By the Gods!

Kirk Morris as Maciste in MACISTE IN HELL (1962)

Charles Fawcett, Angelo Zanolli and Vira Silenti are the other actors. In this scene, Maciste is there and yet he's not there. Notice the object casts a shadow and yet the presence of Maciste doesn't cast a shadow directly behind him. There is a shadow at the far right but the big shadow on the wall is suppose to say that any object or person in that area should have a shadow as well and yet he doesn't. This hints at Maciste Angel-like presence. It's one of the many subtle and innovative ways Riccardo Freda directed this great PEPLUM film.

PEPLUM Myth : Steve Reeves was never a gladiator (repost)

Retro Friday : Old posts updated (originally posted on July 3, 2013)


When GLADIATOR (2000), the Ridley Scott film, was being propositioned as a possible idea for an epic movie they referred to the old Steve Reeves / old Gladiator types of films as examples. Here's a quote from IMDb:

"Prior to its release, Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000) was being referred to by some writers as the first "Steve Reeves type" movie in decades. It had also been written that Scott was amiss in not getting Reeves to at least do a cameo."

What's surprising and ironic about all of this is that Steve never played a gladiator in any of his films. The only time he was in an arena was in THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII and the reason he's fighting in the arena was to save the people about to be eaten by lions. He wasn't supposed to fight as a gladiator. He freed himself from chains (below) and then ran in the arena without any gladiator gear. Once there and after killing the lions he quickly fights with a couple of gladiators just before mount Vesuvius erupts. In DUEL OF THE TITANS he's pitted against a bear but it's not in a gladiatorial setting.

Steve played Hercules in two HERCULES films, Emiliano the Goliath, Glaucus in POMPEII, Phillipides in GIANT OF MARATHON, Hadji Murad in the WHITE WARRIOR, Captain Morgan in MORGAN THE PIRATE, Karim in THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD, Romulus in DUEL OF TITANS, Randus in SON OF SPARTACUS, Aeneas in THE TROJAN HORSE and WAR OF THE TROJANS and Sandokan but never a gladiator.

Gordon Scott, Gordon Mitchell, Mark Forest, Ed Fury, Richard Harrison, Brad Harris, Dan Vadis and Alan Steel all played gladiators at one point or several times in their careers but not Steve.


By the Gods!

Alan Ladd in DUEL OF CHAMPIONS (1961)

For some odd reason this PEPLUM is very polarizing. People either love it or hate it. I think one of the reasons they hate it is seeing an aging Ladd, in what many believe he's miscast. I think people don't get the role: he's supposed to be disillusioned by it all, so he sorta looks like he doesn't care.But that's part of the role. Regardless, I think this is one of those films that needs to be viewed with a clear  transfer. Most people have seen it with the faded public domain copy available everywhere, including Youtube. The French DVD is much better than the PD one (I made a Fan Dub with it) but a HD copy of this would make it look even better. It's just that no one is seemingly willing to invest any money in making a pristine copy of this film.

Lobby card set: THE SON OF SPARTACUS (1962)


US lobby cards of THE SON OF SPARTACUS (1962), aka THE SLAVE, starring Steve Reeves. As a movie poster collector I've always loved collecting lobby card sets. The problem I always had with lobby cards is that they often show boring scenes and/or show spoilers. There are many memorable scenes in this film (Steve in bed; Steve on horseback with helmet, etc) which are nowhere to be seen in this set. But nothing too spoilerish too. The best cards are no 1, 6 and the last one. Could have been better.

By the Gods!

Mimmo Palmara and Moira Orfei in TWO GLADIATORS (1964)

Solid PEPLUM film with two of my favourite 'baddies.' When I try to profile a movie, I always try to get the most descriptive scene from it. This one is hard since most of the actors are separated into two camps: good guys and villains. It's often hard getting the entire cast in one shot. The good guys are Richard Harrison and Giuliano Gemma. They're good but the villains here outshone the good guys. Both actors passed away recently, which is a shame because they would have been great to interview.

Behind-the-Scenes

Steve Reeves in a publicity photo (in Rome?) at the airport. Cute.

By the Gods!

Eddie Cantor in ROMAN SCANDALS (1933)

I won't be talking about the film or the script or the actor, Eddie Cantor. It's one of those odd stories which start in the present (1930s) and because of some kooky plot point (a reverie of sorts) it ends up in Roman times. This kind of storyline is very popular with the PEPLUM genre (don't ask me why). I'll just mention the production: it's one of the best looking films set in Antiquity. A lot of money was spent on it (or it was made to look like a million bucks). Personally, I think the film is totally outdated. A real curio from the past. It's a shame such a good looking PEP is so difficult to watch or to enjoy.

Upcoming film: GLADIATOR 2 (don't laugh!)

Yes, it's official. A sequel to the Oscar® winning film is in the works. Here's an article about this.

This is not the first time they toyed with the idea of doing a sequel. But that story was too ridiculous. Now the story will be about the son of Commodus' sister ( played by Connie Neilsen). The son was played by Spencer Treat Clark, who's an adult today with an active film career. They couldn't get the actual son of Maximus because he was killed at the beginning of the story. I guess it's THE SON OF GLADIATOR, when, in fact, it's not. It's very confusing but there you go.

The PEPLUM genre is pretty much dead these days. Will this sequel resurrect it like the 2000 blockbuster did?


By the Gods!

Domina (Patricia Jessel) ribs Hysterium (Jack Gilford) about her bust in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1966)

Not a huge fan of this film even though there's a lot going for it. The thing I really like about it is the look. And part of this look was achieved with the help of the cinematography by Nicolas Roeg, who passed away last Friday. He was 90 years old. Roeg went on to become an acclaimed director but he never director a PEPLUM film himself.

Movie Poster Mondays

Belgian poster of SAMSON & THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (1961)

Like all posters from Belgium, this one is very colourful and quite good in the likeness of the actors.

PEPLUM Break


I usually take a break every two months! It's that time again.

As a side note, I'll take an extended break in the near future. I need to focus on several projects I'm working on and I need all time I can get, which means a break from the blog.

I'll leave you now with King Leonidas (Richard Egan) from THE 300 SPARTANS (1962), saying "From this wall, we do not retreat!"




PEPLUM BOOK REVIEWS

The books:

THE ANCIENT WORLD OF CINEMA by Jon Solomon.


From the get go, this book is quite the disappointment. It only cost $8, which is cheap so I shouldn't complain much.

There are good things about it, including historical timelines of events and the films next to those eras, ie 'Chronology of Greco-Roman History in Film' and 'Films of the Old Testament.' Good idea. Very simple and effective overview of historical events with the movies serving as context. I like this. It's only 5 pages long so it's not a big part of the book but it's cool nonetheless.

The other good thing is that Italian PEPLUM titles ARE included in it, and quite often, which is a nice change from the usual Hollywood-centric books out there. This doesn't mean the book is not Hollywood-centric. It is. It's just that they actually discuss Italian productions along with the favoured Hollywood films. In the introductory chapter ('A Survey of the Genre'), the author even cites HERCULES (1958) has having been almost as popular as BEN-HUR (1959) or other epics of the time. This is a complete reversal of almost every book out there. It makes me go 'Yeah!' There is a problem with this though. As nice as it is to see a book on the PEPLUM genre actually acknowledging Italian films and their impact, the author's attitude towards them is as dismissive as nearly all other books out there. He calls HERCULES (1958) a film from the 'ketchupy flesh of Cinecitta'. You don't need to know anything else about the author's views of Italian productions with this dismissive description.

The chapters are divided into different periods of history: Greek and Roman Mythology, The Old Testament, The New Testament and Tales of the Christ, etc.. This is not the first book to do this, and I personally thought of cataloguing films by the period they're supposed to take place (for the blog and possible PEPLUM book...). The problem with this (I've actually attempted this in the past), and the book suffers from this problem as well, is that many times historical events merge, making it difficult to perfectly categorize many films by storyline. This muddles up everything.

For example, SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR (1959). It's a story about Queen Zenobia of Syria, or is it of Rome conquering Syria? If the author did follow his own logic, SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR should have been listed under 'Babylon, Egypt, Persia and the Ancient Orient' chapter, or maybe the 'Greco-Roman' chapter? See how things get confusing. But to make things even more confusing, the author actually puts this Anita Ekberg opus in the 'The Muscleman Epics' chapter even though there are no musclemen in the film!

Is THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) a Biblical film or is it a historical film set in Egypt? The author discusses it in great details in 'The Old Testament' chapter but barely mentions it in the 'Babylon, Egypt, Persia and the Ancient Orient' chapter. When you think about it, it doesn't make much sense.

The entire book works (or doesn't work) this way. I personally don't like it. The titles should be in alphabetical order or listed in the year they were released. If you want to follow his reviews of movies set in Egypt, you have to go from one chapter to another since they're not all listed under one chapter. I'm aware that the chapters were written to discuss films of specific topics/eras but it doesn't work. Most of the chapters are devoted to reviews of the films in every category, and how they measure up in regards to history. I won't review the reviews but I don't agree with many of them. But that's fine. I don't have to agree with someone's review of a film to see how good the book is.

The book has CALIGULA (1980), CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), and GLADIATOR (2000) but not CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982). Like so many books on the PEPLUM genre, more recent titles are mostly missing.

The author lists the photos and illustrations at the start (in the Contents section), which is actually a good thing, but fails to add page numbers of these photos and illustrations, which defeats the whole purpose of making a list or an index of sorts. The first photo listed says Richard Egan from THE 300 SPARTANS (1962). When you look at the photo on page 2 (see below), it's a figure of a Spartan warrior from the film, all in dark or shadows. We can't see if it's Richard Egan or not. It could be an extra. This doesn't make the book look professional at all.



Also, the cover is terrible. It's a behind the scenes photo from SPARTACUS (1960) with Kirk Douglas, Stanley Kubric and Charles McGraw. It's a very confusing photo in that it makes the book look like some production history of SPARTACUS than a general book about the genre.

Though it has some good ideas here and there, and it does acknowledge Italian titles, the overall quality is less than stellar. I give this book 5 out of 10.


GUIDA AL CINEMA PEPLUM by Oscar Lapena Marchena.



Since this book is in Italian (translated from a Spanish book), and my Italian is limited, I can't really review this book fully. I'll just mention a few things about it.

Aside from its eye catching cover, this book's greatest feature is that it lists every title (Italian productions only) by the year they were released. Terrific idea. This way, one can have an excellent chronological overview of how the genre evolved. It also includes some films from the 1980s, including the X-rated adult stuff. But like so many PEPLUM books out there, it is incomplete.

It also lists directors, and the author writes about directors who've made PEPLUM films. A definite plus. The index is only for titles. Not for actors or any other crew members. A definite problem for a voluminous book of nearly 400 pages.

The photos and illustration are absolutely horrible though. Really embarrassing stuff.

There is an English version of this book. Had I known this before, I would have bought the English one first but I don't think it's worth buying again (unless someone sends me a copy for free!)




MUSCLES, MYTHS, AND MOVIES by Stephen Flacassier



The author was kind enough to send a free copy. He warned me that this was printed before the age of the internet and it has mistakes in it.

It's obvious the author enjoys these movies. Aside from my reviews here at the blog, some reviews in this are the most extensive reviews of PEPLUM films I've seen anywhere. For example, the review for THE WITCH'S CURSE (aka MACISTE IN HELL; 1962) goes over the storyline, the review and production details. This review was made before stunning copies of this Riccardo Freda film were released on DVDs, so his review is sorta hampered by this (all reviews actually). Since this was one of the first publications to go over the PEPLUM genre, this is not his fault. But I have to tell you that seeing MACISTE IN HELL in its original widescreen format blows away any copy of THE WITCH'S CURSE. It's almost like seeing two different films. So, it's almost impossible for anyone to give an adequate review of that film if seen as the cut, washed out US version.

One thing he mentions about this film (or others) is that there's unnecessary padding to it. This is sorta common in PEPLUM films, with dance numbers, extended feats of strengths, etc, adding minutes to an otherwise pretty simple storyline. In the case of this film, I sorta disagree that it's padding. In MACISTE IN HELL, Maciste looks into a magical pool of water and we, in turn, see scenes from previous Maciste films. Though it might look like padding to most, for me, these scenes explain Maciste's 'time-travelling' abilities, and it explains why he's in Scotland, year 1550. Maciste became an angel of sorts who wasn't bound to time and space. The clips basically points to this aspect of our mysterious hero without having to explain anything, to us, the audience, or the few characters around.

As small as this publication is, it has a small index of titles (with alternate titles...good idea!)

The best thing about this are the illustrative icons, which shows what the film includes (muscle man, monster, fights, etc). Creative way of a quick overview of a film's main aspects.

All in all, I like the book, which is more magazine or zine than book. Maybe an update would be worth doing?

----

If you want your book or any publication reviewed here, just email me at: peplumtv2@gmail.com


By the Gods!

Eleonora Rossi Drago, Jack Palance and Guy Madison in SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR (1961)

The sword fight at the conclusion of the film. This scene highlights one of the many frustrating parts of this okay film: Palance and Madison never share screen time before this moment. The two actors were good actors in their own right and yet they never have an explosive scene together aside from this standard sword fight (there's a scene in which the two actors are together but they're never in the same shot: Palance, standing on a balcony, orders Madison to be whipped). It's a real shame. Good film with few memorable moments. I watch it and then sorta forget about it quickly. I have a pristine near-HD copy of this and it really elevates the film to another level. MGM, which still own this, plays it on a regular basis on their cable channel, as a filler of sorts.

Lobby Cards Set : DEMETRIUS & THE GLADIATORS


US lobby cards set for DEMETRIUS & THE GLADIATORS. Excellent set even if it's missing one card with that title card. Nothing bad to say about it except that for a film in Cinemascope the photos on the lobby cards are still in 4:3. They should have had lobby cards in Cinemascope. Ah!

By the Gods!

The start of HERCULES (1958)

This is how the movie starts, with Iole's out of control chariot and Hercules (Steve Reeves) trying to stop it with the help of a tree. Unforgettable moment. Now I wonder if that's Steve doing the stunt or someone else. The body looks like Steve's but it could be Giovanni Cianfriglia. With the recent passing of Gabriele Antonini, who played Ulysses, almost no one from the film is alive today, it's going to be difficult to figure who was doing what in these old films. Pretty sad when you think about it.

Behind-the-Scenes

Reg Park shows a few bodybuilding tips to Fay Spain while filming HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961)

By the Gods!

Dina Loy and Kirk Morris in FALCON OF THE DESERT (1965)

A fun film in which Kirk keeps his clothes on. Fans of shirtless Kirk might be disappointed but the movie doesn't suffer from this little detail. Dina only made 17 or so films, all during the 1960s. Like so many other actors who appeared in PEPLUM films, she disappeared from the face of the earth. For some odd reason, Google describes it as a Spaghetti Western. It's not.

More on THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964)


ANCIENT HISTORY magazine published an article on THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Graham Sumner, the writer of the article, provided it to me after last week's profile I made on the film. I asked him if I could feature the first page of the article. Here it is, as an addendum of sorts. Very interesting article. Producer Samson Bronston filed for bankruptcy after the failure of the epic film.

You can check out their website: ANCIENT HISTORY magazine

By the Gods!

Wandisa Guida and Michel Lemoine in THE PRISONER OF THE IRON MASK (1961)

I finally got a nice copy of this rare film. As you can see, this was shoot at the famous Monte Gelato waterfalls seen in so many PEPLUM movies. It stars Wandisa, which is a plus, and it also stars Jany Clair, which is an additional plus. This was a breakthrough role for Lemoine, as unlikely as an action star as he was. Good looking production. Now I have to find an English copy of this.

Movie Poster Mondays

Original Italian poster of THE QUEEN OF THE TARTARS (1960)

Also known as THE HUNS. Directed by Sergio Grieco. So, an over-the-top poster for an over-the-top film.

By the Gods!

Christopher Plummer, as Commodus, in a dual to the death with Stephen Boyd in THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964)

This scene is great. Brilliantly executed (if a bit too short). The design and camerawork are tops. A great ending to, imo, a clearly uneven film. When released, the Anthony Mann directed movie was a major box office dud. I don't necessarily blame it on the quality of the final product (even if at 3 hours it was overlong) but having been released right after the equally overlong CLEOPATRA (1963), moviegoers' interest in stories set in Antiquity greatly diminished because of the Elizabeth Taylor epic. Both films were a one-two punch that finally killed the PEPLUM craze.

I hope you enjoyed this week's profile on THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. I'll be making more of 'weekly profiles' in the future.

Lobby cards: FALL OF ROME (1963)



Lobby cards set for FALL OF ROME (1963), here under its British title, ROME IN FLAMES (not to be confused with FIRE OVER ROME or CARTHAGE IN FLAMES). This is from the UK. Good set, with nice selection of images with actors. The downside: it's in black & white. But still nice. Remarkably enough, this film preceded the massive Hollywood epic, THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964).

By the Gods!

Steve Reeves as Hercules in HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959)

I found a rare VHS copy of this film on Youtube. It's from a channel that's 'dead,' meaning there hasn't been any new uploads there in 4 years. The owner must have abandoned it. This copy of HERCULES UNCHAINED was uploaded 7 years ago. It's in English and though it's in 4:3 aspect ratio, it actually included more (compressed) screen info and I was able to un-compress it and make it semi-widescreen. Click here to see the difference. Cool stuff. Youtube is trying to close all of these old channels, including mine. This upload of HERCULES UNCHAINED only has 1600 views...in 7 years. The channel is most likely hidden and I came upon it by accident.

Behind-the-Scenes


Here's some behind the scenes footage of Omar Sharif talking about his role in THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964)

By the Gods!

Omar Sharif and Sophia Loren in THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964)

The two characters married for political reasons (he's the king of Armenia) but we see very little of this relationship. Omar's role is basically a cameo, which is a shame because he was a great actor. Sophia had top billing. This seems a bit odd since there were rumours of her being difficult during the filming of EL CID (1961), also directed by Anthony Mann. If she was so difficult to work with why would Mann want to work with her again? I like Sophia in this. She brings a certain humanity that's often missing in a story populated with dozens of characters. My only problem with Sophia is she didn't seem related to Alec Guinness (father) and Christopher Plummer (brother). She's very Mediterranean while Alec and Christopher are clearly not.

Steve Reeves as Hercules at Cinecitta


An artist created a mural at Cinecitta celebrating Steve Reeves as Hercules. Created in 2017. Pretty cool. 


By the Gods!

A scene from CLAUDIUS: BOY FROM ANCIENT ROME (1964)

This short film, in which the dialogue is entirely in Latin (but the voice over is in English), was shot using the sets from THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964). The film is in the public domain.

Movie Poster Mondays

Italian poster of THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964)

I don't like the posters from the US for this film. The Italian poster, though better, makes it look like your average PEPLUM film.


By the Gods!

Duncan Regehr as a gladiator in the mini-series, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1984)

I tried watching this mini-series all the way through and I still cannot do it (it's over 5 hours long). I remember watching it back when it was shown on TV for the first time and enjoyed parts of it but not all of it. Fast forward to today, and I still hold the same opinion: the excellent production, even solid on same level but way overlong. Too many dull sub-stories. The fun thing about this is that there are Italian actors who starred in PEPLUM films of the Golden Era, like Franco Nero and Marilù Tolo. The gladiatorial scenes were good but oddly enough, they looked more outdated (or less authentic) than those from old Italian films. Someone should take this and re-edit it down to a tight 2 hour long film. It would be great.

Lobby Cards set : CLEOPATRA (1963)

US lobby cards set for CLEOPATRA (1963). Distilling the entire 4 hours into 8 lobby cards was an impossible task. There were two sets of lobby cards, known as the blue and the pink sets. The cards in the pink set were almost identical except for 3 cards. I included 2 more with the blue set. I like it and it does give an impression of the colorful film but the film is too expansive and a lobby card set could never perfectly capture the scope of he film. Good but not great.