The Real PEPLUM X : The Pantless Hero!


Yes, I love films with gladiators. Haha.

But then gladiators weren’t featured in every PEPLUM film. Haha.

Continuing with the disrobing of the human body via the PEPLUM genre. Last week I left off with AIRPLANE making fun of gladiator films. This line is now repeated every time the subject of PEPLUM films or gladiators come up with non-fans. This just shows the extent of the brazenness of male flesh these films had back in the day. But most of these negative observations come mainly from Americans (or Europeans who mimic Americans). This is mainly due to the fact that Hollywood has always been extremely prudish with showing too much made nudity. It something that persists up to today.

In order to put things into context on how prudish Hollywood or Americans were, remember that Barbara Eden on I DREAM OF JEANNIE (above, left) had to cover her belly button. Yes, that’s how extreme it was back then. Showing a navel on TV or even movies could get a studio some fines or an undesirable classification for a production. Today, this seems totally absurd (because it was) but in those days people were still antsy over showing too much flesh, on TV or in the movies. Hollywood followed the mores of the time but European films bucked that trend. It was more liberal in regards to the display of flesh, in which many American moviegoers responded positively to it. Europeans films, which always had difficulty making in-roads into the Hollywood dominated US market found an entry point : showing skin. Of course there were always nudies or early porno films that showed breasts and buttocks so the disrobing of the human body did occur in them but those were relegated to the grind house theatres. This discussion is about films made for mainstream audiences.

Same outfits, and yet different outlook. Belly buttons are on full display in the Italian made THE MINOTAUR while the dancers in the Hollywood-made THE 300 SPARTANS are covered up : navels are hidden and bra-tops are fuller.


The success of HERCULES, starring Steve Reeves, gave birth of the 'Pantless Hero.' Between 1958 and 1959, Steve quickly made several films afterwards, including THE GIANT OF MARATHON (above, right) where he lead an army of men into battle, dressed only in white wraps. This was before and during the eventual release of BEN-HUR. The success of latter would solidify this trend, with brawny Charlton Heston wearing the same thing as Reeves in MARATHON during the galley scene. But even though Hollywood had a few instances of a 'Pantless Hero' with some PEPLUM inspired productions like KINGS OF THE SUN starring a near nude Yul Brynner (above left) and JASON OF THE ARGONAUTS, the 'Pantless Hero' phenomena remained a European thing. Hollywood never tried to fully copy this aspect of PEPLUM films, certainly the casual disregard to male flesh.

The 'Pantless Hero' : Jerome Courtland in THARUS - SON OF ATTILA


There are so many films in the PEPLUM genre that fits this description that I could write an entire book on it. It's interesting that this wouldn't raise an eyebrow in Europe while in North America, most whom are unaccustomed to this, would always make a point of it. It's most likely due to the fact that Europe and Italy is dotted by so many great works of art, such as public statues, that it's never an issue to them. It's a blind spot of sorts.

Now just to make things clear, not all PEPLUM films from Europe had a 'Pantless Hero' or excessive amounts of Beefcake or Cheesecake in them but even so the costumes were still more fleshy than those seen in the US. Several PEPLUM films were, like their Hollywood counterparts, based on the Bible or inspired by historical events from a Christian point-of-view. Films like CONSTANTINE THE GREAT or THE SWORD AND THE CROSS were 'Biblical' films made in Europe. They competed with Hollywood films like THE STORY OF RUTH or A STORY OF DAVID starring Jeff Chandler (below, right).


And not surprisingly, those European Biblical films, along with the lesser Hollywood ones, are often the least remembered ones today. People remember the chariot race in BEN-HUR or the campy sexiness of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, not necessarily the Christian message those films tried to convey. The more Christian a film was, the less remembered it is today. Does anyone remember THE BIG FISHERMAN?

But the productions of the European biblical films still reflected the style they were made at the times. Case in point : PONTIUS PILATE. Great production (hampered by a terrible script). Amazing costumes that looked very accurate. It's one of the most authentic looking productions ever made and yet this might prove too much even for today's audiences by reading reviews at IMDb. Here's a screenshot of a review PONTIUS PILATE :


Jean Marais and cast wearing 'tiny gladiator skirt' in PONTIUS PILATE

It goes without saying that Hollywood and Europe (or Italian) view things differently. Hollywood is much more conservative, which is a shame since they are a monopoly around the world. Their point-of-view is the one that dominates and so we have an entire generation of people who have grown up on with this and the moment they view some European production, they invariably start mocking them or dismiss them entirely because they don't reflect the values perpetuated by Hollywood. This is why the 'Pantless Hero' will always be seen as a European thing.

Next week, the innate kinkiness of the genre, the difference between male flesh and female flesh and how to review PEPLUM films according to the amount of skin in them.

Permanent page for The Real PEPLUM X


1 comment:

Steven Lester said...

Another fine report. I don't remember The Big Fisherman, but I would assume it had something to do with Peter, the head Apostle.