Featured Film


Original title: I Giganti Della Tessaglia
Director: Riccardo Freda
Writers: Ennio De Concini, Riccardo Freda, more
Music: Carlo Rustichelli
Release Date: 6 December 1960 (Italy); 1963 (USA)


Roland Carey...Jason

Massimo Girotti...Orpheus

Ziva Rodann...Creusa

Luciano Marin...Euristeus

Alberto Farnese...Adrasto

Nadia Sanders...Queen Gaia

Cathia Caro...Aglaia (Atalanta in US version)

Raf Baldassarre...Antinoo

Maria Teresa Vianello...Sister of Gaia

The Argonauts (identified)

Other Argonauts (Unknown)

Plot summary:

Jason and his Argonauts have to find the Golden Fleece to quell the anger of Zeus who cursed Thessaly with active volcanoes after the Golden Fleece, a gift from Zeus, was stolen. The population is on the brink of starvation and threaten to revolt against Adrasto, who is in charge of the Kingdom during the absence of Jason.

The film opens with the narrator explaining what's going on and Adrasto trying to calm the populace. Adrasto remains positive about Jason's fate, in front of the angry crowd and also in front of the counsellors but in private the regent hopes Jason never returns so he can become ruler and have Jason's wife, Creusa.

We see the Argo in a storm and the Argonauts, the brave men onboard, trying to survive it. Battered and bruised but still floating after surviving the storm, the Argonauts are desperate, having been away for nearly a year, running out of provisions and water. Hope is low and Jason motivates the men to keep on going. Having survived the storm at sea, the Argo arrives near an island and the men jump for joy; they might find provisions but also because a group of women are swimming towards the ship.

On the island, Jason meets Queen Gaia who tries to seduce him. The island is populated only with females and two Argomen quickly realize that some crew members have been transformed into sheep. As Gaia tries to seduce Jason, the mysterious Queen runs away from him and goes to her secret chamber where we see that her beauty is just an illusion and her youth is kept by magic.

Jason finds a ring Gaia lost when she ran away from him and the ring reverberates with crying souls. He's led to a woman who is bound to an altar of sorts. She explains everything to Jason but Gaia kills her and Jason finally sees the old version of the Queen who curses him.

Queen Gaia who lost all her magic which kept her young & beautiful: who's the actress?

Back home in Thessaly, there's a revolt after one of the Argo crew members' father was assassinated. Adrasto' men, including Antinoo, storm the protestors which results in a violent massacre. Creusa is obviously upset about this sudden bloody turn of events and realizes Adrasto is not the good man he portrayed himself to be.

Jason and his men arrive in a deserted coastal city, still in search of provisions. The citizens are running away from the city. They learn from a noble man that a cyclops-like creature shows up every year during an eclipse and kills people. Jason wants to help the distraught citizens by attempting to kill the one-eyed creature.

Orpheus (Massimo Girotti) saving crew members' lives.

During their stay there, Euristeus and Aglaia, daughter of the noble man, fall for each other. Unable to live without the young Argoman, Aglaia stowaways on board of the Argo, wanting to be with Euristeus at all cost. This causes some divisive political issues on board, with most of the crew members deciding agreeing that Euristeus and Leocratus should be put to death for their punishment. But Orpheus makes the Argonauts change their minds after a compassionate plea for their lives. The sentence is changed to 100 lashes for Leocratus while Euristeus and Aglaia will be exiled, set adrift in a raft.

Creusa (Ziva Rodann) is a captive in her own home

Creusa finds her nanny dead and as she tries to leave her room, guards outside the door prevent her from leaving and Creusa is held prisoner. Adrasto got her son kidnapped and tells her that she has to marry him or he'll kill her son.

The crew of the Argo experiences a sea wraith of sorts (brought upon by Queen Gaia's curse) and go through a series of disasters, including a fire on the ship.

A few days later, after having seemingly gone through every type of obstacle, they see a bright shiny object in the distance. It's the Golden Fleece and the men rejoice. Jason sets out to get the fleece all by himself: we see Jason climb walls, swim in a lake and scale a massive statue to get to the Golden Fleece.

In Thessaly, the volcano is now dormant and Adrasto and Antinoo figure out that Jason was successful in retrieving the Golden Fleece and debate on what to do when King Jason returns. But a decision needs to be made soon after a man tells the crazy regent that one of the crew members of the Argo, Euryteus, has already been seen around (presumably the exiled young couple, who were set adrift on the raft, survived their ordeal).

As the Argo nears Thessaly Euryteus creates a warning signal on a nearby island he swam to after saying goodbye to Aglaia. Back on the Argo, Euristeus updates Jason and the crew on everything which has transpired in Thessaly since they left a year ago.

Adrasto wants to marry Creusa before Jason arrives but the ship is seen nearing the coast. So they proceed with the marriage ceremony when the Argonauts suddenly appear out of statues in a fiery display (we see that the ship is empty and the Argonauts left it during the night and sneaked in into those statues). A bloody battle erupts, with the death of Adrasto and Antinoo and Jason reunited with Creusa.


I really like THE GIANTS OF THESSALY. There's a lot of good stuff going for it to make it a  definite stand-out PEPLUM film. But it also has some liabilities, which don't cancel all the good stuff but it does keep it from being more known or respected. This is only the second official movie based upon the quest for the Golden Fleece, after part of the mythical storyline was incorporated in Francisci's HERCULES. But it is the FIRST full featured length film to be based entirely on Jason & the Golden Fleece. Several other films, including Ray Harryhausen's JASON & THE ARGONAUTS, were made after this one. Many cinephiles believe that this version is a cheap knock-off of the JASON & THE ARGONAUTS which is annoying since THE GIANTS OF THESSALY was made 3 years before the more famous Hollywood version. It's an constant problem with this film: it rarely gets any respect.

Before going on with the good stuff let's start with what doesn't work: the screenplay vs the running time. PEPLUM films are usually 90 minutes in length and have a short time to tell stories which often needed to be told in 2 hours at the least. Few European Sword & Sandal films were made or released over 90 minutes. It was a standard running time in the film industry and the distribution industry as well. So cramming all of the Golden Fleece story in 90 minutes is difficult and the screenplay for THE GIANTS OF THESSALY suffers from it. If the film had at least an additional 15 or 20 minutes to it the film would have probably ran a bit more smoother than it does now but the screenplay keeps cutting corners and the story is often left begging for more. The story or the screenplay is simple (as the summary shows). A lot of the events occur off-screen or someone informs us of what happened; for example, we don't see the Argonauts turned into sheep, we don't see them returning to human form. We don't see the men returning to Thessaly. We don't see how Jason and his crew left Gaia's island. We don't see Eurysteus and Aglaia surviving their exile. We don't see this, we don't see that. At one point, a man tells Adrasto that Euristeus was seen in town and they assume Jason is back from his journey. My question is: why not just show Euristeus walking about in town or the countryside? This could have been shown in a 30 seconds sequence. There's something simplistic about the way the story is laid out. I do like the fact that the film starts while the story is already in progress but it seems the story was simply edited down to its very bare minimum, sacrificing many important "minor" scenes in the process.

By simply cutting too many corners in order to accommodate the 90 running time, the film concentrated on some truly spectacular action sequences, including the ship rocked in a storm (brilliant), the Cyclops monster, Jason getting the Golden Fleece (two images above; brilliant), which by themselves took a big chunk of the film's running time making other stuff, like Euriteus' love affair with Aglaia seem rushed and underdeveloped.

The entire execution of the part when Jason and his men go on shore to meet an island populated only with women pales in comparison with how this was brilliantly done in Francisci's HERCULES (the Amazons scenes). It's very frustrating because just adding a minute or so here and there would have made a world of difference to the general outlook of the production. The film feels EPIC and yet undernourished or wanting. This is not the fault of the direction or the fault of the quality of the film but mainly of the screenplay vs the running time. I've seen some official lobby cards with a photo of a scene not in the final cut (link); I wonder how many more were cut?

Also, the story goes back and forth between Jason out at sea and what's going on at his Kingdom with Adrasto and Creusa. The story becomes even more episodic and choppy. Like with all his films Riccardo Freda co-wrote the screenplay and he shares part of the blame for the screenplay's  weaknesses. It just needed a few more drafts to make it more fully detailed and developed.

The second weak aspect of THE GIANTS OF THESSALY is the acting. With a sketchy screenplay and a boatload of actors and non-actors sharing screen-time the acting sorta suffers from this as well. The acting is, for the most part, serviceable. There isn't a great role anywhere in it. Roland Carey is commanding as Jason because he's tall, has long legs, is very athletic and is a nice change from the usual PEPLUM actors. An experienced athlete in real life, Carey is very impressive in action scenes. I believe he did almost all of his stunts. He's very good but not great. Massimo Girroti is also good but not great as Orpheus (the role is smallish) and Luciano Marin, as Euristeus, is good but not great. Same could be said for most of the other main actors. But the issues with acting in THE GIANTS OF THESSALY is not that different from the issues with acting in Hollywood films like JASON & THE ARGONAUTS.

Speaking of acting, Maria Teresa Vianello gives the single worst performance I've ever seen in any PEPLUM film. It might be a combo of really awful dubbing and acting on her part but her scene, which is important, falls flat.

Condemned because of bad acting!

There are few complex female characters in this: aside from Creusa and Gaia, the bulk of the screen time is centred around the male cast and the beefcake level is off the scale in this Italian production. The one actor who really stands out is the fit Raf Baldassarre as Antinoo. Every time he's on screen he owns it. Baldassarre would basically play the same type of roles in almost all of his PEPLUM films which is ashamed because he had on-screen charisma.

Raf Baldassarre, right, as Antinoo, is a stand-out.

I have two additional notes about the actors:  the cast of this film has many actors with spoken lines who are not credited or who are unknown. Very annoying and the second point, the dubbing is pretty much flat. It ranges from serviceable to down right embarrassing and is a general disservice to the actors' roles. A new English dub would improve the general tone of the film.

The production values are pretty strong and yet in some scenes, it at times looks patchy. Cutting corner seems to be the operative word here. Some props are great while others are almost risible. The scenes on the Argo are all great. The cyclops scene is also pretty good (it looks terrible in the US prints but looks great in a pristine print) and the most of the action scenes are well executed. Freda knew how to direct action and the action scenes in this film prove this. This brings me to the next bit: this film includes, imo, one of the best PEPLUM scenes ever made! I personally believe it's outstanding. It perfectly captures the concept of a PEPLUM. I won't say which one it is but I'll soon make a list of the 25 best PEPLUM scenes ever and I'll include it on that list (once I find time to do it).

Another great aspect about this film is the score by Carlo Rustichelli, which would be, unfortunately, reused repeatedly in other films of the genre. The score almost makes the film. It's powerful and evocative. The dance sequence halfway into the film is very good if a bit wobbly at times but the colors and music are tops.

Director Riccardo Freda had a tendency in focusing his stylistic vision on 3 or 4 major scenes and be nearly careless with the rest of the film. He specifically said in an interview that as long as a film included one stand-out scene that his job was done. And it shows in THESSALY. Freda is an amazingly stylish director. Often surpassing stuff made in Hollywood but I wished he had focused on the entire as he was on those specific scenes.

I have 4 different copies of this film: 3 Public domain sources which all look different from each other but as far as image quality goes they're all poor. I also have a copy from a Spanish DVD and the image is STUNNING. It's amazing how a beautiful transfer transforms a film from drab to stunning. One should only view this film from a clean clear pristine print.

As a final note, how does this compare next to JASON & THE ARGONAUTS? As I mentioned above, this film's weaknesses are also the weaknesses in JASON & THE ARGONAUTS (choppy story, pacing issues, serviceable acting, uneven direction, etc). I'm one of the few who think that JASON & THE ARGONAUTS is, on some level, overrated. It's fun and the magic of the fx with the score makes it a winner but the rest is pretty much flat, including a miscast Hercules. Also, because of the Harryhausen film, a lot of moviegoers dislike THESSALY simply because it doesn't include an orgy of special effects. They watch this and expect walking skeletons. It's a whole different style and shouldn't be compared to the Hollywood production.

In closing, aside from a patchy script and some bad dubbing rendering good acting flat, Riccardo Freda's THE GIANTS OF THESSALY is one of best PEPLUM films. Unjustifyingly maligned and dismissed because of the better known Hollywood version made after this but this one stands on its own, including some truly amazing sequences and a rousing score.


- 3 or 4 stand-out action sequences/set pieces
- IMO, it has the greatest PEPLUM scene ever
- Great action
- Location filming
- Powerful score. A classic
- Beefy cast is believable
- Beautiful dance sequence
- Colorful
- EPIC feel
- Memorable monster


- Simple screenplay; needed more drafts
- Choppy
- Uninspired and flat dubbing; some of the line reading is embarrassing
- Hercules not part of characters
- At times uneven production (shoddy inserts footage, stuff like that...)
- Uneven acting: some solid, some dreadful
- The worst performance from an actor in any PEPLUM
- Overpopulated cast: hard to remember who's who on the Argo

8 out of 10 (10 out of 10 for that specific scene)



Original title: La vendetta di Ercole
Director: Vittorio Cottafavi
Writers: Marcello Baldi, Nicolò Ferrari, (6 uncredited writers)
Music: Alexandre Derevitsky and Les Baxter (Goliath theme)
Release Date: 12 August 1960 (Italy); November 1960 (USA)


Mark Forest (Lou Degni)…Goliath (Hercules in original)

Broderick Crawford…Eurystheus

Leonora Ruffo…Dejanira

Wandisa Guida…Alcinoe

Sandro Moretti…Illus

Federica Ranchi…Thea

Gaby André…Ismene

Giancarlo Sbragia…Tindar

Philippe Hersent…Androclo

Salvatore Furnari…

Plot summary:

(now before going to the plot summary I have to warn you that the plot doesn't make a lick of sense. So if you're confused after reading it, well, don't blame me. Aha.)

Goliath fighting monsters

Goliath serves the God of Vengeance (GOV) and the Goddess of the 4 Winds, which gave him God-like powers of immortality in exchange for his devotion to them. The usurper Eurystheus did not believe in Goliath's immortality and had the magical blood diamond taken from the God of Vengeance statue and hid it in a cave populated with various monsters, including a dragon. When the film starts, Goliath is in the cave, after months of searching, and proceeds to regain the blood diamond by defeating the monsters residing there.

Finding the blood diamond

Thinking Goliath was killed by now, Eurystheus openly tells everyone that he wants to conquer Thebes, home of Goliath (Hercules in the original version). During a feast, Eurystheus tries to convince other rulers to join him in his attempt to conquer Thebes. Eurystheus also introduces Alcinoe to the rulers at the table: she used to be a follower of the King of Ocalia but is now a slave to the evil conqueror. Fresh rumors of Goliath surviving the monsters surface during the feast which makes the other rulers leave in fear of Goliath's wrath.

Alcinoe joins the feast; what's with the big egg?

In another sub-plot, Thea is in love with Illus, the brother of Goliath. Thea is the daughter of the late King of Ocalia, who was overthrown and murdered by evil Eurystheus and his men. Thea and Illus meet at Eurystheus' Palace even if Illus is persona non grata there. He's captured and put in a dungeon, to be executed the following day. In the meantime, Goliath returns the blood diamond to the GOV statue and he's able to communicate with the powers that be.

The blood diamond is drawn back to the God of Vengeance statue; cool scene

Co-conspirator Tindar convinces Eurystheus to let go of Illus by forcing Alcinoe to pretend she's helping Illus to escape his imprisonment but also in order to plant a lie: Alcinoe tells Illus that Goliath is willing to agree to a truce with Eurystheus if Goliath can marry Thea. Of course this upsets Illus who is furious with his beefy brother and heads back to Thebes with plans to punish Goliath.

Having planted the seed of hate in Illus, Tindar hands a poison to Alcinoe to give to Illus so that Illus can poison Goliath (why they didn't do this before letting Illus go I'll never know). In the process of discussing this terrible plot, Eurystheus and Tindar realize that slave Alcinoe wants to rule as Queen next to Eurystheus after she warns the evil usurper that the only way the population of Ocalia will accept Eurystheus as their new ruler is by marrying Thea(?).

Alcinoe heads for Thebes with the intent of NOT giving the potion to the recently escaped Illus. Alcinoe is also saved from a bear by Goliath (right) but she disappears before he gets to know who she is. Co-conspiator Ismene had Alcinoe followed and saw that she left the vial in the forest. Alcinoe is sent to the dungeon and the trio of terror, Eurystheus/Tindar/Ismene, come up with another plan: by sending one of Thea's trusty slaves to hand the vial to Illus, who by then is tied up to a tree as punishment by Goliath after Illus tried to leave the night's festivities to see Thea.

In the dungeon, Alcinoe bribes the guards to let Thea visit her. In her cell, Alcinoe tells Thea about Eurystheus/Tindar/Ismene's plans with the potion. Thea is horrified that she was tricked into believing the potion was just a harmless potion to make Goliath forget about her (got that?). Eurystheus and Tindar were spying and listening to the two women. Thea is now a prisoner too. Feeling helpless with the idea that Illus will poison Goliath the two women ask for help from the Wind Goddess. During the feast at Goliath's house, Illus surreptitiously drops the poison in his brother's wine. Thanks to the Wind Goddess carrying Thea's voice, Illus now learns  that the potion is actually poison and pushes the cup away from Goliath's hand.

Poison? What poison? Illus is about to unknowingly poison Goliath's drink

Feeling guilty Illus runs away from the feast to be with Thea. He's captured by Eurystsheus' soldiers (and we're basically back to where we were at the beginning of the film…arf) and Illus will be executed tomorrow.

Goliath saves Illus

The next day, Eurystheus/Tindar/Ismene proceed to execute some criminals in a open air ceremony, which includes Illus who's tied to a cross. The method of execution? Stomped to death by elephant. After two men are killed under the gigantic foot of an elephant Illus is next but Goliath arrives in time and saves Illus from being crushed and the two escape. Goliath and Illus seek the guidance of Sybil who tells them that Illus will eventually reign as King of Ocalia but it will cost the life of Goliath's love, Dejanira.

Bringing down the house, Goliath-style

Furious with the constant bad luck happening to him, Goliath decides to destroy his villa, with a suicidal Illus bound on a horse, helplessly watching his brother destroy their home. Goliath, Dejanira and Illus move away from the cursed land by horse.

Alcinoe going down into the snake pit

In the meantime, Eurystheus tries to force Thea in marrying him by lowering Alcinoe in a pit filled with snakes. Thea reluctantly agrees to marry the evil man and in the process saving Alcinoe's life.

Goliath stops their journey at some impassible river and decides he will have to build a bridge made of rocks if they want to continue. Dejanira and a still-tied and suicidal Illus are left behind and the two talk. Illus desperately wants to end his life in order to save Dejanira but Goliath's wife pleads with the gods to end her life instead which would end his torment. This summons a centaur who kidnaps Dejanira.

Illus can't help her because his hands are still tied to his horse and he screams for help as the horse, scared of the centaur, gallops away, dragging Illus behind.

Goliath throws a spear to the sky which brings darkness; we're not told how or why.

Hearing the screams, Goliath goes after the centaur and wounds the man/horse with a spear thrown at a great distance. The centaur disappears in a puff of smoke and an angry Goliath defies the gods and throws another spear to the sky which causes an instant eclipse or darkness (why? I dunno but it's cool).

The dying centaur (and the dying grass around him) with Dejanira

The dying centaur re-appears near Eurystheus' palace and leaves Dejanira there. Eurystheus soldiers take Dejanira prisoner, to be executed by the dragon.

The God of Vengeance statue tries to crush Goliath

At the God of Vengeance temple, Goliath is angry at the GOV and defies the God by smashing the blood diamond with his sword. The statue reacts by falling on Goliath who, thanks to his formidable strength, is able to prevent the statue from crushing him to death. When Goliath smashes the GOV statue into small pieces Sybil appears and tells Goliath that Dejanira will be sacrificed to the dragon. At the cave, Goliath defeats the dragon and then joins Androclo's army who are ready to storm Eurystheus' city/palace.

Goliath and Androclo are underneath the city and Goliath decides to demolish the underground supports which brings down the walls surrounding the city/palace. Androclo's army enters the Palace grounds and a battle between Eurystheus and Androclo soldiers erupts.

Tindar is in the dungeon and wants Dejanira for himself (I thought he wanted Alcineo?) but Eurystheus kills him. Eurystheus then tries to stop Goliath from killing him by threatening to throw Dejanira in the snake pit. But Alcinoe tackles Eurystheus and both fall into the pit. Goliath rescues Alcinoe but it's too late, she was bitten by the snakes.

The story ends with Illus and Thea together and Goliath and Dejanira rebuilding their home, the one Goliath smashed to bits.

Got that?

If someone who's never seen GOLIATH & THE DRAGON asked me to describe the plot in a few words, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell them what it was about. Is it about a dragon? No. It seems the story is simple enough but when I played this on PEPLUM TV I've admitted to viewers that even after having watched it dozens of times I still had no clue what it was all about. Many of the characters' motivations simply defy logic. There are plot-holes, confusing number of characters, some of whom look and sound alike. For instance, Ismene is a totally pointless character, who is not even featured during the film's conclusion (what happens to her?).

Usually PEPLUM story-lines are pretty much straight-forward. Well, not this one. It's as straight-forward as a ball's trajectory in a pinball machine. But does it hurt the film? Oddly enough, it doesn't. In fact the entire film has a surrealistic aspect (not that different from HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN also directed by Cottafavi) and the confusing story and illogical character actions help make this mythological epic more weirdly Greek-like than any other PEPLUM film. Some of it was made intentionally but most of it was created by accident when the film changed hands, from Italian producers to US producers.

The one thing which is really inexplicable are some of the characters' actions, mostly with Alcinoe and Illus. Alcinoe, played by the beautiful Wandisa Guida, is truly confusing. She's introduced as a slave to Eurystheus and draws our sympathy but then she wants to become Eurystheus' Queen, which then makes her a scheming villainess but when she's sent to Thebes with the potion to hand to Illus, she doesn't go through it and then helps Thea. When Thea refuses to marry Eurystheus, Alcinoe is sent down into the snake pit which forces Thea to agree with marrying him. Is Alcinoe good or bad? Why not make her a full scheming villainess? Why even introduce the idea of her wanting to become Queen if they never delve into it?

The same thing can be said with Illus. And boy what a character he is. Constantly angry at Goliath and being a pisser, his character makes very little sense in the grand scheme of things. One second he's trying to kill Goliath, the next second he's trying to save him.

Which makes more sense: brothers or Father and Son?

There are probably several reasons for the general confusion: the original film was re-edited for the US/English market and watching THE VENGEANCE OF HERCULES one can clearly see that by re-editing some parts, confusion was created. In the original version, Goliath is Hercules and Illus is his son, not his brother. Also, there were apparently at least 7 people who worked on the script. This tells me that a lot of last minute changes were made while they were shooting, many changes which were illogical. Also, and this can't be stressed enough, something was lost in translation. From Italian to English. The general tone of the original version vs the US/English one is quite startling.

French opening credit from my Spanish version (got that?)

I can guarantee you that not one kid who saw this in 1960 understood the story and that's probably the reason why changes were made: the US distributor wanted to sell this to kids but when you watch the original Italian version, it's too plot-heavy even with all the monsters and action. They decided to add the dragon part, which was a good selling point to kids, and by re-arranging the order of some scenes, by adding pointless information here and there and suddenly one can see why it's difficult to grasp the gist of the story.

The extra dragon scenes were shot for the US/English market

The most telling part of this confusion in the US version is during the intro: we hear a narrator setting up the story. The narrator calls the main character "Emilius the Mighty" and that's it: we never hear anyone else call Mark Forest's character Emilius throughout the film. Everyone calls him Goliath. Plus, the narrator during the intro says that Goliath is invincible and immortal. But if Goliath is immortal why is it then that most of the plot is about everyone trying to poison Goliath to death? Adding these useless bits of info during the intro muddles up everything.

Mark Forest is great as Goliath. This being his first film it's quite an impressive start. Not as dazzling as Steve Reeves but pretty darn cool. Leonora Ruffo, who was basically a walking zombie for most of HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, is more normal here and is as beautiful as always. I love her screen time. Wandisa Guida is also good as Alcinoe but with her character is a bit confusing (is she friend or foe?) and I feel she didn't quite know how to approach her role. Federica Ranchi as Thea is the weakest element of the film. All three actresses sorta look somewhat alike and the confusion seen/felt throughout is amplified that much more.

Sandro Moretti is perfectly annoying as Illus. Giancarlo Sbragia, as Tindar, is excellent and often steals the show from Broderick Crawford who looks completely confused and befuddled as the main villain. At one point, Eurystheus tells Tindar:

"As of this morning I forbid you to work on any of these plots that don't make sense, you moron."

Truer words have never been said.

The production values run between hot and cold. Some of the sets, monsters, locations are pretty good while others are sometimes downright embarrassing (the dragon, which appears in two fashion: animated and full size puppet). The extra scenes filmed for the US edition are pretty obvious with anyone that has a good eye. Mark's beard and clothes look different in those scenes. But the fact that some of it is terrible doesn't really matter because of the way most of it was filmed by director Vittorio Cottafavi. The word psychedelic comes to mind. In one particular scene we watch Mark Forest growling at the GOV statue and as he walks towards the statue the camera follows him walking over the camera, panning up (with an infamous upskirt shot) and as it follows Mark, the image turns upside down. It's one of the trippiests shots ever made for any film.

Upskirt shot: boxers or briefs or nothing at all?

Like Cottafavi did in HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (but with a smaller budget here), by injecting psychedelic elements or surreal film techniques or even curio props (like that giant egg during the feast), some of the weakest production elements still worked because the whole thing is so surreal. Cottafavi did psychedelia before it was cool. And he experimented heavily with this film.

Additional note: The transfer on the US DVD has some color correction issues. In one scenes the forest is purple/pink. In the original Italian version, the forest is naturally green. I don't know if audiences saw it like this when it was shown in movie theatres or if this is just the side effect of a bad film transfer to DVD with uncorrected color. Regardless, this wonky forest just works with the film's kooky environment.

Purple/pink forest?

I have two versions of this film: the US DVD and a Spanish version, which is supposed to be the original cut. It's great to watch both and compare them which I did in this video:

When all is said and done, I like GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON. I also like VENGEANCE OF HERCULES which seems to be the less insane version of the two. The film is one of the most recognizable Sword & Sandal films of the much maligned genre, even in regards with non-PEPLUM fans.


- colourful and entertaining despite convoluted story
- great cast
- Mark Forest is impressive in his first film
- lively direction; never boring
- quasi-experimental direction
- odd elements throughout the film
- excellent locations
- no stock footage
- lotsa monsters and creatures


- confusing story is almost impossible to summarize
- English version of script is filled with useless info
- big cast of characters is sometimes confusing
- uneven production values (masked by clever direction)
- recycled score
- added US scenes were obviously shot at separate times

8 out of 10



Original title: Maciste e la regina di Samar
Director: Giacomo Gentilomo
Writers: Arpad DeRiso, Nino Scolaro, more 
Music: Carlo Franci
Release Date: 27 June 1964 (Italy)


Alan Steel (Sergio Ciani)...Hercules (Maciste)

Jany Clair...Queen Samara

Anna Maria Polani...Agar

Nando Tamberlani...Gladius

Delia D'Alberti...Billis/Selene

Jean-Pierre Honoré...Darix

Leader of the Moon Men...

A large asteroid falls on earth and from that emerges a group of aliens who try to take over the ancient world by bringing an evil Queen back to life. The people living in Samar sacrifice young people to the aliens, a la the Minotaur of Crete, who live in the Mountain of Death. But there's a bigger plan behind the sacrifices: the Moon Men want to resurrect their Queen Selene by sacrificing the Queen Samara's sister, Billis (a buxom Delia D'Alberti). The people of Samar are terrified and tired of the sacrifices and an old wise man, Gladius (Nando Tamberlani), seeks out the help of Hercules (Maciste in original Italian version) to help end these gruesome sacrifices. Queen Samara is informed by the leader of the Moon Men that Hercules is a threat to their plans and he needs to be killed at once.

Oh you're a girl!

Hercules, on a white horse, is heading towards Samar. On his way, he's ambushed by a group of ruffians but Hercules makes minced meat out of them. Hercules continues with his journey when he's stopped by a boy who happen to be a girl (cliché!) named Agar (!!!), daughter of Gladius. Agar brings Hercules to Gladius. Hercules says: "It was my father's friendship for you that brought me here."

(This raises a few questions: when Herc says father does he mean Zeus or his earthly father? And because Hercules in the italian version was actually Maciste, who, as far as I know, never had a father, this answer is a bit odd).

The old and wise in need of the new and strong!

Gladius tells Hercules about the circumstances haunting the region of Samar and Hercules agrees to help their cause. Gladius leads Hercules through a secret passage where the old man meets his fate and Hercules goes through several feats of strength, including drowning (pretty good), a bat/ape monster (fun), some bars of steel. A grief stricken Agar brings Hercules to a tavern where the rebels meet. 

Hercules meet the rebels at the tavern who all shout his name in relief

The following day, Hercules saves Darix (Jean-Pierre Honoré) from being assassinated by Queen Samara's soldiers. Hercules brings a wounded Darix to the tavern where they nurse him back to health. They also talk about the Queen and her supposed supernatural powers. People are rounded up to be sacrificed. Soldiers appear at the tavern seeking the daughter of the tavern-keeper but Hercules has something to say about this causing a big brawl in typical Alan Steel fashion. 

Hercules swings into action

Hercules tries to rescue the people who were rounded up for the sacrifice but in turn gets trapped himself, with a net thrown on him (the indestructible net cliché). Billis is brought to the Mountain of Death by Queen Samara, where they are both shown a "resting" Queen Selene (right) and the leader of the Moon Men tells them that the dormant Queen Selene needs Billix's blood to be revived. Billis is mortified that her own sister wants to kill her. Billis is eventually captured by the Moon Men. Hercules is in chains and will go through one of the best Feat of Strengths even conceived in a PEPLUM.

Hero in chains

During this Feat of Strength, in typical PEPLUM fashion, Queen Samara falls head over heels for the invincible Hercules, thinking he'd be more useful alive and working for her than killing such a powerful being so she decides not to kill him after all and plots to seduce him to her dark side.

Classic Feat of Strength!

Queen Samara finally meets Hercules and is enamoured by him, in a sadomasochistic way. She's positively ecstatic when she describes how Hercules could strangle her as easily as breaking the stem of of a flower. This scene is one of the best in this film but also one of the best in the PEPLUM genre. Really cool stuff for a kids film. And Jany Clair plays it to camp perfection.

Rough love!

Of course, Hercules understands what's going and plays along willingly, first pretending to be drugged up by the Queen's wine laced with a love potion (right) and he basically becomes her love slave. A few days later and with a new fancy tunic, which would serve him until the end of the film, Hercules reveals to Queen Samara that he's not really under spell and escapes, saves Darix and Agar and heads for the Mountain of Death, during which a sandstorm erupts violently, as the moon slowly moves in conjunction with Saturn, Mars and Uranus. 

The world is ending

Hercules ends up inside the Mountain of Death and battles the Moon Men in an explosive (if abrupt) climax filled with nonstop action.

The Moon Men

This film is in the public domain in North America. If you only saw the grubby and scratchy PD copy then you really haven't seen this film, which is colorful and beautifully shot in widescreen. There is a widescreen version available on DVD here this side of the Atlantic which is great except for the sound which a bit on the thin side.

I really enjoy this film. It was made squarely for kids but adults will enjoy it too, with the numerous "rock 'em sock 'em" action scenes, some of the slightly gruesome aspects of the story (a la BLACK SUNDAY) and the kinky play between Queen Samara and Hercules. The effects are actually pretty solid. The Moon Men look cool, in a 1960s pulp book kinda way. It's only their limited ability to move about that makes them appear not as threatening as they should be. The leader of the Moon Men looks cool too.

A lot has been written about this film and almost all of it is negative. The IMDb rating is at 2.4, which is ridiculously low, even if one should never take IMDb's ratings seriously. One of the reasons why it's often regarded badly by many Fan Boys is because of the MST3k broadcast of this film, which, btw, was shown with the crappy version. Fans of that show keep screaming "sandstorm" because of the long sandstorm seen in this film. The world is about to end, so what if the sandstorm is long? And the usual juvenile jokes about Uranus. It's a shame that few people will see it in a beautiful transfer. Oh well.

Needless to say HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN has everything in it. I could list it all but instead I'll show screenshots of those wonderful PEPLUM clichés:

Queen Samara eavesdrops in a conversation between Billis and Darix with the help of a special statue

Soon to be drowned...

 Battling bat/ape creature

Bending bars, the Alan Steel way!

Ultimate Feat of strength! 

Lifting stuff!

There's no need to write an in depth review of HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN because it doesn't pretend to be nothing else than an all out colorful action film. As I pointed out a few days ago about HERCULES and the "narratives within the main narrative" aspects of the Francisci screenplay (here), MOON MEN is fairly straight-forward story, moving from point A to point B to point C. For most cinephiles this is probably the Alan Steel film they remember and know and there's a good reason for that: he's in top shape, always looks game with all the on-going action and never seemed to have more fun in this than in any of his other PEPLUM projects. As for French actress Jany Clair, she's great in this. She plays Queen Samara to Evil Queen perfection. Anna Maria Polani is a good if unusual  love interest for Hercules with an even more unusual name: Agar. The remaining cast members do their job with total conviction amidst the comic book story, including Delia D'Alberti in twin roles, as Billis and Queen Selene.

The beefcake level is high throughout mainly due to the presence of a very buff Alan and the cheesecake level is equally high with the curvaceous Jany dressed in tight fitted dresses and Delia, who's as buxom as one could be in a kids film. 

This bring me to the few things which I find lacking about MOON MEN: the cast is really small. Nothing too earth shattering about this but most PEPLUM films usually have tons of bit players and such populating the story. Not this one. Also the lack of big crowds and such scenes give the film a low budget feel that was probably not intended in the first place. I'm guessing they were all sacrificed.

Where's everyone?

My other complaints: there's no original score. The soundtrack is made mainly of bits of music from previous films which robs the film from being even more unique. Because there's no original score, MOON MEN sometimes sounds pretty quiet for an action film. The action scenes during the secret passage moment scream for a robust score but instead there's silence. Just for the sake of comparison, if you look at HERCULES AGAINST ROME, also with Steel, the soundtrack is unforgettable and unique (I can hum it) and gives so much character to a film that many might consider average. One can only imagine how much greater HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN would have been with a real original score.

And the editing could have been a bit tighter in a few places. I have the official DVD transfer of this film and the public domain version as well. I'm not aware if this film was cut from the original Italian version, which I don't have.

HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN is just a fun, colorful action movie, which happens to have a vivid supernatural/science-fiction tone to it with some beefcake and cheesecake thrown in for good measure.


- excellent cinematography
- fast paced
- action, action, action
- Alan Steel in top form
- Jany Clair as Evil Queen
- several Feats of Strength and clichés
- spooky imagery


- lacks original score
- tiny cast
- action scene with Moon Men could have lasted a bit longer/ ends a bit too abruptly

8 out of 10



JOHN CARTER starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins etc

If there's a movie that doesn't deserve its current critical pan it's JOHN CARTER. I've seen so many highly praised films that left me going "meh" that I'm officially jaded by critics and clueless audiences. I mean, how can this "bomb" while the TRANSFORMERS films or schlocky Stephen Sommers films or the woeful remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS are box office hits? The world is truly bizarre. Even if I hadn't liked it and had this been a humongous hit, I still wouldn't have dispised it because all the creativity and money is all there on screen. It's eye filling. The fact that something as bad and lazy as the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake made 600 million dollars does make it harder for me to like it. 

Is JOHN CARTER great? Not really but it's not even to being the massive disaster it's being reported as. The story is weak, it's sorta all over the map, unwieldy.  It goes from here to there like one of Carter's jumps. The assumptions within the storyline are huge and might be one of the reasons why it hasn't connected with audiences. The introduction is way too long. Something like 30 minutes. It could have easily been 10 or 15 minutes. Once on Mars, we're introduced to a myriad of characters and people, none of which gel together (but I guess that's the point). The 4 armed Martians sometimes remind me of Jar Jar Binks. I stress the word sometimes. My attention started drifting when the film spent too much time on them.

Things happen and our Hero jumps to the occasion (literally) doing things as if he's been doing those things for a long time. I'm like "no." These scenes show me how the story lacks urgency: John does things, putting his life in danger even if there's no reason for him to do so. All of this could have been resolved easily with a sense of levity but as much as tries to be whimsical (and it tries), the seriousness always quells the fun stuff.

In one scene they throw in 5 or 6 cliches in a span of a few minutes. I love cliches but that's too much. The cliches are endless: branding, chained to a rock, etc. One of the cliches is the bad guy transforming into the likeness of the Hero, or in this case Heroine. Straight out of GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES or TRIUMPH OF HERCULES. 

Many of the humorous scenes fall flat. In one scene, when the fake Princess is running away the real Princess who then yells to Carter "I'm running away!" A real groaner. 

The dialogue is one cliche after another.  "It's a trap." "Carter!" "Who is that?" "History will follow its course." With good actors, cliched dialogue can be less groaners but as good as the cast is (and it's good) they often can't elevate above the dialogue.

It introduces storylines or plotlines that are never fully explored. One of the major plot point is about the Princess having to marry the bad guys in order to bring peace in Barsoom. I'm like "No!" From ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO starring Gary Cooper made 74 years ago to a number of films from the PEPLUM explosion to FLASH GORDON, building an entire story on when or if the woman, usually a Princess, will marry the villain, is OVERDONE, not interesting and anti-climatic. When will they retire the forced wedding plot-line?

Costume fail!

Filmed mostly on location (yeah) on actual celluloid, not digital (double yeah) JOHN CARTER looks, feels like an old school epic. With this aspect alone, it's a million times better than the STAR WARS prequels or the recent IMMORTALS. Unfortunately, the one aspect that the film almost fails entirely are the costumes. They look cheap, doubly so with the tacky fur shoulder pads. I *really* hate those fur shoulder pads. The costume looked like they came straight out of 1980s Italian Sword & Sorcery flick starring Pietro Torissi or Miles O'Keeffe. Was ATOR the inspiration?

Like the film the special effects are all over the map. Some scenes are stunning will others are simply too obvious or not well thought out. When Carter jumps around in the location scenes, it's obvious Taylor Kitsch is strapped to wires, which have been digitally erased. 

Here's a quick rundown of what's good and not too good:


- Truly grand scale
- Robust soundtrack
- Great cast of mostly British actors
- Big action sequences
- Location filming
- Filmed with 35mm
- When the fx are good, they're stunning


- Terrible, cheap looking costumes, the film's weakest point
- Dialogue falls flat (second weakest point)
- Too many cliches (and I'm a fan of cliches)
- Introduction is too long
- A forced wedding..again?
- Some names are terrible. Helium?
- When the fx are bad, they're bad (jumping scenes with wires are obvious)

So in conclusion: aside from the terribly overdone wedding plotline, the endless number of cliffhanger/rescue-the-princess-in-the-nick-of-time moments, the unevenness of it all, I still give this cosmic PEPLUM 8 stars simply for the sheer physicality of the endeavour. It's truly eye-filling. 

It will definitely become a HUGE cult favourite in the home market. 

Rating: 8 out of 10



THE LION OF THEBES starring Mark Forest, Yvonne Furneaux, Pierre Cressoy, Massimo Serato, Rosalba Neri, Alberto Lupo, Nello Pazzafini and Giovanni Cianfriglia. Directed by Giorgio Ferroni.

The great thing about the PEPLUM genre is the fact that many films are speculative or fiction stories based on famous characters. The Iliad is well known but what happened to Helen after the fall of Troy is rather dull so with THE LION OF THEBES we see a speculative story of what happened to Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) and her bodyguard, Aryan (a pectacular Mark Forest). Like so many films of this genre, the story starts with the two washing up on shore in Egypt and after slow start they end up in Thebes where Rameses (Pierre Cressoy) rules and the mere presence of Helen triggers a seemingly endless series of plotlines with people scheming, scheming, scheming against the two newcomers. Helen wants to leave the nest of vipers and in the process of surviving in her new tumultuous home she falls in love with Aryan. This all culminates to an exciting climax.

If all Italian Sword & Sandal films were this solid the genre probably wouldn't be so neglected as it now. Almost everything works in this. I have almost nothing bad to say about it. It's that good. The liabilities are this:

1 - the music is recycled and sometimes treacly during the love scenes.

2 - It's mostly studio bound.

3 - The story (schemings) is a bit facile.

4 - The pacing is a bit slow at first but quickly picks up.

5 - Some obvious anachronisms

That's it. The cast, sets, cinematography, action, stunts, all work wonderfully.

Yvonne Furneaux makes a wonderful Helen and she has great chemistry with Mark, which is one of the film's surprising delights. She has more chemistry here than she did with John Ericson in the equally great SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON. Mark Forest is at ease and physically speaking it in top shape. When his pecs are on screen, they eclipse everything else. Arf. Remarkably, Mark did 5 films in 1964 and this is the best of those 5 films.

The supporting cast is tops: Pierre Cressoy, Massimo Serato, Rosalba Neri and Alberto Lupo. There's also Nello Pazzafini and Giovanni Cianfriglia is Mark's body double/stuntman.

The fights in this film are action packed and believable. The fight during the climax is **simply the best fight** in any PEPLUM film. The cinematography, composition, editing, etc during this scene are stellar. It just rocks. The fights in James Bond films were often said to be the best in those days but alas few have seen this fight even if it's better than any Bond action. The fact that there's little to no music makes this sequence even more exciting.

Giovanni, above, vs Mark, below

The one glaring issue during the fights is the stunt work in the scenes, provided by the peerless Giovanni Cianfriglia. His stunt work in this is even better than the amazing one in HERCULES THE AVENGER or THE TROJAN HORSE. The problem with Giovanni is that his physique simply doesn't match Mark's beefier one. Giovanni is built but he's slim and as agile as a jaguar. When Giovanni walks about it just doesn't match Mark's hulking walk. This is quite apparent during the wrestling scene at the start of the film (above). But the editing and camera movement are so good that unless you're a sharp observer you might not really notice it.

Conclusion: with a pectacular Mark Forest, a beautiful Yvonne Furneaux and Rosalba Neri, great support from the reliable Serato, Cressoy and Lupo, stunning stunt work from Cianfriglia, this cool speculative story of Helen of Troy is colorful, action-packed and sharply directed by Ferroni. What's not to like?

rating: 9 out 10

Giovanni Cianfriglia as Mark's stuntman/body double. The fight at the end is ace!



THE TEN GLADIATORS (1963) starring Dan Vadis, José Greci, Roger Browne, Mimmo Palmara, Gianni Rizzo, Salvatore Borghese etc. Directed by Gianfranco Parolini.

Some of the Ten Gladiators with Roger Browne as a non-gladiator

The Ten Gladiators trilogy is one of my favourite series from the PEPLUM explosion. It doesn't take itself seriously, it's full of action and humour, it probably has the beefiest cast of any PEP film, the music (the Ten Gladiators theme, etc) is memorable. There isn't much to dislike from these films. But from all the three films, oddly enough, the first one being THE TEN GLADIATORS, is my least favourite of the trilogy. It's a hot mess. Really. Honestly. As a fan of PEPLA this film is almost gag inducing.

The second best moment in the film

There are several fun moments where the spirit of the series shines through and it works but the film uses so many clips from other films that, for me at least, it's distracting to the point where I can't watch the film. In some instances there's footage from 4 separate films edited together in a few second. It's filled with so many borrowed scenes that I just laugh.

Unlike HERCULES THE AVENGER, which borrows entire intact 5+ minutes long scenes from different films, which in my book is wrong on so many levels, THE TEN GLADIATORS, on the other hand, borrows TONS of snippets/short scenes from GOLIATH & THE GIANT, LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, 79 AD DESTRUCTION OF HERCULANEUM, etc many of which don't make much sense. For instance, at the end of the film Rome is burning but they use scenes from LAST DAYS OF POMPEII which is about earthquakes and volcanoes, not a simple fire.

A brief scene from GOLIATH AND THE GIANTS. Added for no reason.

Then there's a scene where a guard watches the ten gladiators trying to escape. That simple scene of a man looking through an opening was taken from GOLIATH AND THE GIANTS. The scene probably lasts 4 seconds in total. Why not just hire an actor for that scene? The whole thing is bizarre because the inclusion of that scene doesn't make any sense in regards to what's going on on screen. In fact the whole film is edited kamikaze-style with no regards to what's really going on at any point. In one shot we actually see Brad Harris crucified to a cross from the climax of 79AD which is followed by a new scene with José Greci bound to a cross in some dungeon. This is me scratching my head. What's the connection?

Fortunately there are many scenes which are not borrowed and those scenes work even though the muddled action in regards to the script makes it difficult to follow. The worst part of the script is the schizophrenic love triangle between Dan Vadis (sporting a truly bad haircut), José Greci and Roger Browne. The film starts with Vadis and Greci in love, having fun, etc and halfway into the film, Greci drops Vadis for Browne for no real reason.

José Greci and her beautiful eyes!

A fetching José Greci, Roger Browne and Mimmo Palmara add much needed star power and the crazy "throw everything in the blender" story focuses more on them than the ten gladiators themselves which is odd since the film is called, huh, THE TEN GLADIATORS! Arf. The highlight is the fight between Browne and Palmara. Both are in top shape and it's ace. The brawny brawl in the pool between Browne and Vadis is good but not as effective as the latter one.

The best scene in THE TEN GLADIATORS has nothing to do with the ten gladiators

The ten gladiators themselves have little to do, as they stand around Vadis and Browne and assist them in fighting bad guys. Not all the actors who played the ten gladiators in this returned for the sequels/prequels but the majority of them did including Pietro Torrisi and Salvatore Borghese.

Even if this is the first of 3 Ten Gladiators films, it actually works as the last one. This hot mess actually became a hit and two vastly superior follow-ups were made with Vadis returning (with a better haircut) even though, without spoiling it, it's technically impossible so the sequels should be regarded as prequels.

So in closing: thank god this became a hit and new director Nick Nostro was able to make two more rocking films. Except for the brawny gladiator antics and fight scenes and a fetching Greci this is, to my PEP trained eyes, nearly unwatchable.

4 out of 10



Starring Dean Reed, Annabella Incontrera, Alberto de Mendoza and Salvatore Borghese. Directed by Ferdinando Baldi.

I've watched hundreds and hundreds of European or Italo action films, whether they are Swashbucklers or the Sword & Sandal kind. They all pretty much follow the same formula (Fusto!) and few stand-out for being different. This is not a criticism of the genre as it's almost stands as a quality but when a film does come  along and stands out for being, well, different it's cool. Not that THE COSSAIRS is really that much different than  the usual stuff made by Italians back then. In fact it's pure formula, with a storyline so weak or unimportant that it barely holds the film together or the viewer's attention.

What does stand-out is the way the flimsy storyline is handled. You know the song by Bananarama: It ain't what you do it's the way that you do it and that's what gets results. I have to say that it's one of the most sprightly directed films I've seen in a while. Quick edits, non-stop action, excellent sword fights, all wrapped up in spirited music. In fact the thing that really stands out from THE CORSAIRS is the theme of the unruly gang: every time we see them marching on screen their theme is played. Some might hate it but I thought it was funny.

What's the story? Alan Drake (Dean Reed) and his motley crew are shipwrecked on a small Caribbean island ruled by  Her Highness Isabella who hire the pirates to find some treasure which was stolen by some other pirates.

Director Fernando Baldi directed several classic PEPLUM films, like THE SON OF CLEOPATRA and directed even more Spaghetti Westerns. While watching THE CORSAIRS, the Spaghetti Western influence is quite obvious. 

Remarkably, Dean Reed, a legend in some circles (with a crazy legendary life), is  good in the role and his sword fighting is credible. This aspect sorta surprised me as it's the last thing I expected to see from the "Commie" rocker. Like so many American-born actors starring in Italian films (Clint Eastwood, John Drew Barrymore, Steve Reeves, etc…) Dean's good looks were displayed unabashedly. With his thick set of hair, deep tan and vivid blue eyes, Dean looked like Terence Hill's brother. Italians really had a specific look for actors and this film doesn't miss a beat.

The main actress is the beautiful Annabella Incontrera, a veteran of the genre, Annabella was last seen in GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES (1963) playing Magda, the unfortunate girl who is killed by Kobrak. Annabella is the film's weakest link. Nothing against Annabella but she looked a bit too old, in 1971 (or was made to look too old), for being the film's love interest. Even though she wasn't even 30 years old when she made the film (according to IMDb) she looked more like she was pushing 40, certainly as the blonde Janita. Annabella has a dual role of sorts and it can be summed up as this: evil Isabella = black hair; good Janita = blonde.

The supporting cast is solid, certainly thanks to the agile acrobatics of the ever colourful Salvatore Borghese, who steals the show whenever he's on screen. Salvatore is another PEPLUM veteran with countless films under his belt including the fun TEN GLADIATORS films. 

Is THE COSAIRS a great film? Not really but thanks to the fast paced action I was entertained by it and, well, in the end that's what count really. A pleasant surprise.

6 out of 10



Quick review

It's official, I'm over films made entirely with the green screen process. Seriously, the core of IMMORTALS rang hollow throughout, including the abysmal acting, because people do things or act in vacuum. The actors can't get "into" the films they appear in because there's nothing around them. While watching IMMORTALS I had the distinctive feeling I got while watching SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW starring Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow: a film can rely so much on an actor's charisma and CGI to keep it going. A film needs a semblance of actually being somewhere even for a fantasy. And I sorta liked parts of SKY CAPTAIN but the green screen process zapped it from any energy. It's no wonder the director of SKY CAPTAIN never made any films again. Fast forward 7 years and Hollywood is still churning up films made in the same way. Bleech. No more. I'm over them.

CGI army. Boring.

Watching a film made entirely in green screen makes it unnecessarily claustrophobic: I feel trapped in a production designer's portfolio. IMMORTALS' looks have been lauded but after a few minutes I was bored. Slavish attention to details does not equate to realism or greatness.

There's a specific scene where the film sorta died for me: when Theseus kills the baddies with that magic arrow thingy (I'm too lazy for the specifics). The scenes AFTER the bad guys are killed, we see a couple of shots of the actors faces, all  breathing heavily. The actors' faces are blank, expressionless. The film sorta stopped dead in its tracks then and there. If your going to give massive close-ups of actors and basically end up showing how wooden they are, the whole effect crumbles. The funny thing with that scene is Theseus and the three are half a mile away but the direction makes it seem that they're able to see their reaction.

This is the kind of acting you get when shooting entirely with green screen

The BIG problem with this film is, compared to PEPLUM films of the Golden Age, how they turn everyone into superheroes. Mount Olympus is basically the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF ANTIQUITY. Zeus lands hard on the ground making it rise, a la MATRIX, etc.

Sorry but when I think of Greek gods, I don't think of superheroes or MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS. Why does EVERYONE have to be a freaking superhero?!?! We seem to live in really dark times when Mythical Gods or even real historical characters can only be seen as being worthwhile if they can kick ass (see ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER). I swear, we are this close in seeing a film which shows God teaching Jesus how to Kung Fu. Well, that might be sorta funny.

The gods from Mount Olympus were the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

The direction is remarkably simplistic. Subtle this film ain't. The use of tsunamis and crumbling mountain evoke all the wrong feelings because the director clearly tries to evoke actual world disasters like the tsunami disasters in Japan and in the Indian ocean and 9/11 for the crumbling mountain to pump up the action and the allegory in the story but in a world of Greek mythology it doesn't work.

Mickey Rourke, John Hurt and Luke Evans are some of the actors that actually gave some sort of weight to their characters. Henry Cavill is set to play the next SUPERMAN. Sorry but Henry still has to prove he's a capable actor and not just good looks. Luke Evans acted rings around Henry in this film and Luke's appearance is almost a cameo.

Trivia: the film is 105 minutes long and the end credit is a staggering 8 minutes long, making the actual length of the film only 97 minutes long and yet it felt much longer.

In closing, next time they shoot a new PEP film, please film it outside where the sun shines. Thanks.

Rating: 4 out of 10

make gif
Actual gif animation of fx from IMMORTALS. Pretty lazy copy/paste: They just added the tunnel opening to the image without changing much of it.


SALAMBO (1914)

Directed by Domenico Gaido

Salambo - Suzanne De Labroy

Matho - Mario Guaita-Ausonia

Spendius - Uncredited

I'm a fan of silent films and try to watch as many as possible when the opportunity arises. And being a  fan of Sword & Sandal films as well, I had the chance to see the 1914 version of SALAMBO. Compared to the masterpiece CABIRIA, also made in 1914, this film is a mess of sorts.

The film lasts 75 minutes and for the first 25 minutes or so we *only* see a series of establishing shots with intertitles telling us what's going on. That's it. No close ups. No panning or anything interesting. Only wide static shots of large crowds scenes with the main characters somewhere in there. This wouldn't be so bad if the scenes weren't filmed in such an uninteresting way (angle, composition, etc). Once Matho climbs up the aqueduct of Carthage the action finally starts(this scene is very much like when Maciste and company climb the fortress in CABIRIA). And by action I mean the camera follows the characters and the characters exchange dialogue, not necessarily action as in action-packed stuff. Movies were still in its infancy which might explain the odd and confusing narrative structure of SALAMBO. 25 minutes of mostly static shots to set-up a story is way too long, even for that time.

The story is simple enough:

The story in a nutshell

Well, there's more to it than that. The story revolves around Matho and his friend Spendius. Matho is the leader of mercenaries who were duped in payments of gold from the fine folks of Carthage. Spendius, on behalf of Matho, asks a wise old man how to defeat the Carthagenians and get the gold/revenge. The wise old man says the intertitle above. So Matho and Spendius enter the walled city of Carthage via its aqueducts, get the sacred veil of Tanit and create chaos. Matho falls in love with Salambo and kidnaps her. In a funny bit at the end, thanks to Spendius, all ends well. 

Accessing Carthage through its aqueduct; this is a veritable PEPLUM 
cliche and I'm guessing this is the first film to use it.

Once it settles down to a visible storyline, it's pretty good and the magic of silent cinema finally takes hold but it's still a mess of sorts. Unlike CABIRIA, you can't really identify or empathize with any of the characters here. They're more like figures or shadows moving across the screen than characters. For instance, Salambo herself barely figures as a character (on the left: Matho discovers a sleeping Salambo). She's more of a prop than anything else, which is a bit odd when she's main character in the title. There are things that happen to the characters and I'm not quite sure why. No intertitle or dialogue telling us what just happened. There are some close-ups but they are rare. I think the first close-up within the story itself occurs 40 minutes into it! There are some close-ups of the actors at the beginning but those are there just to introduce the name of characters.

One of the few close-ups in SALAMBO(1914); 
Mario with uncredited actor who played Spendius

The sets are pretty good, the crowd scenes are grand. But these things can't overcome the sloppy editing and the wobbly, unfocused narrative. The one interesting aspect of this film is one of the main characters
is black, Spendius, and he's not played as a caricature or as someone unimportant. He's vital to the story and it's cool to see that in a film made in 1914. When Spendius enters the statue of Tanit, and what happens afterwards, it's probably the best moment in the film.

Big & spectacular sets!


The film on the DVD starts with an introduction of the characters and with the words THE PRIESTESS OF TANIT. That's not the title. The opening title is missing and just starts with list of characters but there is a silent film called THE PRIESTESS OF TANIT made in 1911 and I thought I had the wrong film. But the intertitles have the name SALAMBO on them so I sighed and believed it was the right film. Just by the artwork, I thought I was buying the 1925 made-in-france version but when I played it what I really got was the 1914 made-in-Italy version. I only then realized that the distributor of this DVD used the artwork of the 1925 French production of SALAMBO instead of anything from 1914 Italian version. The distributor should use different artwork or a photo from this film to sell this version. Talk about Cinematic Confusion! Oh well. I didn't have the Italian one so it's fine with me but I still have to find the 1925 French one now.

Incorrect DVD cover: the poster on the left is the original artwork for the 1925 French version of SALAMBO; the image on the right is the one they used for the DVD but it's not correct as the film on the DVD is the 1914 Italian version. Oy!

The music, credited to Lou McMahon, often didn't go along with what was happening on screen but this is not uncommon with silent films in general as the original score is often lost. A new score or finding the original score would be an improvement over this one. I had to turn off the sound to enjoy it more.

The story was adapted into another version, in 1960 titled SALAMMBO, starring Jacques Sernas and Jeanne Valérie. You can see some similarities between the two but the 1960 version, even with its faults, is more successful than this one. I'll probably do a "Fan Fix" of this film: re-edit it and try to change the score and it's good I'll upload it at my Youtube channel.

Different yet similar. Scenes from the 1914 and 1960 adaptations:

Matho and Spendius looking at the statue of Tanit and the sacred veil.

From the 1960 version: Jacques Sernas as Matho enters the chamber with the statue of Tanit and the sacred veil

Matho and Spendius walk about in the guarded Temple without any concern as 
 guards are terrified into submission because of the sacred veil wrapped around Matho

Matho (Sernas) wards off guards by waving the sacred veil in front of them

Rating: 6 out of 10


- amiable tone
- big sets
- Mario and the uncredited actor who played Spendius were good actors
- beautiful costumes
- once story gets going, it's fun
- brilliant ending


- confusing start
- 25 minutes intro/set-up is TOO long
- unfocused direction
- sloppy editing, even for that time
- no score; generic silent score added to this DVD version
- no actual characters; difficult to care for them




Original title: Afrodite, dea dell'amore
Director: Mario Bonnard
Writers: Sergio Leone, Mario Bonnard, more
Music: Giovanni Fusco
Release Date: 29 August 1958 (Italy)

Isabelle Corey ...  Lerna

Anthony Steffen ...  Demetrio

Irène Tunc ...  Diala

Ivo Garrani ...  Antigono

Giulio Donnini ...  Erasto

Massimo Serato ...  Quinto Rufo

Andrea Aureli ...  Kibur

Tomoro and Kibur

John Kitzmiller ...  Tomoro

Clara Calamai ...  Stenele

Released in 1958, the same year HERCULES was released in Italy, APHRODITE, GODDESS OF LOVE is a great example of a PEPLUM film that's difficult to categorize and that's purely Italian in tone, atmosphere and structure. This is a type of PEPLUM Hollywood would have never produced. The story is almost impossible to describe even though the storyline itself is simple enough: A voice over tells use that Antigono (played by the great Ivo Garrani, King Pelias in HERCULES) becomes the Archon of Corinth and he'll supervise the creation of a canal from an ambitious idea conceived by Nero. The problem is that the land where the canal will be built has an old temple dedicated to Aphrodite. The Archon says he'll destroy it but his aides say this will upset the populace. Antigono promises to rebuild a new temple somewhere else and a famous artist/sculptor, Demetrius (Anthony Steffen), will supervise the rebuilding of the temple and its statues.

The resurrected law for all to see

Antigono realizes that the building of the canal will cost more than what the treasury has, so he and his scheming assistant revive an old law that had been since forgotten in which everyone has to pay 50% of their earnings in taxes during the time of war. The law was bronzed on a plate outside a temple, which is cleaned up so folks could see it with their own eyes and that the Archon is not robbing them blind and proof that the law already existed. We then see a slave merchant complaining about the new law. Some soldiers overhear his complaints which results in his death. Everything the slave merchant owned is now confiscated by the authorities, which includes all the slave women and the merchant's girlfriend, Diala (a statuesque Irène Tunc). 

In the outskirts, we see an old man and a young woman, Lerna, walking about. Both are caught in between a marching army and the upset populace whom lost  their homes and land for a few bucks. An uprising occurs and Lerna is arrested along with the uprisers. The old man, we learn, is a priest and heads to a secret hideout where his disciples are and learn about Lerna's fate.

Diala and Lerna become friends in captivity

While Demetrio arrives in Corinth as a Hero, in a dungeon, Diala befriends Lerna.  Another slave merchant, Kibur, buys all the slaves from the dead one and Diala and Lerna become his property, even if Lerna wasn't a slave girl. Lerna escapes Kibur's camp and heads to the old Temple only to meet Demetrio who's walking the grounds for inspiration. Demetrio is smitten with Lerna but Kibur's guards are after her and Demetrio fights with the men. As an artist, he has not much of a fighter and he and Lerna are held captive, attached to a post and whipped before they learn who he is. Diala sees this as her chance to escape her current enslavement so she secretly heads to the Archon's palace and tells them about Demetrio being held against his will. The army crushes the slave merchant and both Diala and Lerna are now the property of Antigono again, but this time becoming courtesans at the palace. Both women vie for the affection of Demetrio but also the inspiration for his artistic creations. Diala is hired to model for the statue of Aphrodite and believes Demetrio is interested in her but in fact he's interested in Lerna, who, in turn, is devoted to her religion, Christianity. The focus of the rest of the story is about who Demetrio is really in love with which creates the usual set of double crossings and schemings. There's much more to the story, including an outbreak of the plague and an event surrounding Antigono's wife, Stenele.

Diala realizes that Kibur's guards captured the famous artist Demetrio

Once the story settles down at the palace, the film smoothly moves along and becomes a melodrama of sorts but calling it just a melodrama would be doing it a disservice. It's much more than that. One of the writers for the screenplay  was none other than Sergio Leone. Like SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR, Leone was one of many folks involved in the final creation of this film. Unlike SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR though, APHRODITE is not an all out mess. It's solid from beginning to end. 

Even though the "persecuting the Christians" storyline might seem tired or boring to many, in this film it's actually used in a cool way. It's all about transference, which is the part I really love about the story. You see, the beautiful irony in the story is how Lerna's devotion to Christ becomes the source of inspiration for Demetrio's Aphrodite. He sees in her as a light or beauty that few women possess but the inner light in her stems from her deep devotion to Christianity. Demetrio is drawn to her on many levels: because of his art but also as a man. Physically, Diala is the model he uses to shape the statue (photo on the left) but Lerna is the true soul and the one he's drawn too. This contrast is sorta brilliant. The statue of Aphrodite is the merging of Diala's body and Lerna's soul. The juxtaposition of  the themes is quite good and not too obvious. The screenplay is a constant source of contradictions, which is a common theme in all of Sergio Leone's films.

The actors are all good, with no one really standing-out has they all play their roles appropriately. The exception may be a robust Ivo Garrani as Antigono who plays his role with such panache that it's it almost borders on camp but not quite. He's so convincing as the resolutely unsecured leader, always trying to better himself with a better position, more wealth, a better wife, etc, that his evil but confused ways are almost endearing. The main star is Isabelle Corey but the actress that steals almost every scene she's in is Irène Tunc. Irène's physical attributes (probably too plump by today's standards) are quite impressive even if her acting is a bit stilted. Both Isabelle and Anthony are believable in their roles as the forbidden lovers. Steffen as the famous artist is perfectly cast. Masculine but not in a macho way, Steffen is credible as an artist who's perception of things around him makes him susceptible to changes, including the newly emerging religion called Christianity. As for Isabelle Corey, the diminutive French actress who made several PEPLUM films before disappearing from the face of the earth, is endearing as the fragile Lerna who is the source of inspiration that propels most of the story. 

The supporting cast is populated with a good number of familiar actors, including Livio Lorenzon and Massimo Serato who's entire role has been all but removed in the US version.

The film score by Giovanni Fusco is great with memorable themes throughout. The main theme is difficult to get out of one's head once you hear it. The sets and costumes are gorgeous but not showy. The stand-out aspect of this film is the look/cinematography. The entire film has a pastel tone which is truly eye-pleasing. APHRODITE, GODDESS OF LOVE was filmed in two rare film processes: the colour was by Ferraniacolor and the film stock itself was in the rarely used Schermiscope. Few films were shot in Schermiscope and combined with Ferraniacolor and the look of the film is quite different to what films looked like back then.

Dancers demonstrate the beautiful pastel tones used for the film's overall look

For those looking for action and muscular heroes throwing boulders around they won't find much to enjoy here but for those who enjoy PEPLUM cinema in all its forms, including dramas inspired by "a chapter of Greco-Roman history," well APHRODITE, GODDESS OF LOVE fills the need quite beautifully. 

I have this film from two main sources: French DVD which is so spectacularly pristine that it's almost contemporary looking. The DVD has a French and Italian audio track. Only French subs are available when watching it in Italian. But I have it in Italian with English subs. No one else has this version as it's one I created myself from a third source and some clever thinking. Then there's the TV version shown in the US. The image and audio, from the copy I have, is horrible. To make things even worse, all of the scenes with Massimo Serato meeting Antigono at his Palace have been removed (except for the exterior ceremony and the last meeting), which, in turn effectively removes the entire plot point of the creation of the canal, which, basically, destroys the ENTIRE POINT OF THE STORY. Amazing! The US version is to be avoided at all cost. I won't even do a Fan Dub of this one as I'm satisfied with the Italian version with English subs. You can view this version on my PEPLUM TV channel from time to time.

Rating: 9 out 10


- great cast
- surprisingly strong script
- beautiful pastel colours and cinematography
- excellent production values
- authentic tone and look
- lively dance numbers
- fantastic score


- ending a bit abrupt
- a bit aloof



(this review contains spoilers)


Gordon Scott as Glaucus/Hercules

Rosalba Neri as Queen Demeter

Alessandra Panaro as Medea

Arturo Dominici as Penthius

Jany Clair as Deianira

Michel Lemoine as Euneos
Nello and Michel
Nello Pazzafini as Archepolos

Nerio Bernardi as High Priest Asterion


with appearances from Geneviève Grad, Fortunato Arena and Jeff Cameron

Directed by Giorgio Ferroni

Music by Carlo Rustichelli

Alternate title: The Conquest of Mycenae

During the Peplum explosion of the late 1950s and early 1960s, tons of films were made in a conveyor-belt/mass production manner, one film after another or two films made at the same time, sometimes sharing the same sets with the same cast. This was a way to produce as many films as possible in order to flood movie screens with pulpy historical epics to capitalize on the trend while people were still interested in it. Gordon Scott made a dozen or so Peplum films, some ranging from excellent to good while a bunch range from good to serviceable. HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH is one of those films Scott shot one right after the other and it's a definitive stand-out, in more ways than one, and for better or for worse.

I admit that I personally enjoy HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH a lot even for all its many faults. The film sorta epitomizes the PEPLUM genre, dashing muscular Hero battling bad guys, including a monster of equal strength and size as our Hero in the form of Moloch, surrounded by beautiful women who are either on his side, trying to help him or are conniving witches trying to kill him. 

The story, like most of these films, is not complex: after a bloody battle, people of old Mycenae are exiled from their homeland and head for some distant land to start all over. Their statue of the God Moloch was destroyed in the process and their new Queen, a pregnant Demeter (Rosalba Neri), promises to her dying husband, the King of Mycenae, that sacrifices to Moloch would stop in New Mycenae. The dying King also asks of the Queen to love her step-daughter, Medea, as her own flesh and blood. A voice-over then tells us that a boy was born and that Queen Demeter and the High Priest (Nerio Bernardi) decided to rear the new born as a living image of Moloch.

Fast forward 20 years and we see the New Mycenae (footage of temple and buildings from THE TROJAN HORSE). Demeter is still beautiful but has some grey streaks in her hair and the High Priest has gone completely grey. The New Mycenae is now the strongest city in the land and its army regularly pillage and plunder other cities, provinces, for gold, resources and, of course, beautiful women to be sacrificed to Moloch.

Because of some recent pillaging that hit too  close to home, Glaucus (Gordon Scott) decides to infiltrate the city of Mycenae by letting himself be captured as a slave. He's picked out from the group of slaves (which includes Jany Clair) and becomes a star gladiator. Queen Demeter notices him and befriends him, flirts with him and  she starts trusting him. He introduce himself as Hercules, not Glaucus (so the movie is really not an actual Hercules story). Glaucus/Hercules freely walks around the secluded inner sanctum of the Temple; at one point he tries to rescue a grown-up Medea (Alessandra Panaro) from the amorous advances of General Penthius (Peplum regular Arturo Dominici, playing a role usually reserved for Mimmo Palmara). Hercules reveals his true self to Medea and his purpose for being in Mycenae. Knowing that Demeter fancies Hercules, a miffed General Penthius tells Demeter that he found both Hercules and Medea in an embrace; in retribution, the livid Queen tells Medea that she has to marry Penthius or end up as a sacrifice to Moloch. Medea refuses to marry a man she despises so she will be sacrificed. Hercules, in chains, is set to be part of some life and death gladiator event in honour to Moloch, who witnesses the spectacle. Though Hercules wins the gladiatorial challenge he ends up in a deep and narrow prison cell after the High Priest found out Hercules' true identity. Herc tries to escape just as Medea is about to be sacrificed in tribute to Moloch but also to end the current drought that's crippling the region. Hercules manages to escape. At the same time, the sacrificial ceremony goes all wrong, as it starts to rain just as the High Priest was about to kill Medea (he, in turn, is killed by a bolt of lighting that starts the rain!). In the outskirts, we see a massive army from Hercules' city marching toward Mycenae. Hercules escapes Mycenae after a sudden uprising from the populace, during which Medea is kidnapped again. Hercules, safe at the camp of his army, plots an attack against Mycenae. The two armies battle, with the Mycenaen army defeated; Hercules and his men quietly storm Mycenae while in the catacombs, Medea is chained, awaiting to be sacrificed to Moloch. Hercules to the rescue.

Medea (Alessandra Panaro) confronted by the blood-lusting Moloch.
"My, you have big teeth!"

As in many Italian PEPLUM films, the story is a series of set-ups to entrap our Hero so he can perform a few feats of strength and heroism. Even though, technically speaking, Gordon is not actually playing Hercules he's still strong enough to break free from shackles and do stuff most normal humans wouldn't be able to do, including vertically walking up walls in a cramped jail cell (a cool scene) and single-handedly battling a bunch of soldiers with ease.

Impressive scene!

The main thing that sets this film apart from the rest of Gordon Scott's films or any other PEP films is Moloch himself. Played by an uncredited actor (some say it's Mario Novalli but I doubt it as his body shape doesn't match Mario's), the evil Moloch, with his mask to hide a face disfigured since birth, is one of those rare things in Italian Sword & Sandal films: a worthy adversary to our Hero. Muscular (but not overly so) and tall, Moloch is simply a cool looking character. You either despise him, or feel sorry for him or are in terror/awe of him, or all three at the same time. His fate seems unusually cruel and it's almost understandable what he does to beautiful young things. Though the victims are mostly shown as girls, in one scene we see that Moloch also enjoys ritualistically killing young men, sorta reflecting on the myth of the Minotaur.

Not all of Moloch's victims are female, as these scenes show

The film also succeeds in several other departments, including the wonderful use of Peplum clichés, which are all well executed here and the many fight scenes are always believable, exciting and violent. Gordon Scott is his usual stolid self. Rosalba is regal and menacing. The entire cast have chemistry and they seemed to have had fun making this film.

There are several scenes with Roman litters

Bathing beauty cliché

Breaking free from shackles and chains cliché

As I've already said I like this film a lot but with reservations. The thing that sorta hampers my enjoyment is the fact that in its final state this is mostly a patched up job: except for several key scenes, at least a good 25 to 30 percent of this film is recycled from other films. Also, the entire score by Carlo Rustichelli is lifted from other films, including the brilliant one from THE GIANTS OF THESSALY. All the big war scenes are from THE TROJAN HORSE or THE AVENGER (War of the Trojans). Several other big scenes are entirely lifted from the seldom seen THE BACCHANTES: the sacrificial of Medea in the exterior court is cleverly edited with new scenes. The crazy/colourful tam-tam women in the grotto/catacombs are also taken from THE BACCHANTES. When I saw HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH for the first time my initial suspicion that some scenes were taken from other films started with the sight of the tam-tam girls because the film stock and the colour looked totally different than the new scenes. After this, I subsequently started noticing other scenes lifted from previous films.

Nerio Bernardi and Alessandra Panero in a scene from THE BACCHANTES. Both actors 
were hired for HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH and this borrowed scene blended 
almost seamlessly with the new scenes. Both films were directed by Giorgio Ferroni.

One could even say that because the bulk of borrowed scenes are from the director's previous films that it's not so bad but this practice was one of the reasons why the genre died a quick death so I'm not a big fan of this. Then again, if your knowledge of Peplum films is limited,  these borrowed scenes won't be an issue. Though sometimes haphazardly edited together and you might wonder why none of the main actors appear in many of these scenes, most of them, certainly the big external sacrificial moment, blend well with the new stuff.

With so many elements borrowed from other films, HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH doesn't feel as whole or solid as other Peplums which are entirely new from beginning to end. If you look at another Gordon Scott film, the action-packed HERO OF BABYLON (Beast of Babylon), that film, which seems to have a smaller budget than HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH, feels more integral as it contains almost no sequences taken from other films, which in the PEPLUM genre is, sadly, more rare than commonplace. Unlike HERO OF BABYLON though, HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH feels more cinematic with the great use of exteriors. HERO OF BABYLON somewhat feels like a studio-bound TV movie.

Great use of wide spaces and sets give this film an epic cinematic touch

Even with all of these negatives I still enjoy watching it. It's one of those films that I can watch over and over again. The mood and tone of HERCULES AGAINST MOLOCH perfectly encapsulate what a Peplum is supposed to be: big brawny action with a sexy cast combined with some elements of horror and over-the-top paganisms all in the service of entertainment. 

I have this film in two versions: one "official" release from the U.S. that was included in a HERCULES DVD package, which is currently OOP and very pricey. The aspect ratio for the U.S. DVD is 4:3 but the image is pretty clear. The other version I have is a dupe and it's in widescreen (not the actual Euroscope ratio though). The image from that version is a bit soft and blurry but there's so much more information than the U.S. DVD. The screengrabs here were all taken from this version.

Borrowed scenes:

Uprising scene from THE AVENGER (War of the Trojans)

Drought scene from THE BACCHANTES

The crazy "tam-tam" girls from THE BACCHANTES

Another ceremony scene taken from THE BACCHANTES with Alessandra and Nerio

The exterior sets are scenes from THE TROJAN HORSE

The bulk of the battle scenes are from THE TROJAN HORSE

Yet another scene from THE TROJAN HORSE. The man in white is
supposed to be Steve Reeves as Aeneas. Oops! 

Rating: 8 out of 10 (would be higher if not for the stock footage)

- Great cast that click together
- Great atmosphere and lighting
- Tight fights and action scenes
- Excellent use of space/exteriors
- Clichés well executed
- Cool nemesis
- Sets and costumes are colourful
- Great repeat viewing

- The unusually extensive amount of footage from other films
- A Franken-film: stitched together from other films and doesn't feel whole
- Music score from other films
- Underdeveloped sub-plots
- Script is a bit on the facile side


Sign of the Gladiator

Directed by Guido Brignone (uncredited: Michelangelo Antonioni, Riccardo Freda, Vittorio Musy Glori)

Starring Georges Marchal, Anita Ekberg, Jacques Sernas, Chelo Alonso, Gino Cervi, Mimmo Palmara, Lorella De Luca and Alberto Farnese.

Score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino

Released in 1959, both in Italy and US


"Unmitigated Junk " exclaimed the New York Times

"The deepest thing about Sign of the Gladiator is Anita Ekberg's cleavage"

For once, critics were right. But is SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR that bad of a movie? Not really as I've seen much worse than this but it is one sloppy unsuccessful film. It was plagued with production problems and, sadly, it shows on screen. The original director was fired and 3 other directors had to step in, including Riccardo Freda and Michelangelo Antonioni (huh?!?) with 5 screenwriters credited for the unmemorable script, including Sergio Leone. With so many cooks, the whole thing feels spoiled, with no impetus or focus about the story or actors. As a whole, it's flat and almost pointless and in the end does come across as junk but individual scenes within the movie are effective, which might reflect the different directors at the helm.

As a fan of the PEPLUM genre, to me the cast is amazing: Anita Ekberg, Georges Marchal, Jacques Sernas, Chelo Alonso, Mimmo Palmara, Gino Cervi, etc. Wow! As good as it is, some of the choices are odd to say the least: Anita doesn't look Persian and Chelo is supposed to be what exactly? But who cares really as they work well together. 

Talking about the producers?

The story is simple enough but it's made to be more complicated with characters endlessly plotting against each other. No one should be trusting each other but if they didn't, there wouldn't be any story. The film starts with Marcus Valerius (Georges Marchal) captured and made a slave/prisoner. Queen Zenobia (Anita Ekberg) notices him, as he's a Roman soldier but, more importantly, because Marcus is handsome (Georges looks like the David Beckham of Rome), and so it starts. Marcus convinces Zenobia that he's a dead man if he goes back to Rome and that he'd be more useful at her side. Of course both of them slowly fall in love even though Marcus is basically acting as a double agent, all an elaborate plot to drive Zenobia's army into a trap. Unknowingly, the Queen's Prime Minister is also plotting against both the Romans and her.  

Queen Zenobia is considered one of the greatest female characters in history, on par with Cleopatra but in SOTG, Anita is often shown lounging around, walking nervously. She's made to look like a bored housewife than a Queen.  Clearly, all the writers and directors didn't know what to do with her.

Georges Marchal and Jacques Sernas share a scene. Rome might not forget 
but Hollywood does forget as Jacques, who starred in the epic HELEN OF TROY, 
is not even credited prominently on the US movie poster of SOTG.

The sub-plot with Jacques Sernas and Bathsheba is dull and underdeveloped. Jacques Sernas, in top form here, is woefully underused. I wished he and Georges Marchal had more scenes together. If one would cut those scenes out, it would not make a big difference to the film. Things are made a bit more funny as Georges and Jacques sorta look alike and the already muddled production feels even more muddled. What's even more incredible is seeing Jacques in a supporting role when a few years earlier he starred as the main male character in Robert Wise's massive Hollywood retelling of HELEN OF TROY. From starring role to total obscurity, with not even a prominent credit on the movie poster for SOTG. Ouch.

Lorella De Luca barelly registers as Bathsheba, with busty Anita and sexy Chelo eclipsing every other female presence in the film.

Jacques Sernas and Folco Lulli during the climax.

Folco Lulli, as Zenobia's Prime Minister, is terrible. A cliched character straight out of a cartoon...even though he looks more authentic than the Nordic-looking Queen.

Love and death in the desert

The scene when Zenobia and Marcus Valerius are ridding in the desert alone together, without the usual soldiers guarding the Queen, is absurd. But the movie is, in essence, a Romantic PEPLUM and these scenes are de rigueur. They are probably the best scenes in the entire film.

The abrupt conclusion was obviously conceived to end the film on a happy note as it seems Zenobia was beheaded or was paraded around as a prisoner in the streets of Rome (wikipedia).

SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR, in its own weird way, is a very important film in PEPLUM history: made in the late 1950s, just when BEN-HUR would be release, it's an example as what the genre would provide/become in the future and how it would be sold around the world but more importantly to the US market.

American International Pictures purchased the film and re-titled it with a nonsensical title (inspired by the equally nonsensically titled Jack  Palance opus, SIGN OF THE PAGAN?). The original Italian title translates as SIGN OF ROME. The current title is point blank stupid because there are no gladiators in it. Arf. This practice of re-titling Italian/European S&S films with absurd titles would be common practice with US distributors during the PEPLUM explosion and a lightning rod for film snobs and non-snobs alike to dismiss the entire genre as utterly worthless. I guess this was only a sign (!) of things to come. When the movie was a success for AIP, the low-budget US film company sought more EURO PEPLUMS to bastardize at  will in order to make a quick buck.

I've only viewed this film in its original Italian version with English subtitles which highlights the incredibly elaborate dialogue. For a B-movie (and yes, it's a B-movie), the dialogue is, huh, profound. Here are some examples:

Heavy stuff!

The soundtrack is excellent and will sound familiar to most as it would be re-used in dozen of other films. The only problem with the soundtrack is that it should have stood out more to at least give the film some much needed life.

The elaborate but clunky battle scenes during the climax would also be re-used in other films, including SPARTACUS AND THE TEN GLADIATORS. The climax is truly badly edited and looks completely drunk.

The film is filled with several incredible technical goofs. The most obvious, and the most egregious example of the troubled production, is the feast scene. Anita and Georges  unexpectedly switch sides midway into the scene. It's pretty funny.


SOTG also has its share of anachronisms. Chelo's Cuban jiggles and shakes don't belong in this film, as entertaining as it is. During the feast/dance sequence, Chelo is surrounded by male dancers wearing leopard spotted briefs. Hmm...

With better editing, a few scenes shortened here and there and a more prominent soundtrack, SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR could have been a tad better but as it is, it's a hot mess. 

Rating: 6 out of 10

SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR is not in 3D? Oh well...


- cool and sexy main cast: Georges Marchal has chemistry with Anita Ekberg and Chelo
- lotsa fun peplum cliches, like millstone, crucified, dance sequence, etc
- big battle scenes
- Anita Ekberg's gold-platted battle costume
- excellent score


- feels rushed;  not very convincing
- secondary plot is dull
- Jacques Sernas wasted
- sloppy editing
- it doesn't know what it wants to be: historical? Action/adventure? Romance? All of the above?
- weak supporting cast
- talk, talk, talk
- painfully obvious expositionary dialogue
- unspectacular sets
- Chelo's dancing is pure anachronism
- full of techinal goofs
- uninspired locations
- many horses were obviously hurt during the battle sequence


Clash of the Titans (2010)

What's this? A remake!

Remakes these days are almost always terrible and having seen production photos of COTT before its release, photos that didn't inspire much confidence, I decided not to see the remake on the big screen, opting to wait for it on dvd or download. I always had a love/hate approach to the original which I saw at the cinemas when I was a young teen. You can read my review here. So take this as someone who's not a fanatic of the original and was going to hate any remake from the get go. With that said the new film is thouroughly awful in almost every way possible. Except for the beginning (which is ok, not great), the action packed but not suspenseful Medusa scene and the clearly OTT ending, there's nothing much else to see. The entire cast of characters is uniformly unpleasant. Not one likeable character in the whole thing, including a growling Perseus (played by one-note Aussie actor Sam Worthington). This is the difference with the original. I basically liked almost every character, no matter how cardboard they were.

Here's a breakdown of the film:

- the changes to the story (humans vs gods) doesn't make any sense.

- Adding the religious/cult storyline with the crazy leader (the photo above) was awful. It added nothing and the character was annoying as hell.

- It doesn't really look Greek at all but more Pompeiish than anything else. The design of Argos, though spectacular during the climax, has absolutely nothing to do with Greek design/architecture.

Greek design?

- the look and design of Mount Olympus is tacky. Looks like a cheesy sci-fi movie.

- Like the original, the other Gods do not have much to do.

- In the orignal, Perseus had to tame Pegasus which made sense, for a Heroic journey. In the remake, Pegasus, who's black, appears to him and, well, that's it. Totally dull. The original was much better in this regard. And the reason they made Pegasus black is simply because CGI is more forgiving this way than if the horse was white. 

- the scene with the scorpions doesn't make any sense whatsoever. In the original, Medusa's blood mutates the scorpions into big monsters but in the remake, Calibos' blood (after his hand was cut off) drips on some sand and the scorpions appear from the ground, killing most of the men from Argos but then Perseus and his men team up with the mysterious beings that use the big scorpions as transportation, as if  nothing had happened! Huh?

- the set for the Medusa scene is pretty good and the Medusa is ok as a superfast slithery creature but the scene is more action than suspense. And Sam prudishly wears flesh-colored tights during many moments (see photo below), which makes it look silly.

Many rips in them tights, boy!

The ending is so over-the-top that it's almost a thing of beauty. Here's a breakdown:

- It takes the Kraken 15 minutes to surface. There's slow and slow, but man, that beast is constipated.

- The Kraken looks like a turtle/octopus/that monster from Return of the Jedi thingy.

- The ending or confrontation between the Kraken and Perseus is ridiculously drawn out, such as having those winged demons snatch the bag with the head of the Medusa (how did they know what was in the bag?).

- the action is so often confusing that the characters have to tell us what's going on such as when the winged demons snatch the bag, Perseus yells that they stole it because we clearly couldn't see what was going on.

- Andromeda, which is not the love interest in this version, hangs from the sacrificial altar hundreds of feet above the sea, strung up by her arms, which she never seems to find painful. Unlike other Sword & Sandal films where people are shown to be in extreme pain when hanging from their arms, Andromeda is remarkably calm and nonchalant about it all. Because she's so painless throughout her ordeal, her scenes end up looking like a Sarah Brightman music video.

Thank god I've been doing Pilates!

- When the Kraken becomes a statue, the whole thing is beyond silly. It looks like the monster has a sudden rash. It crumbles from its own weight and Andromeda falls in the ocean and yet Perseus is able to find her underwater amidst the whole chaos. He must have a heat seeking device on him.

- Sam Worthington's Aussie accent can be heard throughout the movie. Plus the fact that his hair is not in style with the times, the less time Sam is on screen, the better it is.

The score is totally forgettable, unlike the Laurence Rosenthal score for the original, which is beautiful and soaring.

All in all, this remake is at times so bad that in its own way becomes a thing of beauty. I mean, how can a film get it so wrong on so many levels? Even the brief cameo of Bubo, which was a sight for soar eyes, was mishandled. The film was a huge success and even though the Kraken is dead and the Medusa is headless, Warner has greenlighted a sequel!

Because of this remake, I have to re-evaluate the original, which, after watching this suddenly comes out as brilliant on almost every level, including the fact that its more in tune with Greek mythology than this unpleasant version. Well, I still find the original uneven at best but it's also more enjoyable, memorable and far sexier too. The beefcake and cheesecake level in the remake is remarkably low.

The best scene in the entire film, even if it's a dig at the original