My fascination for history and antiquity certainly started by all sorts of "peplum" movies of which "Sign of the Pagan" was the first, setting my standards for this type of film for a long time, being a schoolboy of 10 at it's release. The first startling images of hordes of Huns on their small horses sweeping over plains and burning villages made my own imagination galloping for starters.
Then the impact of what followed still remains unforgettable: all that turmoil and fire brutally cut by the sudden appearance of Jack Palance on his battling horse, accompanied by some grave voice introducing "Attila... the HUN"!!!
Grinning Jack Palance, in silvery armour as well as bare-chested, immediately stole my youngster' Heart & Soul, sometimes conflicting though with some encouraging feelings for the silver-hared Jeff Chandler as the good guy: his becoming emperor in the end even started off a search as for the movie's accuracy in telling these events...
As for now I know that at first Chandler was chosen for the role of Attila but declined it out of a Hollywoodian fear for a "bad" image. As has been rightly said by some french author: in this movie the "bad" eclipsed the "hero", the brutal conqueror turning into the "tragic hero", and Jack Palance (whom I had never seen) made an overwhelming appearance with his face as kind of a expressive, terrifying and pathetic masque, and certainly ideally casted for the historic barbarian the real Atilla was.
Two more scenes to remember, brilliantly directed by Sirk : the pope encountering Atilla (who as a pagan clearly panicks for this ghostlike creature coming out of the mists as of creeping out of the underworld even he fears), and the confrontation of Atilla with a shining cross, driving him out of a burned-out church and, as I imagined, driving him to his fateful end by a woman's dagger instead of by Marcianus' sword.
Even if this kind of film-making is outdated by movies as Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Gladiator or Troy, this Sign of the Pagan can still be appreciated ... on the condition it's pellicule is restored and is seen in 16:9 version!
Sign of the Pagan
Adventure / Biography / Drama / History / War
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1 hr 32 min