Article of the week: Sergio Leone and the PEPLUM genre

Sergio Leone shares director credit with Robert Aldrich. A rarity.


Sergio Leone is considered the genius behind the popular Spaghetti Western movies released in the 1960s and 1970s. His first western, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) starring Clint Eastwood, became a world wide hit and a flood of westerns made in Europe dominated movie screens for more than a decade.

Remarkably, few people know that Leone was also instrumental in making the PEPLUM genre the success that it was back in the late 1950s to mid-1960s.

Sergio Leone only directed 7 films but assisted to over 30 films, including titles such as THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948). Of the PEPLUM genre, here's a partial list of the titles Leone worked as assistant director or second unit director:


FABIOLA (1949)

He was assistant director for this major PEPLUM production that's often cited as one of the films which helped re-ignite interest in the genre. How much of his input ended up on screen is difficult to say but since he was Assistant Director, his input was most likely considerable.


QUO VADIS (1951)

Another major production which helped create the interest in PEPLUM films, Leone was Second Unit Director to this Hollywood super-production that was filmed in Italy.


FRINE - COURTESAN OF THE ORIENT (1953)

Assistant Director to this film directed by Mario Bonnard. Leone and Bonnard worked together in future projects. I guess they got along.


HELEN OF TROY (1956)

This Robert Wise epic was filmed in Italy. Leone was Second Unit Director, most likely participating in filming the many big battle scenes.


SON OF THE RED CORSAIR (1958)

Assistant director to this big Swashbuckler starring Lex Barker and Sylvia Lopez. Director Primo Zeglio and Leone have worked on other titles together.


APHRODITE - GODDESS OF LOVE (1958)

Leone was Assistant Director but also co-wrote the screenplay. Love this film directed by Mario Bonnard. Both Bonnard and Leone would work together again on THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (see below).


SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR (1959)

Leone was Assistant Director and one of many writers who worked on this problematic production. Other directors associated with this film: Riccardo Freda, Michelangelo Antonioni, Michele Lupo! Amazing!


THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959)

Leone replaced Mario Bonnard as director when Bonnard fell ill during the start of the production. Leone is credited as director (2nd unit) but the opening credits still show Bonnard as the director. His experienced making this and other films most likely helped him with his following project, BEN-HUR. Steve Reeves (above) and Leone apparently got along so well that Leone wanted Reeves to play the role Clint Eastwood made famous in his Spaghetti Westerns.




BEN-HUR (1959)

Leone was Second Unit Director to this Hollywood super-production. According to Wikipedia (I know), Leone was Senior Assistant Director and he was also responsible to film retakes for the chariot race scene.


COLOSSUS OF RHODES (1961)

Leone's first film as director was a PEPLUM (yeah!). He was also one of the main writers for the somewhat convoluted screenplay. That's Leone will Rory Calhoun in the photo below.



SODOM & GOMORRAH (1962)

As seen in the screenshot at the very top, Leone is credited along Robert Aldrich as director in the opening credits for the Italian version. I'm sure Aldrich wouldn't be happy about this but Leone's input was more than just Assistant Director therefore his co-director credit is justified.


Credit as writer:

Aside from the titles already mentioned above, Leone was also writer (credited or not) for these PEPLUM titles.


THE SEVEN REVENGES (1961)

One of many writers for this most excellent PEPLUM starring Ed Fury (above).


DUEL OF THE TITANS (1961)

Leone contributed to the story and dialogue for this film starring Gordon Scott and Steve Reeves.


SLAVE GIRLS OF SHEBA (1963)

Leone was the main writer for this seldom seen PEPLUM film starring Linda Cristal.

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That's quite an impressive list of titles!

So, as you can see, Sergio Leone's input in the PEPLUM is considerable and yet it's nearly totally overlooked. Many Spaghetti Western fans are often surprised of Leone's beginnings in the world of cinema. You seldom hear SW fans laud the PEPLUM genre and yet the greatest filmmaker responsible for the Spaghetti Westerns was also instrumental in the creation of PEPLUM films.

posted at the permanent Article of the Week page


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Leone's participation in Sodom and Gomorrah has always been exaggerated. He was a second unit director early on but Robert Aldrich was unhappy with his work and fired him a few weeks into filming. His name was given prominent status in the Italian credits because of financial agreements which stressed that an Italian director be given credit on the film. Like Mario Bava, Sergio Leone is often given far more credit than deserved on films directed by other people. Champions of both directors have increased the importance of
their contributions.

Scott Ochiltree said...

Thanks, most interesting compilation.

I would love to see COURTESAN OF THE ORIENT and SON OF THE RED CORSAIR.

Unfortunately neither movie seems to be available with English subtitles (my preference) or English dubbing.

Can Peplum TV help?