Monday, January 27, 2020

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK: Hollywood's mid-range PEPLUM movies

Spectacular scenes do not guarantee box office results. From THE EGYPTIAN (1954)

When you think of old Hollywood epics or biblical films, you think of 3+ hours productions with big budgets such as BEN-HUR (1959), THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) or SPARTACUS (1960). Well, there were other epic films aside from those 3 but when the discussion comes up, few people remember the other lesser known ones.

In this article, I'll give an overview of the so-called mid-range epics which were made and released between 1949 and and 1966. I won't cover any movies made before or after that time period. The European or Italian made movies, not financed by Hollywood, won't be listed here. Then there are the low budgeted films like those released by Columbia Pictures, such as SERPENT OF THE NILE or SLAVES OF BABYLON. Or THE GOLDEN HORDE from Universal.

The big epics of Hollywood with a big budget of $5 million and more were:

SAMSON & DELILAH (1949) Though the budget wasn't over $5 million it was considered high back then.

QUO VADIS (1951) - Massive super-production shot in Italy.

THE ROBE (1953) - First movie in CinemaScope. A hit at the box office.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) - Big Cecil B  DeMille epic.

THE CONQUEROR (1956) - Popular at the box office.

BEN-HUR (1959) - The most popular PEPLUM film of the decade: $146 million at the box office.

SPARTACUS (1960) - $60 million at the box office.

EL CID (1961) - Another hit starring Charlton Heston.

KING OF KINGS (1961) - Though it had a smaller than average budget for big epics, it still considered a big one. A box office smash.

CLEOPATRA (1963) - The most expensive movie of the period. Over $30 million.

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964) - Budget: S15 million

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) - Budget: $20 million

THE BIBLE: IN THE BEGINNING… (1966) - Budget: $15 million

Now, just to make sure. The list below is based on the budget of the movies and/or their box-office performances. Some movies, which were sorta on the lower end, became big hits, like DAVID & BATHSHEBA (1951) or DEMTRIUS & THE GLADIATORS (1954). While some film with a massive budget barely made any money, like THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964). It's how the films were sold or how much of an impact they had, back then and how they are remembered today. Many of these 'mid-range' epics are rarely cited when the topic is brought-up.

Note: the box office tallies are estimates. Also, this article is not a comment on the quality of these movies. Just how they performed back then and how they are remembered today, if at all.

Posted at the permanent page: Articles of the week (2019 - 2020)


Budget: $1.9 million (Box office: $7.1 million)

One of the most popular mid-range epics though it rarely comes to mind to those who aren't fans of such movies. Cecil B. DeMille's SAMSON & DELILAH will always eclipse this early PEPLUM film rushed into production after the success of that DeMille hit.


Budget: $1.25 million (Box office: not available).

A nice picture with a great cast, including Alan Young and Jean Simmons (above). Are there any fans of this movie?


Budget: $2 million (Box office: nearly $4 million)

A stellar cast with an emerging star, Marlon Brando. It was a success of sorts but not the runaway hits like other epics of the period. The film is not comparable to BEN-HUR or any such box office hits since it's more drama than action or spectacle.

SALOME (1953)

Budget: not available (Box office: $4.75 million)

A COLUMBIA PICTURES production. Though not as 'cheap' as their other movies, most of them directed by William Castle, SALOME was still pretty much a studio bound higher budgeted version of their quickies. The cast was excellent and the cinematography captured the colourful world it's set in but it wasn't epic by any means. Starring Rita Hayworth as the titular seductress.


Budget: not available (Box office: $2.5 million)

Universal's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the epics was entertaining and colourful (like many of them) but it wasn't a hit. The definition of mid-range.


Budget: $4.5 million (Box office: $3.2 million)

This early widescreen PEPLUM movie is notorious for more than one reason. It was highly stylized and though it looked great it wasn't well received. You either like it or hate it. There's no in-between. Paul Newman's first movie and he hated it. Starring Jack Palance and Virginia Mayo. They hated working together.


Budget: $3.9 million (Box office: $4.25 million)

One of the higher budgeted mid-range epics, with a great cast and a class A production, this movie, which has attained a cult following of sorts, is not remembered in the same way as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS or any other epics of the time. It was a box office disappointment, in regards to its higher budget.


Budget: $1.9 million (Box office: $26 million)

Sequel to THE ROBE, its budget was half of what the 1953 movie cost but it didn't matter since it became a big hit. Mainly because it's a follow-up to the first CinemaScope hit but also because it's very entertaining.


Budget: $2.7 million (Box office: $4 million)

This epic is very colourful and memorable in its own way but it couldn't duplicate the box office performance of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS or BEN-HUR. Starring Lana Turner.


Budget: $2.9 million (Box office: #2.7 million)

Though the film includes massive sets and large crowds and it was shot in part on location, this colourful epic is mainly remembered by film enthusiasts, PEPLUM fans and fans of Joan Collins. Howard Hawks refused to list it during a retrospective on his career. Starring Jack Hawkins and Dewey Martin.


Budget: not available (Box office: $2.5 million)

Another excellent production with excellent cast that got a lukewarm reception at the box office. It's not forgotten by any means but few people bring up when talking about epics of the period. Starring Richard Burton.


Budget: $6 million (Box office: $3.2 million)

Technically speaking, this Robert Wise movie, with a budget of $6 million, should be listed in the big budgeted movies above but it wasn't a box office smash so I had to list here. Sadly, it's one of those forgotten epics of the 1950s.


Budget: $4 million (Box office: $3 million)

This 3+ hours epic is the most forgotten epic of that period. Starring Howard Keel. The movie is in limbo.


Budget: $2.9 million (Box office: $3 million)

Directed by Henry Koster, the same director of THE ROBE. The budget was smaller than the one for THE ROBE and it barely made its money back. Starring Tom Tryon and Elana Eden. It's a solid drama but few people remember this mid-range epic.


Budget: $4 million (Box office: $1.6 million)

Like many of these movies, it's colourful and well made but it was a box office disappointment. Starring Yul Brynner and George Chakiris.

Hollywood / Italian co-productions:


Budget: not available (Box office: $2.9 million)

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Richard Fleischer. Not a BEN-HUR or a SPARTACUS by any means but it was well received.


Budget: not available (Box office: not available)

This movie is mostly seen as an Italian production but it was actually in production at FOX for a long time, ever since the success of DAVID & BATHSHEBA. Production of the movie was eventually moved to Italy because of the 1960 Writers Guild of America strike. Starring Joan Collins and Rosalba Neri.


Budget: $4.5 million (Box office: $2.5 million)

Directed by Robert Aldrich and produced by Joseph E. Levine. A US/French/Italian co-production, this big, ponderous epic was a dud at the box office. Better than most productions at the time, it went nowhere fast: it didn't satisfy the horny moviegoers looking for sexy moments and the subject was too lurid for religious folks. 

PEPLUM Movie Posters

Title card of THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959)

One of 5 movies Steve made/appeared in in 1959. IN DARING COLOR!

Friday, January 24, 2020


The PEPLUM TV store for 2020!

I have some of the merch and wear them all the time. Good stuff.

By the Gods!

The tower of Babel in THE BIBLE: THE BEGINNING...(1966)

This scene is well executed. The bottom of the image (see below) is were the large scale set and all the live action stuff occurred and everything else above that is a matte painting by Silio Romagnoli. I made a composite of this scene, with three screengrabs edited together. The final scene is a great shot and still holds up beautifully in HD. Spectacular.

As for the authenticity of the design, according to archeologists and historians, that's a whole different matter.

Everything in this frame is real. No special effects or CGI.


Richard Harrison in an intimate moment with girlfriend (?) while shooting PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE (1963 ; aka Medusa vs the Son of Hercules). This photo was used for a Mexican lobby card but it was a mistake as the lady in the photo is NOT in the film itself and she's dressed in (then) modern clothes. And the two are sitting on a set of movie chairs.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

By the Gods!

Reg Park, as Hercules, in HERCULES - PRISONER OF EVIL (1964; Ursus il terrore dei Kirghisi)

Directed by Anthony Dawson, aka Antonio Margheriti (with an uncredited Ruggero Deodato).

Is this a Hercules movie or an Ursus one? The original title is URSUS & THE TERROR OF THE KIRGHIZ. Personally speaking, I prefer Ursus but the original title is not that interesting. Maybe URSUS - PRISONER OF EVIL? This is not a Hercules movie. The title was changed to HERCULES to accommodate the English cinema markets (US - Canada - UK - Australia - NZ - Hong Kong).

The story is simple enough: the sorceress Amiko (Granelli) uses a magic potion to turn men she seduces into monsters. There are two factions in this story (the good guys and the bad guys...duh!) and Amiko wants the possessed-men-turned-into-monster to create fear and terror between the groups to trigger a war. This includes big beefy Hercules. She's works with Zereteli (main bad guy) but he doesn't exactly know what she does.

The film is never boring but it plays more like a combo of the Werewolf / Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde / FRIDAY THE 13TH than a Hercules movie. Hercules in a backwoods slasher? That's basically it. Oh, and with some witchcraft. As it always is with these kind of stories, there are a lot of red herrings.

I like it. The cinematography is excellent, as witnessed in recent DVD release of it. It looks like it was shot yesterday. The cast is solid. The acting is actually pretty good, certainly from Mireille, Ettore, Furio and Claudio Scarchilli, who's unforgettable as a double faced baddie. And Reg Park doesn't look too bored, like in some of his other movies. For some reason, in this movie Reg reminds me of Mark Wahlberg. It's a very simple story and the bulk of the movie is made of scenes of the actors running around in the woods.

A side note, this movie is one of those rare PEPLUM movies that has no cuts to it for the English version: the runtime for the original is 90 minutes and the runtime for the US version is 90 minutes.

The main problem with HERCULES - PRISONER OF EVIL is that it utilizes big chunks of scenes from THE SEVEN REVENGES (1961). Those re-used scenes all have Furio Meniconi in them. Meniconi agreed to act in this movie and they were able to edit the old footage with the new footage. It's sorta seamless, even though the film stock between the two movies are obviously different. Now if one doesn't know this or hasn't seen THE SEVEN REVENGES, it might not be a big deal but since REVENGES is a great PEPLUM, it's sorta sad that this was done. REVENGES easily eclipses this movie.

To make things more odd, a porn version of this movie was released in the early 1970s, titled THE EROTIC LIFE OF URSUS. Inserts of sex scenes or presumably nude scenes were added to the mix. So, by that time that version had scenes from 3 different movies. That version seems to have been lost forever.

7.5 out of 10

Ettore Manni is Hercules' good friend. Manni is excellent as usual.

Mireille Granelli played a compelling villainess/sorceress/witch. Her career was short-lived though.

Furio Meniconi as Zereteli. Scenes from THE SEVEN REVENGES were re-used. Meniconi wore the same costumes in both films.

A wounded Hercules is nursed back to health by his love, played by Maria Teresa Orsin. Claudio Scarchilli, in the background, plays a memorable bad guy.

Who played the monster? Was it Reg Park? No one is credited for the monster.

Lobby Cards Set: COBRA WOMAN

Lobby cards set of COBRA WOMAN (1944) starring Maria Montez, Sabu and Jon Hall. The set is incomplete, with only one card missing. Good set. Serviceable. But the movie is so colourful that these plain cardboard cards cannot capture the vividness and intensity of the Technicolor film.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

By the Gods!

Hélène Chanel and Pierre Brice in THE TERROR OF THE BLACK MASK (1963; L'invincibile cavaliere mascherato)

Directed by Umberto Lenzi, this is one of those Zorro/Masked Avenger movies popular back then. Dozens and dozens were made. Some are pretty good while some are just average. I wouldn't call this movie average, even though it is, but derivative. The usually reliable direction by Umberto Lenzi, who directed some of the most solid actioners of the period including SAMSON & THE SLAVE QUEEN (1963), SANDOKAN THE GREAT or PIRATES OF MALAYSIA (both 1964), is oddly uninspired here. The movie feels like it's running in circles, going back and forth with the same 4 or 5 settings, including a dining chamber that's not very convincing. A lot of the action occurs in this set, which looks very artificial. Like a set. The careful, meticulous direction by Lenzi is not present. Instead, we see the same scenes repeat themselves over and over again.

The movie sorta lacks vision. Some have said it's bland, and, again, it is but some good direction or cinematography can elevate a bland story and characters in being better than it is. In this case, both the direction or cinematography are nothing remarkable. The camera angles and composition of the repetitive scenes are sorta lazy. The movie is not bad by any means. As I've already wrote, it's just not inspired.

The story is about a wealthy man, Don Gomez (Nerio Bernardi), killed in an ambush, at the behest of the many villains in this story (see below), with Daniele Vargas being the main bad guy, Don Luis. Luis inherits the 'welfare' of the dead man's estate, including his daughter, Carmencita (Chanel) who is trapped in his castle. The story takes place during an outbreak of the plague, or Black Death. A masked Avenger, called the Black Mask, also terrorizes the populace, and is a thorn on the side of the many villains.

The Black Death storyline is the most interesting aspect of this movie and is sometimes handled in a morbid manner without being too gruesome.

The beautiful Hélène Chanel looks sorta matronly in this movie. Some of the clothes and wigs weren't fitted properly, making her look older and more unkempt than needed be. The climax takes place during a costume party and Hélène is dressed in a gaudy Cleopatra-like costume. The dashing Pierre Brice excelled in these roles and this one is no exception. The odd thing, Brice's first on-screen appearance happens 35 minutes into a 90 minutes long movie. At one point I wondered if his role would amount to a cameo. The denouement of the story is sorta convoluted and I actually need to watch it again to make sure I got things right.

I have the Italian, German and English versions. The English version, which I've recently acquired, is a Fan Dub made by someone not known to me. The opening credits were also remade (on computer) from scratch and are in English. A pretty good Fan Dub but the voices sometimes do not match the actors from time to time.


I give 6 out of 10.

Hero Pierre Brice. Is he the Black Mask avenger?

Hélène Chanel is the 'damsel in distress'.

The many villains: Damile Vargas, Carlo Latimer, Massimo Serato and Aldo Bufi Landi

Happy birthday to Steve!

I never do birthday posts but today is the day Steve Reeves was born: January 21, 1926. 

Without him, the PEPLUM genre wouldn't be the same. 

Happy birthday!

BY THE GODS!: New DVD set is same as old DVD set…

Beware of repackaging!

Monday, January 20, 2020

By the Gods!

Gianni Agus, Totò and Moira Orfei in TOTO & CLEOPATRA (1963)

How to review a Totò movie?

It's one of those dilemmas of the genre. I like his films but they're are difficult to give a good assessment. His PEPLUM films are only available in Italian (for now). Unless you know Italian, you'll have to read subtitles to watch his movies. And since the animated Totò talks nonstop, the subtitles are never-ending. You spend more time reading the machine-gun delivery of the dialogue than watch the movie. Things are made more complicated because there are subtle (or not subtle) differences between the dialogue and the subs which hamper the meaning of many jokes or situations, many of which are play with words. Some scenes have no subtitles apparently because the jokes were impossible to translate.

Like many genre comedies, Totò plays a dual role: Marc Antony and an unscrupulous slave trader who happens to look exactly like Mark Antony. That's because they're brothers. The plot or story is secondary to the humour.

Some compare this to CARRY ON CLEO (1964), which was made and release a year after this production. There are some similarities but not that many. CLEO is funnier but it's more like a cartoon while this one, even with cartoonish Totò, is played more straight.

The movie includes scenes from other productions as a cost cutting measure. In one scene, with the fake Mark Antony addressing the people of Rome cheering him on, we see a crowd scene taken from THE SWORD & THE CROSS (1958), which is set in Israel. That Roman crowd doesn't look very Roman.

In the movie, Totò is surrounded by many beautiful women, with Moira being the most beautiful. She was a statuesque woman! Totò's voice was not dubbed but Moira's voice was, or seems to be.

PEPLUM Movie Posters

US movie poster of THE WARRIOR AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1958)

The fellow looks like Charlton Heston. Fun poster.


The PEPLUM TV store for 2020!

I have some of the merch and wear them all the time. Good stuff.

Friday, January 17, 2020


A quick look at the movie on Blu-ray (not a complete review...coming soon). Starring Victor Mature and Susan Hayward.

By the Gods!

The gladiator training scene from DEMETRIUS & THE GLADIATORS (1954)

The cast includes Susan Hayward, Ernest Borgnine and Barry Jones.

Last night, I watched THE ROBE in HD from a Blu-ray release. Beautiful print. Crystal clear image. So why is the image for this movie taken from its Blu-ray so murky? It's baffling to me. It's great to see so many details on the extras in the background. No Ed Fury in sight though (see previous post below). But there is a fellow right dead centre who I thought, for a split second, was Steve Reeves. You can see him better in the screenshot below, on the far right. It's not Steve since the man's arms are too small. I wonder who he is. I think he's John Weidemann, the fellow who starred in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953), in the 'Olympic' scene with Jane Russell.

I recently purchased Blu-rays of THE ROBE (1953) and its sequel, DEMETRIUS & THE GLADIATORS. I have to say that watching them in HD, even with the murky image of DEMETRIUS, gives the movies a whole new aspect. I will write reviews of those Blu-rays soon enough. Suffice it to say, my appreciation for both movies have gone up considerably.

Does anyone have the US Blu-ray release of DEMETRIUS? Is the image this murky? This Blu-ray is from a Spanish edition (since the US one is out of print and the copies for sale out there are too expensive).

Vintage Article: Gina taking a bath!

Article in Movie News magazine over beautiful Gina Lollobrigida's bath scene in SOLOMON & SHEBA (1959). Probably the least inspired 'bathing beauty' moment in PEPLUM history. Such a lavish production and the Queen of Sheba in a tiny tub.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

By the Gods!

Full scale model of the kingdom of Jadur in ARABIAN ADVENTURE (1979)

The model, which was tall and elaborate (though looking like a model) was built in full. In the image above this long distance shot of Jadur is seen at the beginning. No superimposed image but shot live with actor (Puneet Sira as Majeed) in the foreground. The city would be used extensively during the magic carpet chase scene during the climax, as seen in the screenshot below (with Oliver Tobias). The camera would swoop and move around the model, replicating the footage needed for the magic carpet scenes. It was used for scenes like the sunset one in the last screenshot, which is nice. The plain lighting during the daytime scenes gives the model away. It needed more contrast, and the sky behind needed to be more convincing. Of I'd make an Arabian movie, I would do this but with better lighting.