terror in the barbarian camp. Shot at Universal City, with locations at Death Valley and the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, California.
Hervé Dumont, “Sign of the Pagan,” in Encyclopédie du Film Historique, Tome I: Antiquité