New Gladiators (1973)

During these past two days, we’ve reviewed the films of martial artist Ron Marchini — from his 1974 debut in Murder in the Orient with Leo Fong, and up through to his eleventh and final film, 1995’s Karate Raider, aka Jungle Wolf 3 (in some quarters), which he also directed. But Ron has one more film, a twelfth film — a documentary released prior to his feature film debut, known as New Gladiators (now Elvis Presley Gladiators in its digital reissue format).

New Gladiators was a film that was believed to myth; a film mentioned in passing in the many tomes on Elvis Presley and martial arts history books; a film that Elvis produced — but no one ever saw. It was believed the 16mm-shot film was an unfinished project, the reels lost amid the many legal skirmishes after Elvis’s death in August 1977.

Image courtesy of ElvisDVDCollector.com from the 2009 DVD reissue.

At the time, with Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon igniting a new, worldwide interest in karate, the film’s concept of chronicling the world tour of the U.S. Karate team — a team which starred Ron Marchini — was presented to Elvis’s karate instructor, Ed Parker. Initially, Elvis, who bankrolled the production, was to serve as the film’s host and narrator. But due to his Las Vegas entertainment commitments and ongoing medical issues, he was only able to make a brief appearance in the film for a practice and demonstration session.

In addition to Ron Marchini, keen eyes will notice Professional Karate Association middleweight champ Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, who made his acting debut as “Sparks” in A Force of One (1979) with Chuck Norris and co-starred alongside Jackie Chan as “Benny Garucci” in The Protector (1985); he also made a brief appearance in Leo Fong’s Killpoint (1984). During the course of the film, Elvis is part of a ceremony when Wallace is promoted from a 3rd to 4th Degree Black Belt. You’ll also notice Benny Urquidez, who, among his many film credits, is best remembered for his role as assassin “Felix La PuBelle” in John Cusack’s Grosse Pointe Blank. But since these past two days were in tribute to the film and acting career of Ron Marchini, we have to call out his spotlight bout with German champ Geert Lemmens in the film.

From the film: Elvis with his longtime friend and “Memphis Mafia” member, Red West.

Contrary to opinion, Elvis did not write or direct the film, and was only a producer in the financial sense of the word. The film was shot by cinematographer Allen Daviau, who would go on to earn five Oscar nominations as “Best Cinematographer” (E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Avalon, and Bugsy). Producer and editor Isaac Florentine became a director in his own right, with the Undisputed franchise, and his most recent film, Seized (2020), stars Kickboxing Champ Scott Adkins.

The film was discovered amid other Elvis personal items stored in a West Hollywood, California, storage facility in 2001; the 16mm footage was restored and released in August 2002 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death. It has since been reissued — with more Elvis karate footage not related to the original film — in 2009. DVDs of New Gladiators — as well as many of Elvis’s other films — can be purchased direct at Elvis DVD Collector. Several extended clips can be enjoyed on You Tube.

Thanks for joining us these past two days for our tribute to the films of Ron Marchini (he’s featured in the trailer, seen above). Stream ’em and enjoy!

Mystery solved! The Norris-Marchini fight we’ve pondered these past two days, did happen, in 1965. That’s Ron, second from left, then Chuck, shaking hands. Courtesy Ken Osbourne/Facebook.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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