Severin Films normally handles things that fall closer to the sleazy end of the scale, and that’s not a judgment of their overall identity, just an observation. You looking for the absolute best master ever of a particular European softcore title from the ’70s? If anyone’s put it on home video, it’s probably Severin.
I can understand why they probably wanted to put out “Ashanti” as one of their latest releases. The film has a certain reputation, and I’ve never seen it before, in part because of that reputation. Finally having seen it, though, it’s far less exploitative than I expected it to be, and instead, it’s pretty much a straightforward adventure film using human trafficking as the backdrop.
While he’s in Africa with his wife, Dr. Anansa Linderby (Beverly Johnson), Dr. David Liderby (Michael Caine) is horrified by her disappearance. She’s taken by the slaver Suleiman (Peter Ustinov), and for the rest of the film, Caine does his best to catch up with Ustinov before she can be sold into a life of bondage. I was worried at the start of the film that it was going to be rapey and disturbing, but the film avoids that sort of thing entirely. Instead, it’s all about the chase and the various allies that Caine is forced to call on in his quest to find his wife.
The movie wants to get the moral compass right, and they build to a moment when Michael Caine is forced to abandon a bunch of children in the desert, knowing they will be picked up again by slavers, if he wants to continue on the quest to find his wife. Caine plays it for everything it’s worth, and as he does throughout the movie, Caine elevates the material because of the way he commits to it. That grounding is important, because it’s not long after that scene that “Ashanti” brings in some crazy voodoo elements and the movie starts a quick slide into total lunacy.
I’m amazed, actually, at how well-crafted the film is, because Richard Fleischer normally strikes me as a guy who barely held his productions together. That may not be fair, but I can only judge the end results. Yes, he directed the great “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” but he also directed the horrifying “Conan The Destroyer.” Sure, he directed “Fantastic Voyage,” but he’s also behind “Doctor Dolittle” and “Mandingo” and “Amityville 3D,” for god’s sake. For every good film on his filmography, there are at least two fairly rotten films. And I’m sorry, but the Neil Diamond version of “The Jazz Singer” pretty much trumps anything good he ever touched. That movie is all the awful. All of it. At once.
Looking at “Ashanti,” it’s a safe bet Fleischer was a big fan of “Lawrence Of Arabia.” Not only does he seem to lift specific compositions from that film, he even casts Omar Sharif in a key role near the end of the movie. The supporting cast also features Rex Harrison and William Holden, although only briefly, as well as an international cast led by Kabir Bedi as Malik, the tracker who becomes Caine’s most important ally. It’s a solid cast, and they all do solid work, even if the film does trade on some fairly dusty stereotypes.
It’s a very clean transfer overall, with fairly restrained grain structure in the image. It’s an even better sound mix, with a really strong stereo mix that sounded great on my set-up. There is a Blu-ray and a DVD inside the case, and overall, it is technically impressive. And while there aren’t many extras, there’s a good interview with Beverly Johnson about her work in the film and her career overall as a supermodel in the ’70s. She remains flat-out stunning even today, and she seems to have a very clear recall about the film and the way it represents a sort of last gasp of Old Hollywood. Severin always seems to track down the best possible materials, and this is a great example of what they can do when they’re given something spotless to work with.
DISC QUALITY: B+
FILM QUALITY: C