Thursday, March 31, 2016

By the Gods!

Roger Browne, Mario Novelli and Mimmo Palmara are grateful to have a flute in THE THREE SWORDS OF ROME

The set-up of the scene : a cobra was released in the bedroom in order to kill Browne's character but fortunately he had a flute and played it to subdue the deadly snake. It worked and the three are relieved. One of the last PEPLUM films ever made starring three familiar faces of the genre. I have 3 versions of this film : one extremely poor copy in Italian with washed out colours. One French version which is significantly better (and I can understand it) and this one, from an Italian TV broadcast, which is the best version yet. The only thing missing is a copy with an English dub.

Upcoming film : WONDER WOMAN

New publicity still from the upcoming WONDER WOMAN film project (a spin-off of BATMAN VS SUPERMAN film). Gal Gadot plays Wonder Woman. That's Robin Wright on the far right. The WW universe is set in the world of the fabled Amazons. This is sorta like a recreation of the Amazon, even though some of the costumes look like something someone would rent for Halloween. An authentic film about the Amazons has never really been made. Amazons have made appearances in films like HERCULES (1958) or THE LOVES OF HERCULES, and there've been plenty of cheesy soft porn films on them during the 1970s and 80s but never a big production dedicated solely on them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

By the Gods!

Gabriele Antonini, as Zorro sans mask, is pinned by Claudio Undari in THE SIGN OF THE AVENGER

This film was never dubbed in English so the title is a literate translation of the original Italian title IL SEGNO DEL VENDICATORE. Gabriele played Ulysses in the HERCULES films with Steve Reeves. This is one of the few leading roles he had in the PEPLUM genre. Very rare film! 


Carita and Don Murray enjoy a break from filming THE VIKING QUEEN

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By the Gods!

Jayne Mansfield in IT HAPPENED IN ATHENS

Though not a PEPLUM film per se the story is set during the Olympic games. And we do see Jayne decked out in PEPLUM costume. She looks like a real Greek goddess! A very colourful film no one remembers.

The Real PEPLUM X : Torture, Whippings and Chains, oh my!

Continuing with the discussion of how the PEPLUM genre helped in disrobing the human body in the world of cinema that eventually led to more explicit productions in the late 1960s and 1970s, something which has lasted up to today. Well, maybe not in movies released to theatres but the tradition is still on-going with  cable TV shows such as SPARTACUS series or GAME OF THRONES.

There are many aspects of the PEPLUM genre which appear to be entirely innate to it, aspects rarely seen in other genres. One of the them is the prevalence of overly muscular men wearing as little as possible (left, a muscular extra seen in QUEEN OF SHEBA). This trend started back in the silent era and came to complete fruition during the Golden Era of the genre, between 1949 and 1965. I explained this in great details during the past weeks, with HERCULES being the ultimate example of this trend.

Another aspect that is primarily seen in films of the PEPLUM genre is the kinky overtones. It's an odd aspect. Practically every PEPLUM film has a torture scene, or whippings, or some extremely elaborate test of strength our hero has to endure to overcome the obstacles set up by evil villains. They are so common that they are, imo, synonymous with PEPLUM cinema.

It would pointless to enumerate all the films which have some of these scenes. In fact, it would probably be easier to list the few films that don't have such scenes. Just a couple weeks ago I uploaded such a scene from THE MIGHTY URSUS (below). The scene perfectly encapsulates the overtly kinky tone of these types of  scenes. As a note, when MIGHTY URSUS was released on DVD in Spain, most of the torture scenes were trimmed down or removed. Too much for today's audiences.

Like so many things, these torture scenes existed since the days of silent cinema. It was a way to get a reaction from audiences : torturing the main character as a test of wills. But during the Golden Era, these torture scenes took a whole another level. This is mostly thanks to Cecil B DeMille, who's film, SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932), became a template of sorts for all films made afterwards. SIGN OF THE CROSS at it all : whipping, beastiality, sex slaves, forced lesbianism, you name it, it was in it. But as kinky as SOTC was the stuff that would appear in film of the 1950s and 1960s would even make DeMille blush. For example, the torture scene in DUEL OF THE TITANS (above right, Steve Reeves) is totally gratuitous. We see a stripped down Reeves on a cross, being turned around and whipped mercilessly. It just comes out of nowhere and we never see any consequences of that moment afterwards. But then few people complained about that scene, if you know what I mean. It added very little to the film except for some naughty sexiness.

To put it bluntly, you rarely see ugly, overweight people getting whipped with their clothes off. The entertainment aspect was this : seeing evil, often ugly people doing bad things to beautiful people. It's pretty simple and universal.

The film with the most tortures and whippings and Feats of Strength is MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES (above, with Wandisa Guida). I posted an image from it last Monday. It's a cornucopia of kinky torture scenes.

Here's just a short sample of examples :

Feats of Strength -

Gordon Mitchell is about to be pulled part on either side by two sets of slaves, while straddled on top of a pit filled with hungry lions, in MACISTE IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS. It doesn't get more over-the-top than this...hmm, actually it does :

Maciste (Mark Forest) holds tons up or else he'll get crushed to death, just after invariably skewering his two friends with those blades. This scene can also be listed under 'Elaborate and impractical torture devices.' Both films directed by Antonio Leonviola, who has an incredible talent for these OTT scenes.

Whipping -

Probably the most popular form of torture. Anita Ekberg tortures a woman, with a whip (among other things) in THE MONGOLS

Torture wheel -

The Torture Wheel scene from SWORDS WITHOUT A COUNTRY. The film itself is very benign. Strictly rated PG but then bam, here comes a very effective torture scene, which almost puts it in the R rated category.

Branding -

A slave (Mitsuko Takara) is about to get branded in SODOM & GOMORRAH. A common torture practice in PEPLUM films.

Elaborate and impractical torture devices -

Goliath (Brad Harris) tries to save his tied-up buddy from the spinning device with deadly claws, pulled by a bunch of slaves whipped into submission by a slave master (below). This is not a 'Feat of Strength' moment.

Mud wrestling -

Mark Forest wrestles with a bad guy, in the mud, in MACISTE - GLADIATOR OF SPARTA. The first mud wrestling scene even put on screen? The film suddenly took an unexpectedly kinky turn.

Torture chamber -

The Torture chamber in COLOSSUS OF RHODES

Combos -

Gordon Scott is tied and about to be whipped while his girlfriend is tied up to torture device in KERIM - SON OF THE SHEIK. Fun time for the whole family!

The list goes on and on : tie-up, torture using fire (not branding), netting, torture with water, etc. I could write a whole book on this alone. In fact, someone did write a book of the subject of whipping, called LASH!, and it mostly featured PEPLUM films.

Again, like the casual disregard to male nudity, one has to wonder how these films got away with most of what they showed back in the day. If the torture scenes were to be set in contemporary times, they would take a whole different meaning and the films would have most likely been banned but since the stories took place in the distant past, these moments seemed more 'normal,' hence their acceptance. Today, many of these scenes would most likely get an R rating because of the excessive attention in drawing pain from people, but also because of the overt kinkiness to them.

These torture (aka kinky) moments were so common that when the more explicit films of the 1970s came along, people were already pretty much accustomed to seeing them in such films set in Antiquity and the next logical step was simply going even further, like what they did in CALIGULA (1979).

Next week, disrobing the female body.

Permanent page for The Real PEPLUM X

Monday, March 28, 2016

By the Gods!

Silvana Mangano stares at the empty tomb where Jesus was buried in BARABBAS

The one thing they never show in films about Jesus is where he was during the 3 days he was dead. Some say he went to hell. Some say 'hell' was just the state of being dead. Visually it could have been amazing. MACISTE IN HELL is the closest to this seen in a film.

Movie Poster Mondays

Italian poster for the rarely seen THE LION OF AMALFI

Colorful poster for a black & white film directed by Pietro Francisci. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter weekend

For those who are celebrating Easter Weekend, here's the crucifixion scene from KING OF KINGS starring Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus

For those in the US and Canada, don't forget to watch THE TEN COMMANDMENTS tonight on ABC

Friday, March 25, 2016

By the Gods!

Deron Mcbee plays a barbarian stuck in present day L.A. in TIME BARBARIANS

A Troma film, which means quality is very low. The success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN spawned a myriad number of Barbarian films throughout much of the 1980s and well into the 1990s. The formula was easy : hire a beefy, juiced bodybuilder and give him a sword and voila, a movie! These barbarian films of the 80s are almost universally awful but I like watching them because they're so bad. The film is on Youtube.

Retro Friday - Six degrees of separation: The Last Days of Pompeii

Retro Friday : Old posts updated (originally posted on January 2, 2013)

6 degrees of separation between two productions of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII: from the mini-series made in 1984 to the big epic film released in 1959.

THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1984) min-series - Franco Nero (with Leslie Anne Down)

THE BIBLE: IN THE BEGINNING... - Franco Nero (above, with Richard Harris) and Maria Grazia Spina (not shown, in later part of the story)

URSUS & THE TARTAR PRINCESS - Maria Grazia Spina (standing) and Ettore Manni (on the far right)

THE WARRIOR & THE SLAVE GIRL - Ettore Manni and Gianna Maria Canale

SON OF SPARTACUS - Gianna Maria Canale and Steve Reeves

THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959) - Steve Reeves (and Mimmo Palmara)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

By the Gods!

An athletic Giuliano Gemma thwarts the bad guys with his acrobatic skills in MY SON THE HERO (aka The Titans)

I really have a love/hate relationship with this film. Half of it I love and the other half I really despise.  What I hated about it is the overacting, the overly comical approach to everything. I'm aware this was style the filmmaker and producers chose but it always takes me out of the film. There's a completely pointless bullfight scene that drags on and on. The villains are not very menacing. And the love story between Gemma and Jacqueline Sassard is annoying. Everything is *wink wink.* But Serge Nubret is great (he should have been the star) and the production is top notch.

New BEN-HUR trailer

It looks absolutely awful! Like a FAST & FURIOUS version of the story. The CGI is terrible.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

By the Gods!

Sebastian Fischer is Sigfrido in SIGFRIDO (1957)

This film is really, eh, eccentric. I love it and it's very creative but the film has an earnest & poky quality to it which would make today's viewers scratch their heads or laugh out loud. It's sad but it's true. German mythology is somehow difficult to bring to the screen. I prefer this Italian adaptation over the lugubrious 2 parter that was made in Germany in the 1960s. The film is not available anywhere in English.

Cinematic confusion

In my long quest to have every PEPLUM film ever made (I know, it's impossible), getting to know the difference between some titles is quite important, certainly when many titles are nearly identical, and to make things even more confusing, released the same year!

For some reason I got one title confused with others and for many years I didn't even realize it. Here's a rundown of the confusing titles :

THE MERCENARIES also known as ROME 1585

Original Italian title :  I MASNADIERI
Year of release : 1961

there's :


Original Italian title : CAPITANI DI VENTURA
Year of release : 1961

then there's :


Original Italian title : LA RIVOLTA DEI MERCENARI
Year of release : 1961

and then there's :


Original Italian title : IL CAPITANO DI FERO
Year of release : 1962

I always get RAMPAGE OF EVIL confused with REVENGE OF THE MERCENARIES, and the latter with REVOLT OF THE MERCENARIES. And THE MERCENARIES with all of them. Two of these films star Livio Lorenzon. The one that was eluding me was the one with Virginia Mayo, REVOLT OF THE MERCENARIES. You can view it here on Youtube (in Italian).

There are other titles I've could have added to this but I'll save them for future post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

By the Gods!

Rossana Podestà, as Princess Jamila, is surrounded by suitors who are trying to win her hand in marriage in THE GOLDEN ARROW (1962)

Very familiar story of men competing against each other for the hand of a princess. This one is, hmm,  interesting. Production wise, the money was there. There's nothing cheap about it but the story is haphazardly stitched together which makes for an uneven viewing experience. Rossana made several films in the PEPLUM genre, dating as far back as ULYSSES (1954). She then starred in HELEN OF TROY and a slew of other films but Hollywood stardom would always escape her. This film didn't help her much in attaining stardom in the US.

The Real PEPLUM X : Beefcake and Cheesecake

After last week’s post, The Pantless Hero, it was pretty safe to say that the disrobing of the human body, the male body to be more precise, was a done thing. A film could pretty much show almost anything about the male physique except for full frontal nudity and it was still ok, certainly in European films. Aside from Tarzan films and Santo films from Mexico, no other genre featured so much beefcake as the PEPLUM genre. The Pantless Hero remained a European thing though.

It seems in those days that the objectification of the male body was a new thing and because of this things were much more permissible back then since no one saw the men in a sexual manner. But today, with the occurrence of the objectification of the male physique being more prevalent than ever, the trend now is going backwards. Aside from 300, the two recent HERCULES films, and maybe even TROY, today’s PEPLUM films have gone back to covering up the male physique. Just look at the new BEN-HUR or the new TARZAN film in which he wears pants throughout the film. No loincloth. Today, in 2016, Tarzan is not a Pantless Hero anymore. Very little of the PEPLUM genre's casual disregard to the male physique would be acceptable to modern audiences.

It’s funny that a time when showing a navel was controversial and yet Italian filmmakers could basically show anything of a man, including bulge or buttocks, and get away with it. This is the interesting aspect of the genre, and really shows how these films helped loosen up the collective mores of the time. These days, full nudity occurs on a regular basis on cable shows, such as the SPARTACUS series, but not so much in movies anymore as studios want to avoid the once coveted but now dreaded R-rated classification.

A very masculine Gordon Scott showing his mettle in GOLIATH & THE REBEL SLAVE. Few modern actors would agree to wear something like this today

As I mentioned previously, this is a cultural thing. Italians have no issues with displaying the human body with the prevalence of art displaying it in all its form. To them, showing skin was a masculine thing. It's a way for a man to display his 'mettle,' sorta speaking. It's complete opposite in Hollywood. The more covered up the men are, the more masculine he is.

So while the male body was displayed generously in films of the genre, the female body, though seen in ample bussomy dresses and togas, simply didn't compare. This is not to say there weren’t any sexy women wearing next to nothing in these films. They were but they, like their Hollywood counterparts, were still pretty shy in displaying anything close to partial or full female nudity. In PEPLUM films, the men often wore much less than the women. This would eventually change by the mid-1960s and definitely during the 1970s.

The closest they ever came to showing female nudity would be the ubiquitous "bathing beauty" scenes, of actresses taking bathes which was an easy way of teasing audiences with the promise of skin. But then DeMille did this back in the 1930s with SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR and things hadn't changed much since then.

Lisa Gastoni in THE LAST GLADIATOR (aka Messalina vs Son of Hercules)

The fun part of the PEPLUM genre is how each film can be categorized very specifically, by clichés, by type (swashbuckler, Egyptian, etc), level of kinkiness, etc. And of course one could categorize these films simply by virtue of the level of Beefcake and Cheesecake in them. On a scale of 1 (non-existent) to 10 (plenty), here’s a quick rundown of some titles :

HERCULES UNCHAINED - Beefcake level : 10 - Cheesecake level : 8

THE GIANTS OF THESSALY - Beefcake : 11 (off the scale) - Cheesecake : 7

SAPPHO THE VENUS OF LEBOS - Beefcake : 7 - Cheesecake : 10

ALI BABA & THE SEVEN SARACENS - Beefcake 8 - Cheesecake : 8

VULCAN - SON OF JUPITER - Beefcake : 10 - Cheesecake : 10

THE SEVEN REVENGES - Beefcake : 8 - Cheesecake : 6

MACISTE IN HELL - Beefcake : 10 - Cheesecake : 5

SODOM & GOMORRAH - Beefcake : 7 - Cheesecake : 7

This is the main difference between films set in contemporary times and films of the PEPLUM genre. There's ALWAYS some cheesecake or beefcake in them. It's de rigueur. A PEPLUM film without those elements is not a PEPLUM film. But Beefcake and Cheesecake is not the same as actual nudity, which many people eventually caught on and realized that most films from Europe featured very little actual nudity and their cachet eventually evaporated. The hype was just that, hype. Nudity was shown but mostly in films set in modern times. They were the exception not the rule. Things would change by the mid to late 1960s, but before that very little actual nudity was shown. Just the promise of nudity.

One of the best examples of this would be the woefully misconceived SODOM & GOMORRAH. The film lacked any nudity or sex, or anything sexy or lascivious. You’d think that with a film based on the legendary orgiastic stories of the most sinful cities in Antiquity would have been at the very least filled with flesh but no, it was all smoke and mirrors. HERCULES had more flesh in it that the  Robert Aldrich film. Predictably, the very costly SODOM & GOMORRAH bombed at the box office. Those looking for a pious piece of entertainment avoided the potentially lurid subject and those who went to see it for some skin were disappointed by the complete lack of any hot stuff.

The one aspect of SODOM & GOMORRAH that resembled previous films of the genre were the overtly kinky tone of many scenes. What they couldn't achieve from the lack of nudity they tried to make up with lurid stuff, like whipping, torture, hints of incest, etc. Though not even close to the same level of kinkiness found in Cecil B DeMille films, the kinkiness was pretty much obvious and director Aldrich clearly enjoyed himself with playing with these ideas though it gave an unpleasant feel to the entire project. Kinkiness without sexiness is not really palatable. The cast of SODOM & GOMORRAH is sexy but the execution of it all was turgid at best.

Next week, the innately kinky aspects of the PEPLUM genre

Permanent page for The Real PEPLUM X

Monday, March 21, 2016

By the Gods!

Reg Park, as Maciste, saves Eleonora Bianchi and Bruno Piergentili (as Dan Harrison) in MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES

This fun film is basically 90 minutes of elaborate torture traps and set-ups. It's a perfect example of the kinky aspect of the PEPLUM genre, perfected by the one and only Cecil B. DeMille.

Movie Poster Mondays

Italian poster for the Polish film PHARAOH

Epic Polish film of life in Ancient Egypt. Politically incorrect in today's terms but I like it. It's an eye filling experience. Shot in Dialiscope, the same film format used for HERCULES almost 10 years prior. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

By the Gods!

Ursus (Ed Fury) tries to help Doreide (María Luisa Merlo) in trying to know who kidnapped his bride in THE MIGHTY URSUS

Doreide is the most prominent lead character who happens to be blind in a PEPLUM film of the Golden Era. In fact, the entire story relies on her lack of eyesight : Doreide heard the men who kidnapped Ursus' bride and she, with the help of Ursus, go on a quest to find his bride and who kidnaped her. I posted a clip of this film yesterday. I really like the entire film and also Doreide, wonderfully played by Merlo.

That's it for this week's profile on blind characters in PEPLUM films.

Retro Friday - PEPLUM Myth : Steve Reeves was never a gladiator

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.