Imagine a world baked dry by twin suns. A world where the most precious resource is water. A world where men are men, and women are topless.
Such is the world of The Warrior and the Sorceress, or TWatS. That the film is utterly bereft of sorcery is our first clue something’s wrong; our second is that the executive producer is none other than Roger Corman.
TWatS stars David Carradine as a “holy warrior” named Kain. Everyone insists on calling him “dark one,” possibly because of his hooded black cape, a fortunate costume choice in that it allows a younger, more limber man to perform Carradine’s stunts. Kain soon wanders out of the wastes and into a village built rather frugally on the ruins of an earlier Corman production. The village is dry (i.e. deathly dehydrated) and ruled by two tyrants, so Carradine’s mission becomes to liberate not only the well, but also (of course) the bare-breasted daughter of a bearded old man in white (who is not Gandalf, because remember–no sorcery).
Screenwriter and pre-production designer William Stout sketches the film’s genesis:
[Director John Broderick] recommended I watch Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. I did, and since I had never written a screenplay, I noted the story beats as they occurred and followed them in writing my script so that it wouldn’t be too long or too short. Then, I changed everything I could find in my story that was remotely similar to Yojimbo so that I would end up with an original story.
I presented my script to John. That began a long process of rewrites (at least eight) to satisfy him. I pushed hard for originality and showing things that had never been seen in a film (the quadruple-breasted wasp woman, for example). I suggested that the bald ruler have a sexual relationship with his lizard creature. John hated that idea with a surprising vehemence.
When I finally saw The Warrior and the Sorceress I was horrified. John had restored all of the Yojimbo elements. To me the film now seemed like a total rip-off–with my name on it. I was extremely embarrassed.
(A longer account of Stout’s involvement with the film may be found here.)
Despite being systematically stripped of originality, TWatS struck me nevertheless as being quite close in spirit to the pages of Heavy Metal, especially those by Jean “Mœbius” Giraud, who drew a kind of free jazz that core-sampled his and his readers’ subconscious minds. On the subject of artists, Frank Frazetta would be pleased (or at least mildly offended) by the film’s palette of violent oxidized reds and dusky azure pools.
All of this is to say that the film is not entirely incompetent, and occasionally presents us with a startling jewel, such as when the obese infant despot Bal Caz is introduced–sprawled across his bed in imitation of Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus.
Ultimately, TWatS proves less exploitative than its reputation would suggest, for while María Socas does remain topless for the duration, her nudity is more matter-of-fact than titillating. And as for violence, the swordplay is virtually bloodless till the end, and Carradine seems to prefer dispatching villains by simply pushing them aside (or, in the case of the wasp woman, semi-erotic strangulation).
By the film’s end, Carradine stands blood-bespattered and triumphant in a field of freshly mown corpses. The tyrants have been slain, the precious well wrested from their grip, and the citizens of this village allowed to rejoice in, what else, a wet-toga contest.
And still, no one thinks to invent the brassiere.