Monday, October 24, 2011

PEPLUM Book review: RETRO STUD

This is my review of the book at Amazon:

With one word, the author almost negates his own book

I'm a big fan of Peplums and I've been a collector of movie posters (of every kind of film) since I was a kid, so it was a given that I would end up buying Retro Stud by David Chapman. All in all, the book is excellent. Beautiful reproduction and great reference for any movie poster collector. I don't regret buying it.

With that said though, the book has several glaring flaws. The first flaw is that the collection is incomplete. Many famous S&S titles are not even represented. I'm aware that they couldn't catalog all S&S posters but still some of them are classics and nowhere to be seen here. I have a Spanish poster for Hero of Rome and it's one of the best Peplum posters ever. It's a stand-out. It would have been great if it had been included. But more importantly, you can go on eBay and find many sellers with great collections. The Ten Gladiators posters in the book are good but there are some better ones available on eBay right now. And looking at the posters on eBay doesn't cost anything.

Second problem, as mentioned by others, is that the author translated the foreign titles word for word, even though they don't match the titles here in North America. Now, granted, many of the titles for the US version were misleading or terrible and changing them to what the Italians intended originally is ok but for reference, if you can't read French or Italian, then it might be a chore to figure out the corresponding US title. Also, many titles from other countries do not match the original Italian titles. For example, one Mexican poster reads "El Triunfo de Spartaco", which the author translated as "The Triumph of Spartacus", a title that doesn't exist. The original Italian title is "Gli Invincibili Dieci Gladiatori", which translates into "The Invincible Ten Gladiators". But here that film goes under the name of "Spartacus & the Ten Gladiators". The Mexican title is misleading and to translate it word for word doesn't make much sense.

Some posters are a total mystery. The one on page 59, which takes over the whole page, has no stars or director listed and the author says the title is The Challenge of the Giants, which is not a real title. It's impossible to figure out which movie the poster is for. The actor in the painting looks like Richard Harrison and from the looks of the actress, the poster might be L'Ultimo Gladiatore, known here as the boneheadedly titled "Messalina Against the Son of Hercules". But that's just my guess.

Also, some of the info about the production or the photos have mistakes. On page 116, there's a photo from "Hercules and the Captive Women". The caption says that the two actors are Reg Park and Fay Spain but the woman in the photo is not the beautiful Fay Spain but the wife of Hercules seen at the beginning of the movie. Speaking of "Hercules & the Captive Women", the author notes that the sensational title is misleading because there are no captive women in the movie, which again is incorrect. The whole point of the story is the Queen's daughter being one of a series of sacrifices to Proteus and Uranus as to keep the island of Atlantis hidden from the outside world. The daughter is rescued from captivity and later on in the movie she's bound 2 more times! The title could also be interpreted as Fay Spain's character inability to love Hercules and that she's fatally caught in her scheme to control the world. The original Italian title translates as Hercules Conquers Atlantis, which is good but it's a more generic title. I prefer "Hercules & the Captive Women" myself.

The third and the most annoying part of the book though is the fact that the author disses Hercules, the Steve Reeves film that started it all, as an "unimpressive" epic. He then goes on and basically tries to point out why the "obscure" film became such a success: it was just clever marketing. Honestly, I find this perplexing. The author proceeds to write an entire book on a subject that was spawned by a single film he dismisses as either "unimpressive" or "obscure". Hercules ignited a whole new genre, from which over hundreds of films were made between the late 1950s and mid-1960s. Not bad for an unimpressive or obscure epic. Heck, not even Star Wars generated that many films after its massive success. I would have used the word "modest" to describe Hercules, not unimpressive and obscure.

The author shoots himself in the foot here. Hercules is a great moody fantasy directed by Pietro Francisci (who directed many S&S films, including the equally great pre-Hercules B&W film, The Queen of Sheba, which is not listed in the book), with cinematography by Mario Bava, and it caught on with the public more than just because of marketing. It would be too long to explain the many reasons why Hercules became such a success and the subsequent Peplum explosion, many of which the author doesn't seem to realize, including female moviegoers (notice the French poster for Hercules Unchained on page 56, which is also the cover of the book, and tell me that wasn't designed specifically to attract women).

I can easily overlook the errors in the production details about movies and the confusing translated titles. In fact, trying to figure out which movie was which was sorta fun. But the author's dismissive attitude towards the movie which generated the Peplum explosion, and subsequently, 50 years later, this book too, is odd and disappointing. Had the author had a bit more faith or respect about the subject, I would have given this book 5 stars instead of 4.

6 comments:

S.R.Orsulak said...

I was thinking of purchasing this book myself, but now will not. How can this man dismiss such a film as HERCULES. When I was young and I saw the previews of the film my friends and I asked our parents if we could see it, with their permission we all did. Standing in line at our large theater waiting for it to open(a half a block in each direction). Our imagination really soared after seeing it. This was the movie that started it all. Made tons of money and made Steve a household name.

PEPLUM cinema said...

This is the bit that got me frustrated, on page 7:

"Following his lunch, producer Levine purchased the film rights (to HERCULES) for a paltry $125,000 and then convinced Warner Brothers that they should spend many times that amount to lure the public into theatres to view the unimpressive epic."

When I read this I went WTH?

The author also refers to HERCULES as an obscure costume adventure from Italy on page 5. Obscure? Prior to making HERCULES, the director had already made QUEEN OF SHEBA and ATTILA starring Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn, both which were hits around the world. When Levine acquired the rights to HERCULES there was already experienced behind that production.

If you an avid PEPLUM fan this book is a given but it has its share of problems.

agraf74 said...

About one of the titles you mention, the Italian Film Databse ANICA registers the title Gli invincibili dieci gladiatori, as the official title, and Spartacus e i dieci gladiatori aka Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators as secondary titles.
It does not register "triumph" aka, but like you, I've found posters and pics labeled Le triomphe des dix mercenaires (France & Belgium), De Triomf van de 10 Gladiatoren (Belgium, Flemish title), and Triumph of the Ten Gladiators (USA), that look like the same film, as the Mexican poster you mention. Could they be two films, back to back, by Nick Nostro?

Source: http://www.archiviodelcinemaitaliano.it/index.php/scheda.html?codice=AG1584

agraf74 said...

A sudden inspiration led me now to a different entry in ANICA's database:
http://www.archiviodelcinemaitaliano.it/index.php/scheda.html?codice=AG1584

I've got Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators in the 50 Movie Pack DVD collection WARRIORS, from Milcreek, which runs at 94 minutes. I've seen the other film mentioned with 84 min. Could it be the same film with different editorial cuts/options?

PEPLUM Cinema said...

There's 3 Ten Gladiator films: THE TEN GLADIATORS, TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS and SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS. All three films have different running time. The film at the ANICA link is TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS.

Nick Nostro directed both SPARTACUS & THE TENGLADIATORS and TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS.

agraf74 said...

Thank you.