By the Gods!


I'll be back next Monday March 7th 

In the meantime, here's an image from FRINE - COURTESAN OF ORIENT (1953) starring Helena Kleus and Pierre Cressoy. Mario Bonnard wrote and directed this film. He also directed APHRODITE, GODDESS OF LOVE (1958), which shares many things with FRINE, including settings, costumes and some actors. It's a completely different story and yet it feels like a remake. The big difference is FRINE is in B&W while APHRODITE is in color.

By the Gods!

King Leonidas (Richard Egan) tells Gorgo (Anna Synodinou) and Ellas (Diane Baker) that he's going to war in THE 300 SPARTANS

A well mounted Sword & Sandal made in Hollywood. it's pretty obvious this film was inspired by Italian PEPLUM films but it lacks the organic, lusty approach of the Italians. Not bad. It's just very academic. Diane Baker is pretty but her storyline drags the entire film. Richard Egan is the best thing in it. This is not his only S&S film. He should have made more of them.

As a side note, I'm taking some time off. Back soon.

PEPLUM GIF Animation : GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES

Goliath vs Goliath : Gordon Scott fights with himself (or stuntman Giovanni Cianfriglia). Classic scene.

By the Gods!

Milton Reid tortures Dan Vadis in SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS

Milton was a James Bond villain in DR NO. He's pretty nasty in this. A kneeling Dan is almost as tall as a standing Milton. Dan is great in this second TEN GLADIATORS film. In the first film he had the single worst haircut / style in any PEPLUM film. They made a vast improvement with his hair here. One of my favourite PEPs.

Behind-the-Scenes

A not so happy looking Elizabeth Taylor takes a screen test for CLEOPATRA. The production was plagued with problems so maybe thats why she looked that way.

Blog notes

Problems with Youtube...again

For several days I got emails from Youtube claiming that over a dozen videos I uploaded to my channel have been blocked around the world. The majority of claims came from StudioCanal, a big film / tv company in France / Europe. Fortunately, except for THEODORA - SLAVE EMPRESS which was blocked in the US, most of these videos haven't been blocked in the countries that really matter to me, mainly Canada, where I live. Here's a list of countries that can't view those videos anymore :

Algeria, Andorra, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Congo - Democratic Republic of, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Gabon, Guadeloupe, Guinea, Laos, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Martinique, Mauritania, Mayotte, Monaco, Morocco, New Caledonia, Niger, Reunion, Rwanda, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia, Vietnam, Wallis and Futuna

As long as they don't block North and South America, Italy, Germany, the UK, Australia, etc, well, I don't have any problems with this. I don't know if they'll block even more videos but I'm just reporting this to make sure that you know why some of my videos are not available anymore.




Disappearing blog "members"

Google owns Blogger and they're currently trying to fix the "members" option for their blogs (see on the left hand side). In doing so, many followers, who aren't with Google, have been "unfollowed" during this clean-up. Sorry about this but it's something that's beyond my control.


By the Gods!

Sergio Fantoni battles it out with Vittorio Gassman, who's THE LION OF AMALFI

Directed by Pietro Francisci. It's one of those rare, early 1950s films that virtually impossible to get anywhere. Looks good.

The Real PEPLUM X : the influence of HERCULES (part 1)


Previous posts of the on-going subject can be read at the permanent page : link

Last week I mused about the proliferation of flesh in PEPLUM movies of the 1950s. Nudity was banned in Hollywood during that decade so the only option for producers and filmmakers was to be as fleshy as possible without being blasphemous. One could see casual or incidental nudity in films made in Europe but not in the US. The closest a film came to show full female nudity was the skimpy costume Lana Turner wore in the 1958 dull opus THE PRODIGAL (left). But that photo is a publicity shot and it's sorta different than how it actually appears in the final film. The display of skin in PEPLUM films, certainly Biblical films, is quite odd since most of those films were purported to be virtuous and approved by religious groups.






Last week I finished off with the worldwide success of HERCULES starring Steve Reeves and directed by Pietro Francisci. I'll write about the influence the modest Italian film had on the genre but also on the way it shaped people's mores towards the disrobing the human body. Aside from the fact that HERCULES is excellent, the big reason for its success was the addition of Mr America himself, Steve Reeves. What didn't work in ATHENA clicked in this film. Audiences were amazed by the bodybuilder’s physique. Aside from Tarzan films, most actors who appeared sans shirts in those days had a sorta average built, not the super cut physique of Reeves. His body was unlike anything audiences back then had ever seen on the big screen or something outside of a “Physique pictorials” magazine of the day, which were very popular then with the increased interest in bodybuilding. On the right is future PEPLUM star Ed Fury on the cover of such a magazine.

Before appearing in HERCULES, Reeves  starred in a musical called ATHENA (left). Even though he was featured extensively in bodybuilding mode in it, ATHENA wasn't a success at the box office but it did give a preview of things to come. ATHENA was a mixed bag of ideas (to say the least) and it disappeared quickly from the radar. Unlike HERCULES, the impressive amount of beefy flesh on display failed to generate any interest in Reeves, except for Pietro Francisci who noticed him after seeing it and hired Reeves to play Hercules. And the rest is history.

Mimmo Palmara, Gabriele Antonini and Steve Reeves in HERCULES (1958)

Steve Reeves was in such demand after HERCULES became a hit that he made 5 films in a row : GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS, HERCULES UNCHAINED, WHITE WARRIOR, THE GIANT OF MARATHON and THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, all made in 1958-59. All hits. He was also the highest paid American actor in Europe at that time.

Producers in Europe capitalized on this new angle to sell a story by hiring other bodybuilders or male models to star in their productions, like Ed Fury, Mark Forest, Gordon Mitchell, Gordon Scott, Alan Steel, Kirk Morris and a long list of other men. Hundreds of films of the PEPLUM genre were made and released between 1958 and 1965. Regardless of where the stories were set, Greece or Egypt or Rome or were pirate epics, it didn't matter, most featured one beefy actor listed above. This "PEPLUM explosion" lasted a good 7 years before interest slowly died, certainly after the failure of the gargantuan CLEOPATRA (1963) and THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964) zapped any interest the general audience had with films set in Antiquity. Subsequently, Italian / European films also fell victim of this backlash.

Laurence Olivier and John Gavin in SPARTACUS (1960)

Those two massive productions were, oddly enough, pretty much devoid of any beefcake. Was this one of the reasons for their failures? Not really. Both films were just too dense to be enjoyable. But then it wouldn't have hurt them if they had included such scenes. Even prestigious films like SPARTACUS (1960), directed by Stanley Kubrick, took note of the success of HERCULES and included some of the prerequisite "beefcake" moments, with John Gavin, a minor character in the story, spending a lot of time in the sauna. The influence of HERCULES could be seen everywhere. Films that were made before it altered the way their re-releases were advertised.


The poster on the left was the poster used for its original release and the poster on the right is the one used for its re-release, after HERCULES became a hit. Muscles were a selling point.

Try as they may, few Hollywood productions were able to duplicate the success of the Italian ones and even if they made some attempts to copy them in one form or another, such as THE 300 SPARTANS or SOLOMON & SHEBA. In the end, Hollywood was simply too reluctant to compete with the unflinching display of the male physique seen in Italian productions.

More to come...

By the Gods!

Pythias (Don Burnett) is led into a trap by Damon (Guy Williams) in DAMON & PYTHIAS

This is how the two meet and their friendship is created. If I had been Pythias, I would have been more upset about Damon trying to rob me but that's how the story was written. The two actors were friends it seems. Burnett made one other film before retiring from acting. As for Guy, he made another PEPLUM style film, CAPTAIN SINDBAD before starring in LOST IN SPACE TV series. This film is considered to be in the public domain and yet Warner Archives have released an official DVD of this. Hmm...confusion.



Movie Poster Mondays

British poster for HERO OF BABYLON

Proof that PEPLUM films were released in English at cinemas in the UK. This was released directly to TV in North America along with other titles under the 'SONS OF HERCULES' TV series, titled 'The Beast of Babylon against the Son of Hercules.'

By the Gods!

Pharaoh Khufu (Jack Hawkins) inspects Princess Nellifer (Joan Collins) for signs of starvation in LAND OF THE PHARAOHS

A wildly episodic film with great production values. Because the script goes here and there, the film never really jells cohesively. The identity of the actor who plays Nellifer's beefy guard in the back remains unknown (he's wrongly credited at IMDb). Joan, in a deep fake tan, was 22 years old when she made this.

By the Gods!

David Bowie as Pontius Pilate in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

From the back, that's Willem Dafoe as Jesus. This film tried to do things differently from the typical  Biblical epics and upon its release it was really controvertial but the brouhaha is mostly forgotten today. It's good but not great film. David, who moonlighted as actor, recently passed away. This was basically his only "PEPLUM" film. His role basically amounted to a cameo. The frustrating thing about this scene is that we never see both actors' faces in the same shot.

Behind-the-Scenes

Gina poses for a photo during the filming of SOLOMON & SHEBA

By the Gods!

Remus (Gordon Scott) and Romulus (Steve Reeves) finally meet their mother Rea Silvia (Laura Solari) in DUEL OF THE TITANS

The legend of Romulus and Remus is interesting and remarkably enough, no major film has ever been done on this famous fable : of two young baby boys raised by a she-wolf. In this film, this part of the legend is gleamed over, lasting just a minute or so, which has always been a disappointing aspect about it. It's probably because it would be difficult to shoot (babies and animals). Even so, some filmmaker or studio (Disney?) should make it.

The Real PEPLUM X : Flesh in the 1950s

Previous parts of the on-going subject can be read at the permanent page : link


Continuing with the subject of the proliferation of soft-core or hardcore PEPLUM films and where did they get their start. Last week I wrote about SIGN OF THE CROSS, which set the bar pretty high in terms of kinkiness, overt sexuality and nudity, as one can see in the photo on the left. This happens during the arena scene at the end. Yes, there's a hint of bestiality. But SIGN OF THE CROSS was a pre-code film, so it got away with many things few films were able to do once the Hays code was established. It would take several decades before things got to the level of that old DeMille film.






The main point with the popularity of the PEPLUM genre during the most conservative era of films, the 1950s (and also being one of the main points of the PEPLUM genre itself), was the disrobing of the human body. Except for a daring filmmakers like Joshua Logan, showing flesh in the 1950s was frown upon in stories set in contemporary settings but not with stories set in Antiquity. And since full nudity in Hollywood was banned during the 1950s there are very few films to talk about. So I'll briefly go over the display of flesh instead. In contrast, nudity or even incidental nudity in European films was common, and would remain so until the raunchy sex-filled PEPLUM films of the 1970s and onwards. On the right is a scene from the European-made MESSALINA (1951). Something you'll never see in any Hollywood film of the same era.

Last week, I finished off with the orgy in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. The orgy wasn't as over-the-top as the lewd stuff seen in SIGN OF THE CROSS but that 1956 epic served a good amount of sexy cheesecake and beefcake to keep viewers entertained.

Bathing beauties in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956)

In Hollywood, by the late 1950s, BEN-HUR was THE big epic everyone was talking about. It starred Charlton Heston, who was also in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, and like that film, Heston often wore very little, certainly during the entire galley part. Heston somehow enjoyed wearing very little. I guess he was a bit of an exhibitionist (see link).

Slaves from the galley scene from BEN-HUR (1959)

One can't stress often enough how conservative the 1950s were. Everyone was buttoned up to their collars. Therefore any film with any kind of overt display of skin was startling. Hence the popularity of the PEPLUM genre. Even though there was a supposed taboo undertone with the relationship between Ben-Hur and former friend Messala, and there's an awkward scene set in a sauna with Stephen Boyd on full display, BEN-HUR was a very pious film. It was the complete polar opposite of a Cecil B. DeMille kinky production.

Steve Reeves and Sylva Koscina in HERCULES (1958). Equal amounts of beefcake and cheesecake

Films made in Europe always had difficulty getting distribution in the US because of Hollywood's dominance of the film market. But European filmmakers had one weapon Hollywood didn't dare to do back then : showing skin. Since Europe was already ahead of the game in regards to nudity, with films like AND GOD CREATED WOMAN starring Brigitte Bardot, European films that could never get distribution were finally being released in America. That Bardot film got wide distribution in North America because of the promise of flesh. HERCULES (1958) was released during that same period and became a hit around the world, including in the Unites States. It was unseen for modest European films to make more money than most Hollywood productions. Producers in Europe and the US took notice.

Gina Lollobrigida and Yul Brynner in SOLOMON & SHEBA

Hollywood realized that European films had an edge over their films with regards to the display of flesh or sexuality. They finally got the hint and tried to make their own PEPLUM styled films, like SOLOMON & SHEBA, with the temptress almost always played by a European actress, like Gina Lollobrigida or Sophia Loren or Mylene Demongeot. But films like SOLOMON & SHEBA were few and far in between. Hollywood kept on doing ultra-religious films like THE STORY OF RUTH or KING OF KINGS, or massive bloated epics like CLEOPATRA. The sexy pulpy / action films set in Antiquity, with beefy heroes and full of pagan dance numbers, were dominated by European productions. Screens were literally flooded with these kind of 90 minutes long mini-epics, like THE TARTARS.

Liana Orfei wearing an anachronistic dress in THE TARTARS. But who's complaining?

After HERCULES became a massive hit around the world, effectively creating the PEPLUM explosion which would last several years, producers made sure that most actors wore as little as possible. Though female characters wore very little or wore clothes displaying their best, eh, assets, the focus was primarily on the men, which is something that never happened before.

more next week!


By the Gods!

Luis Dávila (as Sir Robert) plots something evil with Helga Liné in THE SCALAWAG BUNCH

This Robin Hood film, released in 1971, is a true PEPLUM production : it's directed with assurance by Giorgio Ferroni and stars Giuliano Gemma, Mark Damon, Pierre Cressoy, Mario Adorf, Nello Pazzafini (as Little john), Giovanni Cianfriglia and a host of familiar actors. It's quite a feast for genre fans. Now I just need to find an English dub...

Movie Poster Mondays

Spanish poster for URSUS IN THE LAND OF FIRE

There are three Ursus films starring Ed Fury and this one, the 3rd in the series, is the most popular. It almost has a cult following. Poster is average.

By the Gods!

Jack Palance, as Alboino, tells his bride to be, Rosmunda (Eleonora Rossi Drago) to drink from his special skull-cup as proof of her devotion in SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR

The skull is her father's skull. This is the most memorable moment of an otherwise bland film. It's not bad. It's just not that memorable. The surprisingly bad dubbing doesn't help too. Good for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

By the Gods!

Steve Reeves, as Karim, fights for his life in THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD

The baddie is uncredited but he's most likely to be a wrestler named Chignone. In this scene, the scary fellow is, at first, invisible. Karim figures it out and removes the "cloak" around him. Both are fighting on a bridge that's way above the seashore. I like this scene but as in so many other scenes of the era, it's all too brief.

PEPLUM premiere

The "Midwest premiere" of THE ROBE. People were so sharply dressed back then. Notice how Cinemascope is as big as the film title.

By the Gods!

Is it a bird, is a plane? No, it's Gordon Scott in GOLIATH & THE REBEL SLAVE

Mimmo Palmara is in the background. The Superman-like prowess of a PEPLUM hero or...was Superman's outfit inspired by Greco-Roman clothes / mythology? Good film even if the story is needlessly convoluted and confusing.

The Real "PEPLUM X" : Nudity in early PEPLUM films



Part one of the on-going subject at the permanent page : link

So how did the proliferation of soft-core or hardcore PEPLUM films from the late 1960s and up to today originated? As I mentioned in the previous post (see link above), the genre itself seems to be a natural source for sex or nudity since most costumes were skimpy to start with or people were involved in wrestling or orgies or some pagan feast. The one thing which sold those films to modern audiences was the promise of near nude bodies, female or male. Nudity in PEPLUM films date back as far as the silent film era. It wasn't uncommon to see a nude body here and there. Surprisingly, people back then weren't as prudish as we tend to believe, as long as the nudity was "tasteful."

A scene from the silent version of BEN-HUR.

The "PEPLUM explosion" or the Golden Era of the genre was renewed during one of the most conservative decades, the 1950s. And oddly enough PEPLUM films, whether they were Biblical or Greco-Roman in nature, were also the most "fleshy" type of films made during that time. There's a clear dichotomy between the subject vs film types : the PEPLUM gene is a myriad of different type of films set in the past but are often mistaken only as Biblical epics, which are supposed to be chaste and clean due to their religious aspects, but were quite the opposite and featured boatloads of flesh of beautiful people doing wrong things to other beautiful people.


A great example of this dichotomy was SIGN OF THE CROSS : a super kinky "biblical" film by Cecil B. DeMille and released in 1932, which included nudity, male sex slaves, lesbianism, beastiality and Poppaea luxuriating in some milk bath (Claudette Colbert, left). DeMille set the bar pretty high back then, even if few PEPLUM films were made during that decade or even attempted to replicate its success. It would take more than 15 years for the genre to be reignited, in 1949 to be precise, with the release of FABIOLA in Europe and SAMSON & DELILAH, also by DeMille, in Hollywood. FABIOLA included nudity during the arena scenes (which is often cut) and Henri Vidal walking around practically in the nude. Very little was left to the imagination with many of his costumes.

Michèle Morgan and Henri Vidal in FABIOLA

SAMSON & DELILAH was quite the opposite : it didn't have any nudity in it but it did play with the sexual tension between the two characters throughout the film. DeMille made sure the audience knew the two were "hot" for each other. Though not as obvious as earlier films like SIGN OF THE CROSS, it was clear that sex or nudity, or the promise of either, was still a great selling point for those films, more so in Europe than the US.

A scene from FRINE- COURTESAN OF THE ORIENT

But Hollywood of the 1950s was different than the pre-code era of the silent films and the early 1930s, or even the films made on the continent. If using real nude people was frown upon then the next best thing was used : statues. Naked statues were seen in many films of the 1950s, including this obvious one in ALEXANDER THE GREAT, starring Fredric March and Richard Burton.


DeMille returned with THE TEN COMMANDMENTS in 1956 and again sex or sexy people were everywhere. The constant mention of "bondage" and people whipping each other were prevalent throughout the 4 hour long running time. DeMille was a kinky genius : after 3 hours of Bible studies, he ends it all in the last hour with an all out orgy! Yeah! People sat through the entire thing to see the over-the-top crazy sexy action at the end. Make no mistake about it, though the film was sold as something virtuous, the tone was often set on decadence and sex. The release of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS clearly demonstrated how DeMille knew how to work the audience.

Orgy!!! Edward Robinson and Debra Paget in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

more on this next week....


By the Gods!

The cast of COLOSSUS & THE AMAZON QUEEN

From left to right : Rod Taylor, Daniela Rocca, Ed Fury, Gianna Maria Canale and Dorian Gray.

No matter what people say I like this film. The battle of the sexes set somewhere in Antiquity. Equal parts cheesecake and beefcake. Future PEPLUM stars like Marilù Tolo and Giorgia Moll played an Amazon. I have to try and find them.

Movie Poster Mondays

Argentinian poster of MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE THUNDERING ECHOES (aka Hercules of the Desert)

Poster captures the spirit of the fun film.