Articles of the week (2018)

Here's a quick overview of all the PEPLUM books I have in my library. Almost all of them are saddled with he same problems: missing titles including Arabian Adventures or PEPLUM films of the 1980s. Since most of these books were published during or before GLADIATOR (2000) was released, few of them cover the recent third wave of PEPLUM films. Also, there are some books I didn't buy for many reasons, which I'll mention at the bottom of the article.



WITH FIRE & SWORD by Patrick Luciano

An expensive book (over $100.00), it was seemingly published more for Academia than for the general public. Of all the books, this one is quite serious and yet, like so many other books, it is filled with errors, it's padded and it lists all alternate titles (and there are plenty of them) individually which, at times, becomes ridiculous. It would have been better for the author to list the alternate titles under the actual title and not spread them all over the book. This aspect is a good example of one of the many and unnecessary examples of padding.

The author often states things which makes me think he doesn't know anything about the PEPLUM genre. The best example: he wrote than none of the main stars of the PEPLUM genre were born in Italy. When I read this I went "What?!?!". Kirk Morris, Alan Steel, Pietro Torrisi are just a few who had leading roles in films and they were born in Italy. The author most likely thought Alan Steel was a real name and not a screen name for Sergio Ciani.

Good:
- Great format and text. Easy to read.
- A good overview of the genre, no matter how error filled it is

Bad:
- Unnecessarily repetitious and padded
- Errors
- Dubious knowledge of the genre
- Super expensive
- Few images or illustrations



RETRO STUD by David Chapman

The first PEPLUM book I ever bought. Like almost all books listed here, this one has good aspects to it and some truly horrendous ones as well (yes, horrendous!). I don't even know where to start!

First of all, the author hates HERCULES (1958) starring Steve Reeves. From the get go, this made me think "What?!? Why is he interested in the genre if he dislikes HERCULES?!?!" You know, the poster that's on the cover is HERCULES UNCHAINED...so, again, major confusion going on here. The good thing is that it does have gorgeous reproductions of the posters. I bought it mainly for that but then again one can go on eBay and get tons of beautiful posters, original or reproductions, for no cost at all.

The other horrendous part of this book is that the author has no knowledge whatsoever of the movies. It's filled with titles that don't exist. The author erroneously and repeatedly translated the titles of posters from different countries literally into titles that don't exist. The author was so lazy that he didn't bother to try to see if these titles actually existed. For example, in its original Italian title HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS is MACISTE NELL'INFERNO DI GENGIS KHAN. The author doesn't name it by HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS but translates it as MACISTE IN THE HELL OF GENGHIS KHAN.

Good:
- Good layout
- Excellent selection of posters

Bad:
- Author dislikes the PEPLUM genre (!!!)
- A boatful of titles that don't exist



CINEMA ITALIANO by Howard Hughes

Well, I won't beat around the bush with this book: avoid

Again, like so many authors listed here, Hughes is not a fan of the genre. His reviews are borderline amateurish. He states that the music for TRIUMPH OF MACISTE sounds 'Chinese-like.' I'm like, "What?!?" The first 3 chapters are about the PEPLUM genre (roughly 75 pages). The author was clearly more interested in other genres than this one even though Gordon Scott from GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES is fronts the cover.

If you're a fan of the PEPLUM genre, avoid.






Good:
- None to list

Bad:
- Doesn't care for the genre
- Out of 300 pages, only 75 pages dedicated to the PEPLUM genre
- Expensive



LE PEPLUM by Laurent Aknin

A small book (123 pages or so) that's nearly all about Hollywood. It's in French and the author has very little time for European made films (a dozen pages or so). It's okay and it's cute but not what I expected.







Good:
- Covers recent PEPLUM films
- Good layout
- Cute

Bad:
- Little interest in Italian PEPLUM films
- Nearly all Hollywood



EPIC FILMS (second edition) by Gary Allen Smith

By far, the best book listed here. It's very well researched. The layout is beautiful and it's filled with photos and reproduction of posters. It also lists productions that weren't completed, which is cool.

I only have a few complaints about it:

When I bought it it was $40.00 US, which was nearly $50.00 Canadian.

Also, there are many titles missing. An update would fix this problem, certainly with the recent films made after the release of GLADIATOR (2000). But I understand that the book is more focused on famous titles (from the US and Italy) than some obscure film made in the 1980s.

That's about it. Well worth purchasing. The author clearly likes the genre (which is a nice change considering the other books here.) I don't necessarily agree with Smith's views on some titles but that's fine. It makes it more interesting.

Good:
- Excellent layout
- Well researched
- Includes titles of projects that weren't completed.

Bad
- Missing titles or genres (like Arabian...but all PEPLUM books have this problem...)
- Pricey!




IL GRANDE LIBRO DI ERCOLE by Steve Della Casa and Marco Giusti

Reviewing this hefty book is difficult since it's in Italian and even though I get words and phrases, I'm not 100% proficient in the language, which is a barrier.

I did find a way to translate text from it: there's a scanning app for the iPhone which takes a picture of a page and one can render it into editable text. I send the text to a website that translates and voila, I can read what it is written. But the process is tedious and time consuming. I cannot do this for the entire book but if I need some info from it, I can always use this process.

From what I've read about it, it's quite well researched but like many of these books, the authors aren't much fans of Italian productions. The focus is, again, on Hollywood films.

There are many problems with this book which have nothing to do with the Italian language barrier. The title of the book is basically "THE GREAT BOOK OF HERCULES." Initially, I thought the book was only about films with Hercules or Hercules-like heroes but no, this book covers everything including films about Cleopatra to Julius Caesar to Vikings.

So, why call it the THE GREAT BOOK OF HERCULES if it covers other subjects other than Hercules? I don't get the title. Cinematic Confusion.

The really big problem I have with this book is the fact that it doesn't have an index. I'm like "What?!?" Not having an index almost seems sacrilegious. Since this is in Italian, an index would have helped so much and would have made it much easier to find specific parts about an actor or director. The fact that it doesn't have an index seriously dropped several major notches from its worthiness.

The good thing about this is that instead of an index it lists all the actors, photos included, and the titles they worked on. This list is great (even if the layout is not so great). I highly enjoyed this section. Very helpful. But it doesn't make up for the lack of an index section.

As a side note, the authors are clearly fans of Reg Park. There's a glossy photo section at the beginning and it's almost entirely dedicated to Reg. I find this a bit odd since Steve Reeves was the one who propelled the genre to its zenith but it's not a major complaint. Just an observation.

Good:
- Actors list, with photos, is excellent
- Good but not great layout
- Illustrated

Bad:
- NO INDEX
- Authors favour Hollywood films
- Missing titles, genres, etc
- Title doesn't make any sense



ITALIAN SWORD & SANDAL FILMS  by Roy Kinnard and Tony Crnkovich

This 'book' only contains listings. No reviews. No information other than titles and the people (actors and crew members) involved. That's it.

The author basically got all his info from other sources, including IMDB or other books, such as EPIC FILMS, and published it in this pointless compendium.

Totally pointless book.








Good:
- Nothing

Bad:
- Everything. A rip-off.




FANTASTIC FIFTIES - PEPLUM edition

This magazine (is it really a magazine?) covers the subject of films of the 1950s (and early 1960s). They actually published one edition about the PEPLUM genre. The fact that this exists is cool but I wan't really impressed by it. It had a few interesting tidbits (Steve Reeves was offered the male role in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C..) but it's mainly big photos with recycled information available everywhere, including here at PEPLUMTV.COM.










Good:
- Glossy publication
- Rare interview with Steve Reeves

Bad:
- Photos, photos, photos
- Expensive (nearly $40.00 with shipping and handling)


Books I have but didn't list here:

LASH! by Alvin Easter

I've reviewed this book here at the blog but didn't think it was worth listing as a PEPLUM book. It was once useful as a list of titles.

PEPLUM - Il Cinema Alle Prese Col Mondo Antico by Francesco Di Chiara

More of an extensive review and overview of the genre itself than a compendium. I didn't bother reading it because it would be too time consuming translating the Italian text into English.


Books I didn't buy:

HEROES NEVER DIE! by Barry Atkinson

I tried to buy this book and it was way too expensive. It would have cost over $100.00 to buy + have it shipped to Canada. If I really want something money is not a problem but I read reviews from it and they didn't impress me at all so I decided that it wasn't worth splurging that amount of money for another disappointing book.












Except for ITALIAN SWORD & SANDALS FILMS book, I don't regret buying any of these  publications (well, the FANTASTIC FIFTIES magazine wasn't worth $40). Anything on the genre is of general interest to me. Unfortunately, except for EPIC FILMS, most of these books are disappointing. The ultimate PEPLUM book has yet to be published.

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The making of THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS Fan Dub


One of the most frustrating things about being a North American fan of the PEPLUM genre is the lack of quality transfers of old favourites, on DVD or in digital format. For example, trying to find a perfect, uncut copy of HERCULES (1958) is nearly impossible. There as many version of that film as there are different languages. There is not one source where someone can find the integral versions of these  titles. One of the solutions for this is to create a Fan Dub. A few months ago I decided to make a Fan Dub of THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS (1958) since there isn't one complete version available anywhere.



Presently, I have 4 different versions in my collection: The US 'full screen' version. Two 'Fan Dubs' in English from a French TV broadcast (they differ from their aspect ratios), and lastly, an Italian widescreen version from a TV broadcast. The opening credits for this version is in Arabic. Why? I dunno. These are the 4 versions which I'll be using to make the final version. For obvious reasons, I've decided to use the widescreen Italian TV broadcast version.

Screenshot of opening credits of the 4 different versions:


On the left: the two French versions with English audio track. The top right is the US English full-screen version. And the one at the bottom right is the widescreen Italian TV broadcast version (with credits in Arab!).

A 'Fan Dub' is a movie made with the video of one source and the audio from another source edited together to make a version that’s not available anywhere. I’ve already written an extensive article on how I create a Fan Dub. I won’t go through the details again. For this article, I’ll just demonstrate how difficult it is to make a Fan Dub of a specific title, this one being THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS (1958). Released the same year as HERCULES (1958), with both films starring Gianna Maria Canale and Sylva Koscina, this movie is, along with HERCULES, one of the seminal films which forever changed the way pulpy historical movies were made back in the 1950s. Its impact is not as wide and far reaching as the Steve Reeves epic but still it was a then modernized approach, shot in color and in widescreen, of making a historical / mythological film under 2 hours without making too many concessions. The great thing about these films, even greater than those made in Hollywood, is that producers and filmmakers had access to real locations and settings Hollywood films could only dream of having. And THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS is one of these films. Beautifully shot in widescreen, with a capable cast, following a typically ‘PEPLUM’ screenplay, the film is a great example of the PEPLUM genre.

The first thing to establish in planning a Fan Dub is to view different versions in order to see which scenes are missing. By watching those 4 different versions simultaneously, I was able to determine that 4 major scenes were missing.

Which one would you prefer to watch?

US English 'full screen' Version 

English Fan Dub full screen version taken from French source

English Fan Dub semi-widescreen version taken from French source

Widescreen Italian TV broadcast (with Arabic opening credits)

Obviously, the last version, the widescreen Italian TV broadcast, is the best version of the 4.

With these 4 different, the main objective was trying to create the most complete version. Here's a quick rundown of these 4 copies.

- US full screen version

This is the first copy I got years ago from another trader. Fuzzy, faded and blurry, this copy is the oldest one from my collection. There are also annoying subtitles.

It’s missing the title in the opening credits. And even though it’s the longest version of all the different copies, at 103 minutes and 29 seconds, it’s, oddly enough, missing a couple of major scenes, mainly the 2 kissing scenes and the dancing scene.

The 2 kissing scenes were blacked out but not cut.

- Two versions in English but with French opening credit

The opening credits are in French but the language spoken is English. I assume these are Fan Dubs. They're almost identical except for the screen aspect ratio and runtime. The one with the wider screen image runs at 88 minutes and 4 seconds, while the more cropped one runs at 87 minutes and 40 seconds. They are incomplete.

- Italian / Arab widescreen version (the one used for the Fan Dub)

This version was most likely taken from an Italian TV broadcast since the copy has some scrolling text at the bottom of the screen during 3 different moments. I had to crop the text out (illustrated below). The question is: if this one was from an Italian TV broadcast, why are the opening credits in Arab?

The running time of this one is at 98 minutes and 22 seconds.

Final assessment:

You can ask why not use one of the English versions? Why make a Fan Dub when there are already two adequate versions in English?

Well, first, those copies are incomplete and their aspect ratio aren't good. The aspect ratio and image quality of the widescreen Italian TV broadcast blew those two away. I had no choice but to use the Italian one.

So, after watching the different versions, I was able to see what scenes were missing from the widescreen Italian TV broadcast version.

The scenes missing in two versions (including the one I was going to use as the main source) were kissing scenes and a sexy dance number. Those scenes were missing from the Italian one, and oddly enough, from the English full screen version as well. In the Italian one, the kissing scenes and the dance number were entirely cut. But in the English 'Full Screen' version, the kissing scenes fade to black while the audio can still be heard (this is something I've never seen before), while the dance number is entirely cut.

To make things even more bizarre, the kissing scene between Francesco Rabal and Sylva Koscina are in the two French versions, but the kissing scene between Gianna Maria Canale and Rik Battalia is missing from all 4 copies.

Since the goal of was to use the widescreen Italian TV broadcast as the main file, I had to:

- remove the Arabic open credits and replace it with an altered French version with English title

- Re-insert the missing scenes, including the kissing scenes and the dance number

- Remove scrolling text from TV broadcast

- Fix audio (not illustrated for this article)


First: New Opening Credit

The first thing I did was to create an opening credit with English title and remove the Arabic credits from the widescreen Italian TV broadcast version.

I couldn't redo the entire opening credits in English because it would have taken way too much time to achieve this. I simply inserted the English title to the French opening credit. It was easy to do: a Photoshop file converted into a movie file.

Credit an opening credit:



Second: Add Cut Kissing Scenes

Second thing to do is to find the most complete kissing scene and insert them in the widescreen Italian version. The kissing scene in the image below is from the 'English Fan Dub semi-widescreen version taken from French source.'

Kiss number 1:



The second kissing between Gianna Maria Canale and Rik Battaglia is incomplete in all 4 versions but in the US English version the scene fades to black but we can still hear the audio. See the Youtube clip below.

Kiss number 2:




Scene is cut not by it being edited out the scene but by fading it to black, while the audio can still be heard. It must have been a hot kiss for it to be censored this way!

Since this kissing scene was cut from all 4 versions, I had to make sure the moments before and after were the most complete.


Third: Add Dance Number


This dance number was cut in two versions, the US English full screen version and the widescreen Italian TV broadcast. I took this scene from the 'English Fan Dub semi-widescreen version taken from French source.'


Fourth: Remove Scrolling Text

The fourth and final thing to do was to remove the scrolling text seen during the run of the film. The scrolling text (in Italian) tells me that this was from a TV broadcast.


Though not a major issue, it's annoying to see scolling text while watching a film. Above is how the text looked like. Below is the same scene with the text removed. And below that is a GIF animation showing before and after. Note that the image is stretch while maintaining same aspect ratio.



All those modified scenes above had to be inserted in the main timeline of the edited movie.

And here's a presentation of the end result.


In the timeline:

In Yellow: new opening credit.

In Orange: scrolling text removed

In Blue: missing kissing scenes inserted

In Green: dance scene inserted to timeline

The final result is the most complete version of THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS available anywhere. The only scene missing is the second kissing scene with Canale and Battaglia (plus a few seconds shaved off here and there to make the audio match the image)


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Twin Productions

- posted for the week of January 22

For this 'Article of the week,' I'll go over something I've been wanting to do for a long time but I've been putting aside because of the blog's limitations. Articles bigger than a simple post are difficult to editorialize in the blog's familiar daily format. Hence, the reason for these 'Article of the week.' 

In this article, I'll go over what I call 'Twin productions' as they are movies that are identical in many ways, often utilizing the same cast, or the same crew, or the same sets, sometimes costumes, music but with a totally different story and / or setting. These are not sequels or part of a series. The stories are different even if the rest is pretty much the same. Some of these films were shot back to back but many of them were shot at the same time. Some actors have stated that they worked on two different productions at the same time which confused them, certainly with the language barrier. 

Since there are even more titles than those listed here, this is part 1. 


SWORD OF THE EMPIRE (1964) and FIRE OVER ROME (1965)


Twin productions both starring Lang Jeffries and released at the end of the PEPLUM craze. Both films were produced by Giorgio Marzelli. Some big sets and costumes can be seen in both productions. The supporting cast are different, as are the directors but both films feel and look the same. SWORD OF THE EMPIRE was released first even though it included scenes from the soon to be released FIRE OVER ROME (this is not the first time this has happened)! Both films are difficult to come by. I recently uploaded a Fan Dub of FIRE OVER ROME at PEPLUM TV channel and I recently got hold of the ever elusive English version of SWORD OF THE EMPIRE, which I need to do a watchable Fan Dub with it. Though very similar, both movies are easy to differentiate from each other. 


WAR GODS OF BABYLON (1962) and SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON (1963)


One of the few set of 'Twin productions' that's radically different except for sets, costumes and music. The rest are totally different: different directors, different cast. Sergio Spina is credited for both stories but even the screenwriters are different. But if you watch them back to back, you'd swear they were the same films since they used the same sets and costumes. There is a 'trompe-l'oeil' effect going on with these two titles. Top image below is from WAR GODS OF BABYLON and the other is from SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON.




THIEF OF BAGHAD (1961) and THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN (1961)


Steve Reeves was set to star in THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN after making THIEF OF BAGHDAD but last minute changes were made and Donald O'Connor was used instead. Both films were co-produced by TITANUS and LUX Film, a French production company. How does one go from Steve Reeves to Donald O'Connor? Both films were released the same year but THIEF OF BAGHDAD was released earlier in the year. Though the productions do look alike, for me it's almost impossible to confuse these titles with each other: one has Steve Reeves, the other doesn't.


THE SECRET SEVEN (1963) and THE SPARTAN GLADIATORS (1964)


These two Tony Russell movies were directed by Alberto De Martino, almost the same cast with Russel co-starring with Helga Liné, Livio Lorenzon, Massimo Serato, etc. Same writers, same sets, same locations. It's easy for me to figure out the difference between these two films: SPARTAN is more colourful and has more sets while SECRET SEVEN is mostly shot outside. Also, some actors, like Pietro Capana and Howard Ross are in SPARTAN GLADIATORS and not in SECRET SEVEN. Even if they are alike, these two movies don't confuse me.


HERCULES AGAINST THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON (1964) and GOLIATH AND THE CONQUEST OF DAMASCUS (1965)


Both of these Peter Lupus movies used scenes from SODOM & GOMORRAH (1962). There is some major confusion in regards to both of them. Both were directed by Domenico Paolella. Same lead cast, same sets, same locations. The only way for me to truly set them apart is Pietro Torrisi's role in GOLIATH is much bigger and he's a 'good' guy. Also, in TYRANTS, there the destruction of Babylon (with destruction scenes from the SODOM movie). Though I like both films, I personally prefer HERCULES AGAINST THE TYRANTS. Their similarities don't automatically translate into both being good on the same level.


SAMSON (1961) and FURY OF HERCULES (1962)


These two Brad Harris movies couldn't look more alike. Major confusion with these 'Twin productions.' The only thing that really sets them apart is the fact that SAMSON is so much better than FURY OF HERCULES. The other thing which set both movies apart is Alan Steel's role is less important in FURY. But aside from these discrepancies, both films are virtually identical. Same cast, same director, same sets, same costumes, including Brad Harris' muscle tunic, almost same 'Feats of strength.' Personally speaking it would have been much better if they just had made a sequel to the superior SAMSON instead of making it a Hercules film in name only. To make matters even worse, German distributors switched the titles : what was initially SAMSON became HERCULES and what was FURY OF HERCULES became SAMSON. Why? I don't know.


Above: Brad in SAMSON. Below: Brad in FURY OF HERCULES. See the difference? Me neither.



HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1963) and HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964)


The best 'Twin productions' listed here. These films utilized footage from THE MONGOLS (1960) and were most likely conceived with this in mind. Mark Forest played Maciste (renamed Hercules for US market). HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS was made and released first. Both films were directed by Domenico Paolella and the cast are virtually identical with the exception being that Nadir Moretti and Maria Grazia Spina star in MONGOLS only, while Gloria Milland stars in BARBARIANS only. But identical as they are, they couldn't be more different: HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS is a fast paced, straight forward action film while HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS is more like a moody, dark romantic fairy tale, with evil lurking at  every corner.

I hope you enjoyed this Article of the week. There'll be more such articles this year. There should also be a part 2 of this 'Twin productions' topic in the near future.


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