Anthony Quinn, John Derek, and Jody Lawrance in Mask of the Avenger (1951)


(director: Phil Karlson; screenwriters: Ralph Bettison/Jesse Lasky, Jr./Philip MacDonald/story by George Bruce/from the novel by Alexandre Dumas; cinematographer: Charles Lawton, Jr.; editor: Jerome Thoms; music: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco; cast: John Derek (Capt. Renato Dimorna), Anthony Quinn (Viovanni Larocca), Jody Lawrance (Maria d’Orsini), Arnold Moss (Colardi), Eugene Iglesias (Rollo D’Anterras), Dickie Leroy (Jacopo), Harry Cording (Zio), Ian Wolfe (Signor Donner), Wilton Graff (Count Dimorna); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hunt Stromberg; Columbia; 1951)
“A shrill, formulaic costume adventure story that doesn’t pass muster.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A shrill, formulaic costume adventure story that doesn’t pass muster. It’s half-heartedly directed by Phil Karlson (“Lorna Doone”/”Kid Galahad”/”Rampage”). Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo serves as the storyboard for this rip-off 19th century swashbuckler, that thinks by using the name of Monte Cristo it adds gravitas to its tedious story. Aside from this modest budgeted film having good production values, everything else is second rate including the flaccid story, the lousy dueling scenes (none of the actors look like they know how to even hold a rapier much less use it and the cardboard acting (especially by the film’s handsome but leaden hero John Derek).

It’s set in 1848, in Casamare, Italy, at the height of the Austro-Italian War. The area is home to the statue of the revered Count of Monte Cristo. The demagogic and crooked military governor Commander Viovanni Larocca (Anthony Quinn) collects money from the trusting people for the war effort and feeds his own Swiss bank account with their money, and he’s also been looting the city’s art collection and diverting funds to his Swiss account. He’s exposed by the respected Count Dimorna (Wilton Graff) who intercepted a letter Larocca wrote the Austrians of his treachery to sell out his people. But the foolish trusting man is shot by Larocca when he shows him the letter in private and is smeared as a traitor while his murder is made to look like a suicide. His hero son, Capt. Renato Dimorna, returns on leave only to be jumped by the ignorant locals and is reviled as the son of a traitor. Larocca rescues him from the mob and keeps him as a guarded guest in Count Dimorna’s castle, as he co-opted the castle as his new headquarters. While Renato supposedly recovers from a feigned injured leg, he’s closely watched by the suspicious second-in-command, Colardi (Arnold Moss). But Renato nevertheless spies on Larocca and learns the truth about his foul deeds. Managing to leave the castle at night by an unknown secret passage, he dresses in black with a mask and uses the sword of the Count of Monte Cristo in his crusade for justice, which gets the attention of everyone. Renato soon hooks up with the loyal local boy Jacopo (Dickie Leroy), his pretty girlfriend Maria D’Orsini (Jody Lawrance) and her elderly friend, the former army sergeant, Rollo D’Antorras (Eugene Iglesias). Together they will eventually open the eyes of the Casamare citizens and bring frontier justice to Larocca, though Rollo is killed by Larocca’s guard.

Quinn was never so one-dimensional and boring, while Derek is just a terrible actor who should never star in a film. The film follows the arc of The Mark of Zorro, but doesn’t have its heart in it, lacks energy and is so flatly presented that it’s just no fun.