High amongst the many wonders of the modern age is the movie trailer. I remember loving them even before I realised that there were actually full-length movies that they related to. Often a far better an experience than the real thing, they were always an object of curiosity, even if the movie involved was actually far less interesting than they purported it to be. In 1955, at age ten, I was still basically confined to Saturday matinees where, if deemed appropriate, the management would occasionally slip the trailer of the evening adult program in amongst the serials and cartoons. One such Saturday, there were weird pagan totems held high, advancing upon the audience out of a clear blue sky, held up by persons out of frame below the screen. The Sign of the Pagans. There was Jeff Chandler all the more stiff and wooden for Roman armour and beautiful women dancing and warriors charging into attack, but, as vividly as the totems, I remembered the wondrously evil grin of Jack Palance as Attila the Hun. No one was ever more perfectly cast.
It would be a decade before I would ever get to see the movie on television, and by then my more discerning eye would realise it was all pretty crummy. Although Palance remained utterly undiminished by the verbal and visual dross all about him, you could understand why his Attila wanted to destroy everything in sight if that was how it really was. But back in 1955, no such judgement was possible. I lacked a clear fix on when and if all that ancient stuff occurred and certainly regarded Attila as a contemporary of Jason and Perseus. But soon after I saw the trailer, I found the book of Sign of the Pagan —a novelisation actually by nobody called Roger Fuller, and read it and thought it a wonder. It wasn’t of course—the book is even worse than the film for it lacked Jack Palance’s images to add spice to the pages. Still, it was a major step towards a fascination that I would have with my still improperly placed ancient world that would continue with me down to this very day.