Articles of the week (2019 - 2020)

Article of the week: THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN Blu-ray review


THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN (1961) starring Donald O'Connor (Aladdin), Noëlle Adam (Djalma), Fausto Tozzi (Grand Vizier), Terence Hill (Prince Moluk), Michèle Mercier (Princess Zaina), Milton Reid (Omar), Alberto Farnese (Bandit Chieftain), Aldo Fabrizi (Sultan), and Vittorio De Sica as the Genie. Directed by Henry Levin and Mario Bava. Original title: Le meraviglie di Aladino.

With the current release of a new Blu-ray edition of THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN, I fell the need to go over it and give it the attention it deserve. You see, the more these BR editors of PEPLUM movies are sold the greater chance more titles will follow suit.

Summarizing the story of this Donald O'Connor movie is not an easy task. So I'll try to do it with pictures.

A procession for Prince Moluk.

Aladdin's mother buys a tiny lamp at a market. She gives it to him but he believes they're too poor to afford it and decides to return it. Unbeknownst to his mother or him, the lamp has as genie living inside of it. At the same time, Prince Moluk (Terence Hill, credited as Mario Girotti) arrives in a colourful procession, in preparation for marrying Princess Zaina (Michèle Mercier), the daughter of the Sultan who is also expecting a newborn. Aladdin (a miscast Donald O'Connor) follows it from a rooftop and accidentally falls through a skylight. This is where we meet Djalma (Noëlle Adams, below).

Later, as Aladdin tries to return the tiny lamp to the merchant, he comes across some food. Starving, Aladdin steals two baskets of food. The seller catches him in the act and he suddenly finds himself being chased by a gang of people, including Omar (Milton Reid). During the chase, Aladdin crosses path with Fakir (Marco Tulli) who later would play an important part of the story.

As Aladdin is chased around, he tries hiding in a little hole in a wall but inside dogs are living there. Aladdin catches fleas from the brief encounter with the dogs and starts scratching himself all over. As he tries to keep the gang of angry merchants at bay, Aladdin uses the tiny lamp to scratch himself with and accidentally releases the Genie (played by a bored looking Vittorio De Sica).

The Genie grants Aladdin a wish to scare off the merchants, by making him a giant. This works as all the merchants run away. Aladdin interrogates Omar (Reid) who becomes a slave to Aladdin. From now on, Omar does all of Aladdin's biddings.

The Grand Vizier (an excellent Fausto Tozzi) arrives to his massive tent and his greeted by the Magician (Raymond Bussiere, below).

The Magician has created life size dolls, one male who looks like Prince Moluk (below, Terence Hill of course) and a near naked female, who is a killing machine. She can kill a man with a simple hug (see below at the Uncredited actors). This part of the plot is not really clear but one assumes that the Grand Vizier would use these dolls in a plot to overthrow the Sultan.

The Grand Vizier wants to know if Princess Zaina (Mercier, above) is worth it and sends out a scout to draw a picture of her (below).

This happens as the Sultan (Aldo Fabrizi, above) is briefed by his High Priest (?) of the status of his expectant wife. The High Priest tells him that the new baby will be a son. This birth will happen on the same day of the marriage between Prince Moluk and Princess Zaina.

In the meantime, not shown here, Aladdin and Omar leave the city in a convoy of the bad guys, while Djalma (Adams) joins Prince Moluk's caravan. The caravan of the bad guys (lead by Alberto Farnese) ambushes Prince Moluk's caravan.

Omar and Aladdin find themselves alone in the middle of the desert as the convoy ran off to attack the Prince's caravan.

While under attack, Prince Moluk decides to switch identities with one of his guards (above). The actor who takes the place of the Prince is unidentified (see Uncredited actors below)

Djalma participates in the battle but like the newly disguised Prince, she becomes a prisoner of the convoy.

Aladdin and Omar, stranded in the middle of nowhere, start seeing mirages. The mirage looks like the waterfall scene from THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1961)

Omar and Aladdin come across two beautiful women dressed as Las Vegas showgirls. They think the women are also mirages but they're not. They are desert Amazons.

Aladdin and Omar (below) are pampered by the bevy of beautiful women. They soon learn that they will be dispatched after making love to the Amazons, with Aladdin set to be the Queen Amazon's lover while Omar is set for the rest of the women. 

In a pinch, Aladdin conjures the Genie and begs him to whisk him and Omar away from the Amazons, to be with Prince Moluk and that's were the two end up (above), not knowing Moluk had switched identities. 

The Grand Vizier announces to the Sultan of Prince Moluk's death. This creates issues in that the Sultan's daughter will have to marry someone else and the Grand Vizier offers his hand.

Aladdin, Omar and Djalma are prisoners in some underground lair. The Prince is also with them and after admitting of his identity to the three, Aladdin thinks up an idea: of catapulting the Prince with a palm tree (below).

A beautiful shot.

Above and below: The Grand Vizier has Djalma hung up, bound and naked, and attempts to torture her in order to get the location of Prince Moluk. This is a kid's movie.

The magician gets the altered Male Doll to dance and play the flute to calm down the baby he's holding, to swap later with the soon-to-be-born son of the Sultan. Good scene.

Prince Moluk saves Djalma (and covers her up)

The magician and a midwife are about to do a baby swap as the Queen, who's never shown, is set to give birth.

With Prince Moluk dead and the newborn being a girl, the Sultan has no choice bu to marry his daughter, Princess Zaina, to the Grand Vizier.

Above and below: Aladdin stands in for the Male Doll and starts performing for the Sultan and company. The set and costumes of the crowd are all from THIEF OF BAGHDAD.

In a continuation of the ceremony, a huge basket is brought into the ceremonies and Prince Moluk pops out of it with the actual newborn, which throws the Grand Vizier's entire plan into chaos.

During the big battle scene, which is straight out of THIEF OF BAGHDAD, the Grand Vizier is alone and riding a donkey after the Genie helped Aladdin.

As I said, not an easy story to summarize.

The movie is a comedy. Is it funny? Personally speaking, I didn't laugh at any of the jokes throughout the movie. Does that mean the movie is not good or doesn't work? No but some of the humour is quite cringey. For example, below, Prince Moluk finds Aladdin and Omar hanging in cowhides, in some bizarre torture process. The scene was meant to illicit laughter but for me it was the opposite. It's too silly to even make any sense. But if one forgets the attempts of humour and look at it in a surrealistic way, it's not bad. It becomes more of a collection of whacky scenes than a flat out comedy. The story is propelled not by a logical set of actions but more of a never-ending collection of events created by happenstance or coincidences. This way, the movie sorta lives up to the title THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN.

One disappointing aspect of the screenplay is how it leaves many characters introduced throughout the movie with no conclusion. What happened to the Killer Lady Doll? We don't know.

The two female leads are mainly there for their looks. Noëlle Adam does a bit more than Mercier but at one point in the story she's bound and hung naked. One has to remind themselves that this is supposed to be a kid's movie. Donald O'Connor is Donald O'Connor. You either like his schtick or you don't. Personally, it didn't bother me much because that's what O'Connor does in all of his movies but there's no doubt that having him play Aladdin was problematic in more ways than one. His age for starters but I won't spend more time discussing this. It is what it is. The actors that come across the best are Terence Hill, Fausto Tozzi and Milton Reid. After watching the movie in this pristine state, it's quite clear that Hill was the star of this project. He stole almost every scene he was in and showed great potential of him becoming a leading man. Tozzi was also excellent in his role as he clearly relished playing the main villain. And finally, Milton Reid who appeared in other PEPLUM movies and was the evil henchman in the Bond movie, DR. NO. For once, he had an actual role even though he's just a sidekick of sorts to Aladdin. 

I've always had issues with this movie, for multiple reasons but mainly because of the many conflicting aspects in it. I have to remind myself all the time that this is a kid's movie, one that has torture, swapping babies at birth, men burned in fire, naked woman hung up and gagged, a near naked killing doll, etc. It's a collection of dubious stuff wrapped up in a beautiful package. And it is a beautiful looking film. The production owes a lot to the Steve Reeves movie, THIEF OF BAGHDAD, which, imo, is way superior to this. Both movies were produced by the same production company, and Reeves was even suppose to star as Aladdin, which is mind boggling. The changes they made to accommodate Donald O'Connor sorta worked better than had Reeves starred in it. But it's still sorta an uneven mix: some obviously great aspects (production, cinematography, score by A. F. Lavagnino...) mixed with sorta uninspired stuff such as the convoluted story (8 people credited for it) or Vittorio De Sica as the Genie. De Sica apparently disliked the whole experience and it shows. 

Henry Levin directed 80% of the film, with Mario Bava directed the rest, and was also responsible for the movie's (uneven) special effects. The only reason this movie was released on Blu-ray was mainly because of Bava's name. Even if Levin was responsible for most of the movie, Bava fans view this as a Mario Bava movie. It's an odd thing with Mario Bava and his fans: if Bava was involved in any aspect of a movie, no matter how limited, his fans consider it a Bava movie. I like Mario Bava but I always roll my eyes when I hear this near fanaticism for his work.

Unidentified actors

The movie has a staggering number of actors who are uncredited. 

The actor who played Djalma's father is not credited.

This actor is not credited. He's familiar though.

This slave, seen briefly, is Janine Hendy, who also starred in THOR AND THE AMAZON WOMEN and THE MONGOLS, amongt other titles. She's the only one I was able to name.

Prince Moluk's assistant is played by an uncredited actor.

The life-size doll who is capable of killing someone with a hug is not credited. She is seen throughout the movie.

The Sultan's 'High Priest' is not credited.

The man Prince Moluk swaps identity with is not credited. He's eventually killed by the Grand Vizier.

None of the Amazons are credited, including the Queen seen here. I could try to figure out who's who from looking at other movies but I didn't have time to do this.

The excellent dancer who plays the altered Male Doll is not credited.

Above and below: two actors with lines who are not credited.

This actor appears in two scenes and he's not credited.

Cut scenes

The runtime for the original Italian version is 100 minutes at 24 frames a second.

The Blu-ray's runtime is 1:33:25, or 93 minutes and 25 seconds at 24 frames per second. That means the BR is missing a little over 6 minutes.

To compare, I have three additional copies of this movie: one taken from a French DVD. Another taken from an Italian TV broadcast. The third one is from a US TV broadcast. Both the French and Italian versions are at 25 frames per second (PAL) while the US TV broadcast is at 24 frames per second (NTSC). 

The French is 1:36:56, or 96 minutes and 56 seconds at 25 frames per second (PAL). Nearly 97 minutes long. This means the French copy is uncut (a movie filmed in 24fps will be shorten in the PAL system at 25fps). The Italian version is a few seconds shorter than the French version...but both are basically uncut.

The runtime for the US TV broadcast is nearly 1:32:00, or nearly 92 minutes. The missing scenes in this version reflect the missing scenes of the Blu-ray.  

So what scenes were cut from the original Italian version?

Above and below: Noëlle Adam, as Djalma, starts dancing to get some money so she can go to the major wedding of Prince Moluk and Princess Zaina. The scene lasts almost 2 minutes and is a big chunk of the missing 6 minutes. In this scene, Djalma is introduced to the Prince (without revealing who he is) and it establishes a connection between the two.

A brief scene when Prince Moluk (Hill) switches identities with a guard. I don't know why this was cut.

The man who stood in for Prince Moluk is killed by the Grand Vizier: the man falls through a trap and his mauled to death by lions. What a bad ending for him.

Prince Moluk swimming for his life after being catapulted out of the lair. In this scene, guards throw lances at him in a vain attempt in killing him.

A scene with Djalma strung up naked. The scene in the new Blu-ray is shorter and this moment when she turns around to look at Aladdin was cut. 

Blu-ray review

The Blu-ray is fairly barebones. There's only a commentary by Bava expert Tim Lucas. That's it. There are trailers but nothing else.

So this brief review will focus on the quality of the transfer. For the first 20 minutes, the movie is not that great looking. The source seems to be from a second generation print or even from a 16mm print. The contrast is bad and the image is blurry. Just look at the screengrabs of my summary to view the less than perfect quality of the image. After 20 minutes, the image is pristine, clear and stunning. The movie now looks like it was shot yesterday. The film's colourful sets and costumes really pop out. It's really worth watching it this way. 

So what happened with the first 20 minutes? To give you an idea, just compare the two scenes with the same setting. Click on them.

Above: the image is not as sharp or clear as the one below, taken later during the good part of the transfer. Notice the curtains, the vest and the general details of the Terence Hill's face. Below is pristine and perfect.

Final thoughts

I like it and this new release showcases the film's artistic qualities. But the story is a mix bag and the final result is far from what they attempted to do, which was a laugh out loud comedy. It's fun but it's not a hilarious movie. It was worth purchasing the Blu-ray. Aside from the issues with the image during the beginning, I'm happy with it. Bring on more releases, please.

A solid 7 out of 10.


STEVE REEVES' LEADING LADIES: Who's your favorite?

Steve Reeves made 14 PEPLUM movies and of those movies he starred along beautiful leading ladies. He often had two female characters he was besotted by (or vice versa).

Note: I only included those who were lovers of Reeves' characters, or women who tried to seduce him. For example, I didn't include Gianna Maria Canale from SON OF SPARTACUS because she doesn't try to seduce him or show any interest in Reeves' character, Randus.

Who's your favorite?

HERCULES (1958) - Sylva Koscina

Sylva Koscina played Iole, the fated daughter of King Pelias. Her family goes through a lot once Hercules (Reeves) shows up to help Pelias with training his soldiers. A perennial favorite. 

HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959) - Sylvia Lopez

The statuesque Sylvia Lopez played Omphale in this sequel to the popular 1958 release. Omphale tried to make Hercules forget all about Iole.

HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959) - Sylva Koscina

Sylva reprised her role as Iole even though she had to 'share' screen time with a rival in Omphale.

THE WHITE WARRIOR (1959) - Giorgia Moll

The comely Giorgia Moll was the 'nice' love interest to Steve's character. This was her first of two films she made with Steve.

THE WHITE WARRIOR (1959) - Scilla Gabel

Scilla played a bored princess who sympathizes with Agi Murad's plight.


Cuban-born Chelo Alonso was the hip shaking love interest to Reeves' Goliath. Another perennial favorite of many fans.

THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959) - Christine Kaufmann

Christine's first big role in a PEPLUM movie was being the leading love interest to Steve Reeves. She was 14 years old when she made the movie!

THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) - Mylène Demongeot

Mylène Demongeot was the moody leading leading in this Steve Reeves action epic. 

THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) - Daniela Rocca

Daniela Rocca's character tried to seduce Phillipides (Reeves) to no avail. 

MORGAN THE PIRATE (1960) - Chelo Alonso

Chelo and Steve returned in this excellent pirate movie. She loved Morgan but Morgan had his eyes set on someone else.

MORGAN THE PIRATE (1960) - Valérie Lagrange

Valérie Lagrange was the chaste love interest to Reeves' Captain Morgan. 

THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1961) - Giorgia Moll

Giorgia and Steve were re-united for this colorful fantasy adventure. 

THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1961) - Edy Vessel

Edy Vessel played a seductress who tried to kill Karim (Reeves). A brief but memorable role.

THE TROJAN HORSE (1961) - Juliette Mayniel

Juliette played Creusa, the tragic wife of Aeneas. 

THE TROJAN HORSE (1961) - Edy Vessel

Edy Vessel, as Helen of Troy, was a seductress to Reeves' Aeneas. 

DUEL OF THE TITANS (1961) - Virna Lisi

Virna Lisi was cast as the love-interest to Reeves' Romulus.

SON OF SPARTACUS (1962) - Ombretta Colli

Ombretta played a slave that Randus (Reeves) saved.

THE LAST GLORY OF TROY (1962) - Carla Marlier

Carla was the moody love interest to Reeves' Aeneas in this sequel to THE TROJAN HORSE.

SANDOKAN THE GREAT (1963) - Geneviève Grad

Geneviève Grad and Reeves' characters became romantically involved during their arduous struggle.

SANDOKAN - PIRATE OF MALAYSIA (1964) - Jacqueline Sassard

Jacqueline was the chaste love interest to Reeves' Sandokan. There's very little romance in it but a Hero always had to have a leading lady to support him.

That's it. A pretty good list of beautiful and interesting characters.

So, who's your favorite?


MACISTE - Who's your favourite?

Maciste originally appeared in the granddaddy of PEPLUM movies, CABIRIA (1914). His character was a powerful slave and he won the hearts of moviegoers back then. The character was so popular that the actor who played him, Bartolomeo Pagano, officially changed his name to Maciste and made a plethora of movies, including MACISTE IN HELL (1926). So, the character had a life of its own outside of CABIRIA.

The first movie to reprise the character's name was SON OF SAMSON (1960) starring Mark Forest. It was a solid film and a hit, which then opened the floodgates for dozens of other PEPLUM movies with the muscular hero.

Maciste is fascinating in that one could see him as Hercules but without all that Greek mythological stuff, you know, the Gods and Mount Olympus, etc. But the character itself evolved in odd ways as time went on. Bartolomeo Pagano's Maciste appeared in stories set in the past or in contemporary times, as the settings would fit the stories. After the revival in 1960 with the release of SON OF SAMSON, Maciste took on a mythological aspect: he became this timeless hero who could be conjured up from anywhere or in any specific time in history. This makes for an interesting if odd set of introductions. In MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE THUNDERING ECHOES (1964), Maciste is literally conjured up by a high priest. In MACISTE AGAINST THE CAZR (1964), Maciste is revived from a tomb thanks to an ointment rubbed on his chest. In MACISTE IN HELL (1962), he just appears out of nowhere on horseback. So, the character evolved quite a lot since the silent era. How so? It seems the myth of Maciste is intrinsically linked with him defeating the Devil (in MACISTE IN HELL) and he sorta attained supernatural abilities after that. Not necessarily like a superhero but more like an angel of sorts, not bound by time and space. Was this good idea or not? Personally, I like it but the character needs a solid background story to make sense of where he came from and why he does the things he does (helping those in need).

The name Maciste has taken the meaning of 'born from the rock'. 

Anyway, here's a list of actors who portrayed the angel-like muscular hero. Setting aside Bartolomeo, who is your favourite?

Note: many of these Maciste movies were re-titled as another hero (Goliath, Samson, Atlas, etc) for markets outside of Europe. This list also excludes the soft-core porn Maciste movies of the 1970s. 

Mark Forest


Kirk Morris


Gordon Mitchell

Gordon Mitchell appeared in one Maciste movie, re-titled as ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS (1961). In this movie, we first see a sleeping Maciste lying on a rock on some shore.

Gordon Scott

Gordon Scott played Maciste in two movies, both re-titled for the US market: GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES (above; 1961), and SAMSON & THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (below; 1961). 

Reg Lewis

Bodybuilder Reg Lewis appeared in one and only PEPLUM movie and it was a Maciste one: COLOSSUS OF THE STONE AGE (1962). His character was renamed Maxus in the English dub.

Reg Park

Reg Park starred in one Maciste movie: MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1963) with Wandisa Guida. This one of the few Maciste movies in which the name was kept for the title.

Alan Steel

Alan Steel was Maciste in two favorites of mine: SAMSON & THE SLAVE QUEEN (below; 1963 aka Zorro against Maciste) and HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN (above; 1964)

Renato Rossini (Howard Ross)

Renato was Maciste in SAMSON & THE MIGHTY CHALLENGE (1964). He had to duke it out with Hercules, Samson and Ursus. 

Iloosh Khoshabe and Mario Novelli

Both Iloosh Khoshabe and Mario Novelli were named Maciste in THE INVINCIBLE MACISTE BROTHERS (1964). In this case Khoshabe was Maciste the Elder and Novelli was Maciste the Younger:

Samson Burke

Samson Burke was Maciste in TOTO VS MACISTE (1962)

Ed Fury

Ed Fury in SAMSON AGAINST THE SHEIK (1964). Fun film but not really a Samson film nor a Maciste one. Samson is okay as a generic name for a hero but people expect Samson of the Bible.

So, who's your favourite?

Both Kirk Morris and Mark Forest appeared in many top PEPLUM films as Maciste so it's really a competition between the two, who are almost tied.

I like all of them but my personal favourites are: 

1- Kirk Morris. Mainly because of MACISTE IN HELL and TRIUMPH OF MACISTE which are classics in my book. When I hear the name Maciste, the image of Kirk pops in my head.

2- Mark Forest. With MACISTE - STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD and SON OF SAMSON, and his HERCULES vs barbarians movies makes him a solid contender.

3- Alan Steel. MOON MEN and ZORRO VS MACISTE are personal favorites.

4- Gordon Scott. GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES alone put him in the top 5.

5- Gordon Mitchell. His ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS is a classic PEPLUM movie.


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.


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. 


Henchmen in PEPLUM movies

Henchmen in PEPLUM movies is the topic of this 'Article of the week.' Covering all of them would be a Herculean task. There are almost as many henchman as there are PEPLUM movies. In this article, I'll cover those who were the best (or baddest!). A lot of these actors played henchmen but it's not to say that these actors weren't cast in roles as main villain or even good guys.

The henchman is the foot soldier, the mercenary or the lower class ruler who does the dirty work for the main villain or villainess. Since these stories often involved muscular heroes, the henchman also had to look physically capable of dealing with the hero.

Some roles sorta skirt the category, including the one played by Luis Prendes, as Setas, in THE MIGHTY URSUS (1960). Is he a henchman? Not really but he's not the main villain in the villain-filled movie. I could have included him but I didn't. Another role would be Stanley Baker in SODOM & GOMORRAH (1962). I didn't include him but even if he's the brother of the ruling Queen, he totally acts like her henchman. Since the role is murky at best, I left him out of the list.

Remember, this is only a partial list. There are so many henchmen in PEPLUM movies that covering all of them would take forever.

Mimmo Palmara

Probably the most recognizable bad guy in the genre, Mimmo often played villains, even lead villains but he was almost always a bad guy in a supporting role of another main villain. The henchman role sorta defined him.

Steve Reeves and Mimmo Palamara in THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959). One of many henchman roles Mimmo would play in his career in the PEPLUM genre.

Since Mimmo was good looking and in shape his henchman roles tended to be categorized in the arrogant, braggadocios, 'douchebag' kind of bad guy.

Mimmo Palmara and Gianfranco Parolini in THE TEN GLADIATORS (1963). The henchman in this movie had to be buff and capable of going against the Ten gladiators.

Livio Lorenzo

Livio was the henchman to the villain ruler, played by Bruce Cabot, in GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS (1959)

Livio would basically play this type of role in dozens of films. He was perfect as these henchmen types so why change?

Livio with Lisa Gastoni and Mimmo Palmara in THARUS - SON OF ATTILA (1962). In a change of pace, Palmara was the main villain while Livio was his henchman.

Daniele Vargas

Daniele was often cast as lead villain but he also played many henchman/supporting bad guy roles, as the one in SODOM & GOMORRAH (1962).

Vargas played a similar role in HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959). He's threatening Iole, played by Sylva Koscina. He was typecast in such roles.

Giulio Donnini

Giulio Donnini in APHRODITE - GODDESS OF LOVE (1958)

Donnini was a great henchman. Always slimy and always scheming. One first look of him and you know he's bad. Other notable roles: TRIUMPH OF MACISTE (1961) and MESSALINA (1960).

Donnini is the main henchman in ATLAS AGAINST THE CZAR (1964) starring Kirk Morris. In this scene, Donnini's character is drugging Atlas (Maciste in the original Italian version).

Howard Ross (aka Renato Rossini)

Pierre Cressoy was the evil ruler in TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1962), with Howard Ross as his henchman. Howard, or Renato Rossini, was great as a henchman since, physically speaking, he was as muscular as the heroes.

Howard was a cunning henchman in HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964). He excelled in those roles. He was also villain in HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1963), which was packed with villains. The villains in that movie are difficult to categorize in that the Mongol leader is killed by Howard's character and his cohorts, who could all be henchmen but since the leader was killed they became leaderless henchmen, or something.

Franco Silva

Franco Silva has the ever scheming henchman in QUEEN OF SHEBA (1953). Here he is with future henchman, Mimmo Palmara. Franco is really great in this fun film. Silva didn't appear in a lot of PEPLUM movies but he was most often cast in bad roles than good. His big lead role not playing a villain was in THE MONGOLS (1960).

Pino Mattei

In 79 AD: THE DESTRUCTION OF HERCULANEUM (1962), Jacques Berthier was the main villain and his henchman, or his 'partner in crime,' was played by Pino Mattei (aka Giuseppe Mattei).

Alan Steel

Alan Steel as the mute henchman to Serge Gainsbourg, lead villain in FURY OF HERCULES (1962) 

Yes, Alan sometimes played bad guys, which was cool. He's also a henchman in HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959).

Serge Gainsbourg

Before becoming a crooner, Serge appeared in a handful of movies, including a couple of PEPLUM ones. In REVOLT OF THE SLAVES (1960), he's the conniving, slimy henchman to the evil Emperor.    Below, he wants to inspect rooms in Rhonda Fleming' house, along with his own henchman, played by Van Aikens.

Van Aikens

Van Aikens was the henchman to main villainess, Astra, played by Gianna Maria Canale (not shown) in GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES (1961).  He was very effective in this thankless role.

Antonio Molino Rojo

In GLADIATORS 7 (1962), Rojo was the evil henchman to the ruler. He was memorable in this role. This wasn't his only henchman role.

Alberto Lupo

Alberto played Chirone, henchman to Princess Freda (Rosanna Schiaffino) in THE MINOTAUR (1960). Alberto could play good guys and bad guys with ease.

Aldo Bufi Landi

In TRIUMPH OF MACISTE (1961), Aldo was evil Queen Tenefi's henchman who did all her duties even if he was against them. A good actor who lend excellent support, along with the High Priest (Cesare Fantoni), who wasn't a henchman but both men schemed things together.

Harold Bradley

Harold Bradley acted in a bunch of PEPLUM titles, including HERO OF BABYLON (1963) with Piero Lulli. He was Lulli's evil henchman.

Alfio Caltabiano

Alfio, stuntman and sword expert for PEPLUM productions, sometimes acted. In SEVEN FROM THEBES (1964), he was the ultra badass henchman. He was bad. Very bad.

Arturo Dominici

Probably the grandaddy of henchman in PEPLUM movies, Arturo played the ultra slimy henchman hired by the king to kill his rival to the throne in HERCULES (1958). He sneaks in with the crew of the Argo to create mischief. Arturo is memorable in this movie.

Hercules (Steve Reeves) knows Eurysteus (Dominici) is up to no good.

Arturo played many henchman types, including in HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH (1963)

Claudio Scarchilli

Claudio was up to no good in URSUS & THE TERROR OF THE KIRGHIZ (1964; aka Hercules - Prisoner of Evil). A character actor who was also seen in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)

Milton Reid

Milton Reid basically made a career playing heavies. He was the henchman to Gianni Rizzo (below) in SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964). He also played in DR NO (1962).

Raf Baldassarre

Alberto Farnese, as Adrasto, and Raf Baldassarre in THE GIANTS OF THESSALY (1960)

Even with this crowded category, the ultimate henchman is, imo, Raf Baldassarre. Aside from GLADIATORS OF ROME (1962), in which Raf played a good guy, nearly all of his roles were playing baddies. This lasted all the way to the 1980s, with his role in ADVENTURES OF HERCULES (1985) with Lou Ferrigno. Lean and fit, Raf was totally believable as the nemesis to our heroes.

Raf was effective in ULYSSES AGAINST HERCULES (1962). He played the ruler's henchman who turns very bad.

Raf was the captain of the guards/henchman to Queen Antinea (Fay Spain) in HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961). Mimmo Palmara, in blond hair and beard, was her other henchman/clones. Raf did the Queen's bidding, including sacrificing her daughter (Laura Efrikian).

Raf was a henchman hired by lead villain, (Christopher Lee) in HERCULES IN HAUNTED WORLD (1961). Guess what will happen to him in this scene? Henchmen always die one way or the other.


This is just a sample of the henchmen in PEPLUM movies. I didn't include all of them or else this article would be twice as long.

Hope you enjoyed this overview!


Twin Productions (part 2)

If there's one thing the PEPLUM genre has, it's 'Twin Productions': i.e. two movies made at the same time or back to back, using the same crew and pretty much the same cast, or mainly the same supporting cast, and shot in the same locations. This tradition of PEPLUM films being part of Twin Productions continued on up until the 1980s, with Pietro Torrisi movies as examples. In this set, I'll focus on the movies of the Golden Era which had a plethora of shared productions.

Just to make sure, these Twin Productions do not include sequels or movies which are part of a series, like the TEN GLADIATORS movies or the URSUS series starring Ed Fury. Twin Productions are movies with pretty much the same crew and cast but with stories and characters unrelated to each other. 

The following titles here are perfect examples of 'Twin Productions'. Some of them are so alike that they look more like sequels than different movies/stories. Also, like most of the titles listed here, the fact that they're 'Twin Productions' doesn't diminish their worth. I like every set here. well, except for IN THE SHADOW OF THE EAGLES and MASSACRE IN THE BLACK FOREST. I don't care much for EAGLES. 

Yes, there'll be a part 3. 

You can view part 1 here


Same set, different films. Gordon Scott stars in both films and it's sometimes difficult to tell them apart. The easiest way to figure this one out (from these screenshots) is HERO stars Moira Orfei and Piero Lulli while REBEL SLAVE stars Mimmo Palmara and Massimo Serato (also Serge Nubret who's not in this scene). But aside from some cast differences, story setting, and some of the action scenes, both movies are practically twins.

One screenshot is from HERO OF BABYLON and the other from GOLIATH & THE REBEL SLAVE. Guess!


Both films were shot in the same locations. They both shared the same sets, most of the same cast, same director, etc. If you blink, you wouldn't know how to differentiate these films from one another. In fact, every Kirk Morris movie released in 1964 and 1965 are 'Twin Productions'.

Above: Hélène Chanel and Kirk Morris in MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE THUNDERING ECHOES. Below: Hélène and Paul Mueller in DESERT RAIDERS. Same set with some changes.


One of the most peculiar 'Twin Production' is this one. Above: the super serious SIEGE OF SYRACUSE, starring Gino Cervi and Sylva Koscina, directed by Pietro Francisci (to be released in the USA by Paramount pictures), and below: the super goofy and campy COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN starring Gianna Maria Canale. The amazing thing about the latter is that the production is quite excellent for such a silly (but fun) film. It's a bit jarring to watch. There are scenes in the comedy which had its own settings (like the over-the-top dance sequence) but aside from the cast and director, both films shared the same production.

Above: Tina Louise (back to us) in SIEGE OF SYRACUSE. The ship set was also used in COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN (below).


On face value, the Mark Forest muscle fantasy adventure KINDAR doesn't seem to have much in common with the Arabian adventure FALCON starring Kirk Morris with the exception that both were shot in the desert. But the productions are identical. The production company for both films was WONDER FILMS. Scenes from KINDAR were used in FALCON. The music is identical. Again, it's one of those shared productions were the cast and director were mostly different but the rest was the same. The one exception with the cast: Howard Ross (aka Red Ross aka Renato Rossini) starred in both movies.

Above: Howard Ross with Mark Forest in KINDAR. Below: Howard in Falcon.


If there was one 'Twin Production' I'd use as being a perfect example, these two films would be it. Stories are entirely different and yet they look, sound totally alike. Both directed by Fernando Baldi and starring Cameron Mitchell, these movies which have nothing in common, story wise, are the same thing. It's very odd looking at them one right after the other. Of the many sets of Twin Productions, this is my least favourite. I like MASSACRE while EAGLES leaves me cold. It's not bad. It's just dull.


These two films starring Mark Forest are very much alike. The easiest to set them apart: in MACISTE - GLADIATOR OF SPARTA, Mark fights with a gorilla. Haha! I like both films and yet sometimes I get them confused. There are two major scenes (fighting and a prison rescue) which appear in both. As I've already stated before, I prefer MAGNIFICENT slightly over SPARTA. It's more fun and colourful while SPARTA drags a bit, even if the latter has some stand-out moments like when Mark fights with a gorilla, and the mud fight scene at the end. But both films are top beefy action movies.

Mark Forest and Marilù Tolo. Above:  SPARTA, while below, MAGNIFICENT. In SPARTA, Marilù is an evil temptress while in MAGNIFICENT, she's the good love interest.

Above and below: Which screenshot is from MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR and which one is from MACISTE - GLADIATOR OF SPARTA?


These two Richard Harrison movies are identical in many ways except for stories. I have to admit that REVOLT OF THE PRAETORIANS' story is quite different than the one for TWO GLADIATORS. But aside from that, the cast is nearly identical except for a few changes. Giuliano Gemma also stars in both productions. And the sets are the same.

A third film could be added to these two: THE LAST GLADIATOR (aka Messalina against the Son of Hercules) also starring Richard Harrison but there are too many differences in it that it doesn't feel like it's part of this Twin Production.

Moira Orfei is in both productions, and she, of course, plays a villainess. Mimmo Palmara is the male villain in TWO GLADIATORS while Piero Lulli is the villain in REVOLT OF THE PRAETORIANS. Notice the same set.


These Twin Production are so identical that I decided to show screenshots of the opening credits to show how identical they are. The cast is mostly different, with Iloosh Khoshabe the lead actor in SACRED CROWN while Gordon Mitchell stars in SEVEN SARACENS. But Bella Cortez is the female lead in both films. SEVEN SARACENS was a Sinbad movie in its original Italian version but the story takes place entirely on land so changing the character to Ali Baba doesn't actually make much of a difference. And since SACRED CROWN was made first, it made sense to follow it with another Ali Baba movie, even if both films are not related. So, everything is nearly identical exempt for part of the cast. Same crew, same music, same locations, same lead female, etc. Still, for movies which are nearly twins, they do not resemble each other, in terms of pacing and tone. SACRED CROWN is more fantasy while SEVEN SARACENS is purely an action movie.

Another film could be added to this set, VULCAN - SON  OF JUPITER, also starring Iloosh Khoshabe, Bella Cortez and Gordon Mitchell. Also directed by Emimmo Salvi. But VULCAN had a different production company while both Ali Baba films had the same production company.

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