Producer/writer/star Tony Anthony (an American star of several Italian westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, such as GET MEAN and THE SILENT STRANGER), producer/writer/co-star Gene Quintano (later to flirt with Hollywood filmmaking by directing NATIONAL LAMPOON’S LOADED WEAPON 1), and director Ferdinando Baldi (who helmed Anthony in BLINDMAN) teamed up with the Go Go Boys at Cannon (Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus) to create the world’s first (and only?) 3D ripoff of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
Baldi, Anthony, and Quintano, as well as co-screenwriter Lloyd Battista (another American actor who found success writing and appearing in European genre pictures), were just coming off a massive success: the spaghetti western COMIN’ AT YA!, the first mainstream 3D movie to play U.S. theaters in a long time. Made quickly and cheaply in Spain, COMIN’ AT YA!, fueled by an entertaining marketing campaign that emphasized stuff whizzing past the camera into the audience, grossed something like $12 million at the American box office in 1981, ensuring a nice payday for its makers and a followup for audiences.
Westerns were, of course, already passé by the time COMIN’ AT YA! came out, but the 3D gimmick was novel enough to draw a paying crowd. For the “sequel,” which came out barely a year later, Cannon (which was not involved with the 3D western) and company turned to the big hit RAIDERS for inspiration, cast the tight-lipped Anthony again as the wry hero, and returned to the Marks 3-Depix StereoSpace Converter 3D process (the SuperVision and WonderVision hoopla on the poster is pure hooey) to craft some cheap thrills.
Perhaps sensing that audiences’ excitement for 3D would be dead by the time they could make another movie, the filmmakers go all out to exploit the process as rarely seen before. If you can name it, Baldi probably throws it into the camera. Indeed, the 21-minute prologue is an all-out assault of phantasmagoric 3D mayhem pitting soldier of fortune J.T. Striker (Anthony) against a formidable array of snakes, spikes, skeletons, dogs, chasms, broken glass, buzzards, flaming boulders, and an exploding castle.
From the castle, Striker retrieves a key that opens four jeweled 6th-century crowns containing treasure. One is already destroyed before the movie opens, and one is in a museum. The two that Striker has to worry about are in the possession of a psycho cult leader named Brother Jonas (Emiliano Redondo), who holds them in his mountaintop compound protected by masked followers. To get the crowns, Striker assembles his madcap squad: alcoholic mountain climber Rick (co-writer Jerry Lazarus), circus strongman Socrates (Francisco Rabal), and Socrates’ daughter, acrobat Liz (Ana Obregon, still a sexy star in Spanish television).
A caper movie is essentially what TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS is, and the center portion goes through the typical MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE standbys of assembling a team of specialists and mapping out a plan on a scale model of a heavily fortified enemy camp. We’re also introduced to Brother Jonas, who is said to be a regular old thug from Brooklyn, but is obviously from the Dr. Doom school of megalomaniacs (and so sketchily drawn that to call him the film’s antagonist is purely perfunctory).
I imagine the film was a real pip in 3D, but there’s still some kick to its 2D presentation, if only due to the silliness of all the stuff jammed into the camera lens. It isn’t a good movie by any real standard, but it’s an enthusiastic one and completely insane in the way so many Italian genre movies are. Take for example the climax, which doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but involves flamethrowing gems, lasers, a revolving head, masked ninjas with machine guns, stained glass, the fakest-looking 3D serpent ever, and a melting face a la the end of RAIDERS. And that final shot…what the hell? And an Ennio Morricone score to match!
Despite (well, because of, really) the lunacy of its storyline and setpieces, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS failed to do anywhere near the same level of box office that COMIN’ AT YA! did, and the shortlived 3D craze was dead as well by the end of 1983. Tony Anthony never acted again, though he did produce a pair of action movies for Quintano to direct.