Marco Polo (1998)
Director: George Erschbamer.
Starring: Don Diamont (Marco Polo), Oliver Reed (Captain Cornelius Donovan), Jack Palance (Beelzebub), John Hallam (Ali Ben Hassad), Cas Anvar (Youssef), Jeff Saumier (Nicolo), Gareth Hunt (Grand Master), Gavin Abbott (Leader), Lara Bobroff (Princess Marita), Lyudmilla Brusentsova (Sylvia), Graham Stark (Old King), Viktor Polusmak (King's Retainer), Julia Volchkova (Jasmine), Mikhail Shayevich (Rusticello).
A poor movie about the world's greatest explorer who lived from 1254 to 1324 and befriended the great Kublai Khan.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
1304 A.D. – the wars between Genoa and Venice rage on. In the military prison in Genoa, the captured soldiers pass away the hours telling stories of fierce battles and brave conquests. The scribe Rusticello, imprisoned at the time, records their words.
One night they listen to Marco Polo of Venice. His father went as far as to the lands of the Great Khan who ruled in China.
1271 (June) – three men want to rob Marco of his money. They have a confederate, a young pretty girl who grabs and hugs Marcos to give the thieves the time to grab his money. They try to run away, but Marco catches and beats them.
His father had disappeared when he was very young, but Marco heard tales of the trips from his uncle. He and his brother Nicolo want to go to these far-away places. Marco sets out on a business trip for his uncle, but he also decides to search for his father along-the-way. Marco hears a man yelling at his camels. He asks the merchant if he has ever been to Acra. The man is Captain Cornelius Donovan and he offers to take Marcos to Acra. Marco agrees to travel by caravan. They follow the known trade routes.
Donovan remembers someone who looks like Marco. And he thinks he was probably on his way to Armenia. So to Armenia they go. They find a stow-away: Marco's brother Nicolo. A Nubian slave helps Nicolo by teaching the young man a great many survival skills. Nicolo becomes very good with the sling-shot. Their caravan is stopped by men who take the Nubian slave for the taxes they impose on travelers. Nicolo protests about the deal, but to no avail.
Nicolo sneaks away at night. Marco wakes up and sees the boy gone. Captain Donovan promises that they will go after him in the morning. Nicolo finds the enemy camp and frees the Nubian. The two return before the others start to look for them. Nicolo buys the Nubian’s freedom from Donovan.
The caravan heads through Turkey and reaches Acre. The Polo brothers split off to travel east to China. But first they have to look for Ali Ben Hassad, who owes their Uncle money. More thieves try to grab their goods, but the brothers are able to knock the thieves out cold. Marco presents Ali with a document for which upon receipt he must pay the member of the Polo family who presents it to him all the money he owes.
At Ali's place for dinner, two men fight to the death with swords. Ali finishes off the loser. Meanwhile, Marco asks Ali's servant Youssef if he knows his father. Youssef says he knows his father is a good man. In the morning Marco gets the news that Ali will meet him at lunch time.
At lunch time Ali makes excuses. Then he makes a deal with the Polos. He will provide horses and supplies and they will get trading goods for Ali. They will go to Damascus to collect the goods. In addition, he tells them to take Youssef with them. One of the dancing girls comes along with Youssef.
Away from Acre, Youssef tells Marco that he took four bags of gold from Ali. He gives two to Marco and keeps two for himself. The order of the Knights Templar guard the roads to the Holy Land. Youssef knows the grand master and will speak to him. On advice from Youssef, they decide to skip Damascus and head directly to the Knights Templar.
They run into the Knights who tell Marco that they can escort them only to the border with Armenia and no farther. They set up a trap for the three assassins sent to kill the Polos. The three travelers then continue their journey with the Knights. Along the way Marco sees the procession of the blind. These are Christian prisoners of the Crusades. The first four men in a group of five are blinded and the fifth man is allowed to have only one eye to guide them home. This technique was originally introduced by King Richard the Lion-hearted.
The girl steals Youssef’s money and leaves. Marco asks Youssef where is the girl. Youssef tells him that she has gone to Damascus to be with her master. Marco asks him "Does she have the two bags of gold?" Youssef avoids answering the question, but Marco doesn't need it answered. At the border with Armenia the Great Master gives Marco a ring to show to other Knight Templars. They part company.
The ruler of Armenia is related to the great Khan, but he is old and weak. A leader known as Beelzebub wants to take his crown.
The three travelers head to the Caspian Sea. They are stopped by Beezelbub's men . You are my prisoners says the commander and their fate will be up to Beelzebub. Beelzebub has them placed in a dungeon jail cell. Armenian Princess Marit and Sylvia, a lady in waiting, are in an adjacent cell. Beelzebub is forcing Princess Marit to marry him in order to make his rule more legitimate.
Beelzebub tells Marco if he can make it through the devil’s gauntlet, he will favor them. But no one has ever made it through the devil’s gauntlet. Marco accepts the challenge and makes it through the gauntlet. Beelzebub grants the three men permission to travel across Armenia, but the catch is that they can not leave the city. Beelzebub wants to make good use of Marco.
At dinner Beelzebub and his staff get drunk to a stupor. The three men, along with the Princess and the lady in waiting all leave the castle. The next morning Beelzebub's men come after the escapees. Beelzebub is killing the men of the villages in his search for the Princess Marita, so the three travelers attack his men escorting children away from the village. The attack is successful. When they get back, the Princess kisses Marco. They travel on to the Princess's castle. She sees her grandfather and tells him that Marco helped her escape from Beelzebub. But they are all trapped by Beelzebub’s men who had already been in the castle for awhile. Marco and his pals are all put in jail cells again.
Nicolo escapes from the cell, finds and frees his horse and rides to get help from the Grand Master. Beelzebub gives Marco another challenge. But the Knights Templar arrive. In the struggle the grandfather of Marita is killed. They defeat the forces of Beelzebub and Marco tries to save the Princess. He succeeds with a little assist from his brother’s sling-shot. Beelzebub gets hit in the head with a rock, loses his grip on Marita and jumps over the wall and disappears suddenly.
The three men now continue their journey to China. Marco says he will return to see Marita again.
Back to the present. Marco stops his story for he must rest. One of his listeners doubts the veracity of the speaker’s tale. Marco tells the man that everything he said was true and that tomorrow he will hear of even greater adventures.
Historically, a pretty bad movie. If you are a kid you might like it as an adventure story, but as for any real history, the movie sucks. In the movie Marco only gets to Armenia before the end of the film comes. The film is closer to a Sinbad action movie than history.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See "The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938)" for the Historical Background.
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