Special Features


Note : This will be the only article I'll be publishing this week (I'll post other stuff but not articles). The blog will resume full time next week. 

A few weeks ago, Alec Semicognito asked me (link) to do a list of 'serious' PEPLUM films after posting about GOLD FOR THE CAESARS. I thought about it and here's a list.

Now what exactly constitutes a 'serious' PEPLUM movie? First, they have to be grounded in reality. This doesn't mean that films with mythological stories and settings cannot be serious, like HERCULES (1958) or ULYSSES (film and TV mini-series) but for me a 'serious' PEPLUM film lacks super powerful heroes, obvious supernatural elements, folk stories and such. Something that's strictly based in reality or a semblance of reality or history. You know, the movies kids hated to watch because they were too serious. Haha!

For me, a great and fun PEPLUM film is like a big buffet. It's a virtual smorsgasborg of entertaining moments and clichés. A serious film is sorta the opposite. It's like being on a strict diet, with a limited menu to choose from (this doesn't mean a 'serious' film cannot have many stand-out moments).

Some 'serious' films take themselves so seriously that they fall into camp. If a movie is too campy, for whatever reasons, I won't list it here. This doesn't mean they're not good. It just means that the film is ends up being more fun than serious. For example, take THEODORA - SLAVE EMPRESS (1954). It's a serious film but its approach is so over-the-top that it fails to be what I would call a 'serious' film. It's devilishly entertaining, thanks to campy performances and OTT production.

But then take HEAD OF A TYRANT, which has many of those same clichés but the tone of the film is so serious, it borders on the dour. It's a morbid love story. It's definitely on my list.

Other films almost defy description, like MESSALINA (1960) starring Belinda Lee, which is a strange mix of super serious tone (violence, evil characters) and slapstick moments. It didn't make it on this list.

Films I excluded :

To keep this list as short as possible, I've excluded some sub-genres which are automatically serious :

- Romances, like GODDESS OF LOVE (1957). Though serious, its swirling romantic music and declarations of love push it nearly into the realm of fantasy.

- Adventure films like THE BLACK KNIGHT or TERROR OF THE RED MASK.

- Hollywood films.

- Straightforward Biblical films that deal directly with Jesus like GOLGOTHA (1935) or Pasolini's THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW (1964).

- Most Historical epics that fall under the PEPLUM umbrella.

The main ingredient of all these films : a complete lack of humour.


I vote this rarely seen PEPLUM film as the most serious of them all. It has a 1970s vibe to it, not a movie made during the Golden Era of the genre. I like it and there are some memorable stuff in it, but it's a bit too serious. A little levity or at least one amiable character would have made it more approachable. As it is now, it's a mean, lean unlovable machine. As serious as it is, it pretty much follows the same template of other PEPLUM films, so even though it sometimes feels like an art film, it's not.


Massimo Girotti and Gianna Maria Canale

This brilliantly directed film is serious and yet it never loses sight of being hopeful and heroic, even in the face of death. It's not bleak serious but grand, operatic serious. Love it! Riccardo Freda's tour de force.


Giulio Bosetti, Mylène Demongeot and Massimo Girotti

A very straight-forward, grounded PEPLUM film, which is sorta rare. It's still filled with anachronistic stuff and it's still entertaining but compared to other films of the genre, it's not a 'fun' film. A drama set in antiquity.


As I already mentioned above, this film is SERIOUS. A tragic / morbid love story, starring Massimo Girotti and Isabelle Corey. Good film!


A very serious film with few fun or uplifting moments. Serious from the first frame to the last. Directed by Viktor Tourjansky, who also directed GODDESS OF LOVE mentioned above, which is a Big Romance and a little more light-hearted than this excellent production.


Directed by Sergio Corbucci. Starring Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott, Virna Lisi, Jacques Sernas, Massimo Girotti amongst others. No humour. Deadly serious. Apparently, Reeves and Scott didn't get along.


This film directed by Sergio Corbucci flirts with the not-so-serious adventure films but downbeat ending keeps this adventure film firmly grounded in the serious category.


Pierre Cressoy and Hélène Rémy

This is a good example of a historical film which falls under the PEPLUM umbrella. Serious. Nothing fanciful about it though some might say it's not historically accurate.


This beautiful production is, first and foremost, a serious drama. Gianna Maria Canale stars.


The story of Mary Magdalene. Yep, serious. This film deals indirectly with Jesus, who always remains unseen. Rossana Podestà as Martha and Yvonne De Carlo as Mary.


A well made drama but not very compelling in that I need to re-watch it on a regular basis. Good but sorta dull. One of many Cameron Mitchell PEPLUM films. Elissa Pichelli co-stars.


I almost didn't include this one because it's more adventure film than anything else, and there a lot of campy elements in this, including Edmund Purdom's performance, but there's one brutal scene in it which places it firmly in the 'serious' category. Cameron Mitchell also stars.


Another serious Cameron Mitchell film. Not bad, with very good production values but serious to the point of being void of any emotional connection. Its twin production, MASSACRE IN THE BLACK FOREST, also with Mitchell, is serious but it's more action packed and fun than this one. Bebe Loncar co-stars.


This huge story-free epic is humourless and pretty much falls into that category even if the production itself is a tad on the Over-The-Top side. The ending is a downer. A young Terrence Hill stars.


As the title implies, this is a very big, serious retelling of the story of Constantine and the advent of Christianity. Kids would find this boring. Belinda Lee and Cornel Wilde star in this epic.


You'd think that a film with Anna Karina and Marilu Tolo would be fun to watch. No. As humourless as a PEPLUM film can be. Too serious for its own good.


This film (along with its older twin sister FRINE - COURTESAN OF THE ORIENT) is a straight-forward drama. This one is set in Corinth and has everything : religion, struggle for power, the plague. I like it a lot. Serious but still fun to watch over and over again. Anthony Steffen and Irène Tunc star.


Its arch, episodic and nearly implausible storyline might push this film into the realm of fantasy but I've added it because it's the most 'serious' film directed by Pietro Francisci, who usually juggled a good amount of seriousness, campiness, comedy in his films, such as HERCULES (1958). There's NO humour in this story. Rossano Brazzi and Tina Louise star in this grand epic story.


Though this deals with Jesus, the story is mostly about Pontius Pilate and his struggle with overseeing the construction of an aqueduct. The screenplay is flawed but great production nonetheless. No one under 17 will like this. Jean Marais stars in the titular role.


Any film which deals with the destruction of Pompeii is always played straight.


Some dislike this film because of its staginess. This is just to give you an idea of how serious it is. Georges Marchal stars. I like it but it is quaint in its seriousness.


One of Steve Reeves most serious films. Though he plays a strong, muscular man who survives the destruction of Pompeii, the film's tone is without humour. Mimmo Palmara co-stars along with Steve (left).

Art Films -

A sub-genre of the PEPLUM genre. There aren't that many but listing all of them would take an entire post. So here's a brief overview of PEPLUM art films.

The films of Mihalis Kakogiannis

The Greek director made ELECTRA (above starring Irene Papas, 1962), THE TROJAN WOMEN (1971), IFIGENEIA (1977), among others. Always serious. Rarely fun to watch. His films are more art films than straight-forward dramas set in the past. His films focused mainly on female characters.

DACII (1966) and COLUMNA (1968)

These films produced and filmed in Romania were made after the end of the PEPLUM explosion. They are grand, epic and very serious. They're not Art Films per se but were sold here as such. Georges Marchal and Pierre Brice star.


What can you say about this Fellini film? I could have used other images but this sorta gives you an idea of what to expect from it.

One of the reasons Art Films are called art films is because of nudity, mainly male nudity. Films with female nudity were sold as either porn or soft-porn, and were rarely serious, like WAR GODDESS (1973).

Pasolini's ARABIAN NIGHTS (1974) or even Felinni's SATYRICON above is filled with male nudity, which, to many people, is something that's taboo. There's a whole sub-genre of PEPLUM Art Films which are inspired by this. It would take too long to list all of them. Here's one example:


Jean Marais stars in this French TV film inspired by male Olympic athletes. I tried to watch it and it's very serious, or I should say pretentious. Peplum star Georges Marchal also stars in this.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this article. There are more titles I've could have listed but it would have  taken too much space. Maybe a part 2?

Added to the SPECIAL FEATURE permanent page



Identifying the actors who played the TEN GLADIATORS from the series of 3 films is a difficult thing to do. The cast changed slightly between the first and second films; the cast is credited mostly with aliases; IMDb info is incomplete (Romano Giomini is not listed for the 3 films) and most of the gladiators remain nameless in the stories/scripts so not much to go by. Here's the closest I've tried to figure out who's who.


Dan Vadis as Rocca

Pietro Torrisi

Salvatore Borgese

 Jeff Cameron (aka Giovanni Scarciofolo)

Aldo Canti

Enzo Fiermonte

Romano Giomini

Frank Oliveras

Emilio Messina

Armando Bottin


These three actors who were gladiators in THE TEN GLADIATORS but didn't return for the two sequels/prequels.

Pino Mattei

Giancarlo Bastianoni

The elusive Gino Turini, who's barely in the film. Thanks to Scott for the info on Gino.

The entire TEN GLADIATORS cast from the 2 sequels (or prequels)

And as an extra note, while scanning THE TEN GLADIATORS for a good shot of Gino Turini, I finally found the equally elusive Roberto Messina, brother of Emilio Messina, one of the ten gladiators. He's erroneously credited at IMDb as Methodius, who's actually played by Pino Mattei. Roberto's role, like most of his other PEPLUM films, only lasts a few seconds.



When the PEPLUM genre died out from its ashes came the Spaghetti Western genre and the greatest SW is no doubt Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. What's cool about this film, which I love, is spotting all the PEPLUM stars in it. There are more of them than listed here but all the following actors made PEPLUM films way before making SW or this classic Leone epic.

 Antonio Casas, who was also in a couple of PEPLUM flicks including REVOLT OF THE SLAVES

 Aldo Giuffre who played Seren, King of the Philistines in HERCULES, SAMSON AND ULYSSES

Benito Stefanelli, profiled here at the blog, was also seen in REVENGE OF THE GLADIATORS

Chelo Alonso had a role at the very beginning of THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY. She was a major star of the PEPLUM genre, including MORGAN THE PIRATE.

Claudio Scarchilli, profiled here at the blog, was a regular PEPLUM actor and was a bad gladiator in COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA.

Livio Lorenzon appeared briefly in the Leone epic; Lorenzon was one of the busiest PEPLUM actors of the bunch and can be seen in TERROR OF THE RED MASK.

Toni Dimitri can be seen during the hanging scene in TGTBATU; prior to that he was seen in a couple of PEPLUM films including ALI BABA AND THE SEVEN SARACENS.



Is there a more iconic PEPLUM moment than Nero playing with his lyre while Rome burns? Here are a few examples. The 1984 mini-series of QUO VADIS doesn't show Nero, played by Klaus Maria Brandauer, with his lyre while Rome burns. Not good.

Carlo Cattaneo as Nero in QUO VADIS (1912)

(provided by Facebook friend Epic Movies)

Charles Laughton as Nero in SIGN OF THE CROSS

Nero played by Gino Cervi in NERO AND THE BURNING OF ROME (provided by Facebook friend Epic Movies)

The most iconic moment from QUO VADIS with Peter Ustinov as Nero

It might be difficult to see but Nero (Vladimir Medar) is playing the lyre as Rome burns in FIRE OVER ROME.

Michal Bajor as Nero in QUO VADIS (2001)

 Here are a few more photos of such scenes plus additional scenes of Nero simply playing with his lyre (sans Rome burning).

Carlo Cattaneo in QUO VADIS (1913)

Emil Jannings as Nero in QUO VADIS (1925)

Alberto Sordi in the comedy NERO'S BIG WEEKEND

Derek Francis played Nero in an episode of DOCTOR WHO called THE ROMANS

Howard Ross (Renato Rossini, in a bad wig) listens to Nero (Vittorio Caprioli) in POPPEA:  A PROSTITUTE IN THE SERVICE OF THE EMPEROR

Pippo Franco was Nero in yet another comedy simply called NERONE (1977)

Hans Matheson was an unlikely Nero in a TV production IMPERIUM: NERONE


Canadian PEPLUM stars

For a country with a small population, Canada has certainly contributed a lot to the PEPLUM genre. With a pretty eclectic mix of personalities, including one muscleman, in the form of Samson Burke. Christopher Plummer is probably the most celebrated actor from the list (he finally won an Oscar® last year for best supporting actor) and his energetic performance in FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE actually helped make the long film watchable. I wanted to add Barry Morse to the list but he was born and died in the UK even though he lived most of his life in Canada. I'll try to list actors from other various countries in upcoming posts.

Christopher Plummer as Commodus in THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE; Chris was born in Toronto.

Samson Burke in THE 3 STOOGES MEET HERCULES; Samson was born in Montreal.

Montreal native William Shatner acts it up to Joseph Cotten in the failed TV series ALEXANDER THE GREAT.

Lang Jeffries from FIRE OVER ROME. Lang was born in Ontario. Lang had a pretty solid streak in the PEPLUM genre.

André Lawrence, from Montreal, in 7 FROM THEBES

Geneviève Bujold made several films set in Medieval times but she also played Cleopatra in a TV production of George Bernard Shaw's CAESAR & CLEOPATRA with Alec Guiness.

Canadian born Stephen Forsyth is being strangled by Alberto Lupo in REVENGE OFTHE CRUSADERS, written by Riccardo Freda.

Yvonne de Carlo played Sephora in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS with Charlton Heston as Moses; I wasn't aware she was from Canada; born in Vancouver. Yvonne appeared in a couple of other S&S films, including some made in Italy. Thanks for Facebook friend Nick for the tip.



Here's a visual comparison between the silent version of BEN-HUR starring Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur and Francis X. Bushman as Messala and the big widescreen version starring Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd as Messala. Here are just some key scenes. As you can see, the silent version was basically used as a template for the William Wyler epic.


PEPLUM Fascination: Kids and big Heroes

The huge success of PEPLUM films in the 1950s and 60s was due in part to how young kids, mostly young boys, were impressed by the muscly action going on on the big screen. One can measure a film's "success" by what I term the "fascination" aspects within the stories, which made kids flock to theatres to see more and more. The producers of these European films KNEW about this (unlike today's films) and they intentionally tried to milk it for all its worth, even having a kid hang around  in one scene to gawk at the big Hero.

IMO, this is what makes these films so great and fun, and unique. Today's action films have none of this fascination aspect and I'm rarely impressed by any Hero or stories. The PEPLUM films from the Golden Era knew how to bring out the little kid in all of us.

From HERCULES UNCHAINED. The kid is not acting there. He's mightily impressed by Steve.

Mark Forest is impressing a boy in HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS

Aeneas (Steve Reeves) and his son (Charles Band) in THE AVENGER (War of the Trojans)

Little kid looking up to Henri Vidal in FABIOLA

Boy watches Harry Baird and Joe Robinson arm wrestling in THOR AND THE AMAZON WOMEN

A boy tries to help Ursus (Samson Burke) in VENGEANCE OF URSUS

Gordon Scott and his son in CORIOLANUS : HERO WITHOUT A COUNTRY


The missing scenes from SAPPHO - VENUS OF LESBOS

If you're a regular visitor here you probably know that SAPPHO - VENUS OF LESBOS is one of my favourite, if not my favourite PEPLUM. The moment I saw it it was love on first sight. But as much as I love it I still had some reservations, mainly about King Melanchrus, who's reduced into a harmless buffoon in the US cut, which runs 16 minutes shorter than the original version. I've recently acquired a French copy of the film and as far as I can tell, it's uncut. And this version shows so much more about King Melanchrus and how evil and insane he is which sheds so much light on why everyone wants to overthrow him. Here's a quick rundown of scenes missing in the US version.

The scenes with the lions at the beginning was shortened by a minute or so.

The dance sequence when Sappho is introduced was shortened, with some gyrating scenes missing from the US cut.

The introduction of King Melanchrus. The scene is beautifully mounted (even in this bad copy). All the following scenes with Melanchrus are missing in the US cut.

Melanchrus' slave girls (or servants) hold bird cages as the crazed King feeds the birds. Melanchrus and birds is a running theme throughout the film.

The King asks the slave girl which one is the male bird and the female bird. The slave girl answers promptly and the King asks her how she knows this and she informs him that she learned it from the previous slave girl. The King then asks her what happened to the previous slave girl and she tells him that he ordered her to be decapitated because she couldn't tell him which birds were the males or the females. This scene shows how demented Melanchrus is even if it's treated as a bit of black comedy.

King Melanchrus, with Hyperbius and Laricus, visits his dungeon and he's shown a new torture device, one which contains a rat in a cage placed on a victim and the only way for the rat to escape is for it to burrow its way through the victim's body. Hmm...

There are two prisoners and one of them was tortured to death by the man who conducts the tortures. The torturer admits he simply wanted to get the victim out of his mysery. Laricus, not happy with the cruel torture methods he has witnessed, leaves while Hyperbius fights with the torturer and kills him.

At the Temple of Aphrodite, we see the teachers showing the young girls how to weave and sow. Below, which is part of the same scene, we see Sappho sneaking away up the stairs to see Phaon.

The final scene of Actis and Sappho together when Sappho admits she has fallen in love with Phaon, which upsets Actis. Why was this scene cut I'll never know.

During a moment when a grieving mother explains to the rebels how her family was attacked by Melanchrus' soldiers, we see the mother's daughters grabbed by soldiers and pinned down on tables and we learn afterwards that they were raped and one of them was murdered. This scene, pictured above and below, is a bit hard to take in a so-called family film but it shows the extent of Melanchrus' evil, which is sorely missing in the US cut, in which we really don't know why everyone is so against him. In this cut, we clearly know why.

Riccardo Garrone as Hyperbius is ripped to shreds by a lion. We see much more of this gory and realistic scene.

All in all, this cut is so much better than the abbreviated US one. It shows, without a shadow of doubt, why there's an uprising against the King, who, in the US cut, was made to be seen as a defenseless buffoon. Other scenes have also been shortened, including the final battle but this is the bulk of the missing scenes.


Gay representation in PEPLUM films

For a genre with macho men single handedly battling villains and rescueing damsels in distress, PEPLUM films were surprisingly open about many of their characters being gay. Granted, most of them were villains or scheming, double crossing characters but the openness is still sometimes startling certainly when most of these films were popular with youngsters and certainly compared to stuff made in Hollywood at the time.

Gianni Rizzo gladly partakes of some grapes from handsome Vassili Karis in THE TEN GLADIATORS. Rizzo often played effeminate rulers but rarely with a lover in tow as in this film which is odd considering it's an all out action film. 

Narcissus (right; Giulio Donnini) has a good time with his companion during a Roman feast in MESSALINA (1960). Though scheming and cunning, his character is one of the few in PEPLUM films not to portray him as the main villain. Well, next to Messalina, I guess anyone would look good in comparison. Arf.

Queen Bera (Anouk Aimée) and her "favourite" (Mitsuko Takara) in SODOM & GOMORRAH. Director Robert Aldrich had a thing for lesbians, with LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE and THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE to his credit.

"You give the orders. And I obey the orders" Drago (right, Giuseppe Mattei) says gladly to his master Tercius (Jacques Berthier) in 79 A.D. THE DESTRUCTION OF HERCULANEUM, which obviously hints at a relationship between the two.

FELLINI'S SATYRICON was one of the first and most bold PEPLUM or mainstream film to portray homosexual characters not only in an open way but also as the main characters of the story, which today is still rare. An amazing film that's not to everyone's taste.

Oreitheia (Sabine Sun) gets intimate with a dancer in WAR GODDESS, in order to make her lover, Antiope (played by Alena Johnston, not shown) jealous. The film is replete with sexy lesbian scenes to titillate the (horny male) audience, a big difference with the portrayal of gay male characters.

Sarm (Oliver Reed) admires one of his male cohorts in GOR


STAR WARS: A Peplum in space

Photographic proof that STAR WARS was basically a PEPLUM set in a science-fiction/outer space setting. I saw STAR WARS before any Sword & Sandal films and as I was watching the 300 or so films one after the other I couldn't believe how much of the elements in the STAR WARS films were inspired or directly lifted from Italian Sword & Sandal films, which at the time and for the most part even today are still frowned upon. There are so many elements that I won't be mentioning all of them but here's a bunch just to give you an idea.

Opening credits that sets up the storyline

Desert locations, with bones of dead creatures


Wise Old Man

Evil Ruler on his throne

Disposable soldiers of Evil Ruler

Resourceful little people always on the side of good

Donut-style hair fashion statement

Cheesecake (there's very little Beefcake in Star Wars films)
Publicity shot of Rhonda Fleming for SERPENT OF THE NILE

Torture. What's a PEPLUM film without a torture scene?

Sword fights, hence the term Sword & Sandal

Council chambers

Crushing walls of death

The annoying sidekick


King of Kings vs The Greatest Story Ever Told

TCM ran both films one after the other and I watched both of them while mingling with my family/friends on Easter Sunday. Here's a quick rundown of how they compared:

King of Kings

- Jeffrey Hunter brilliant as Jesus

- Robert Ryan totally miscast as John the Baptist

- Siobhan McKenna wasn't convincing as Mary

- Narration was obtrusive

- Intro was super long. 20+ minutes to get story going

- Because of narration and quick rundown of story, the film felt like bible studies

- Location didn't look like Israel/Middle East. It looked like, well, Spain where it was shot.

- Fantastic score by Miklós Rózsa

- Ending at the beach fell flat

- Studio-bound and looks fake-ish from time to time

- Some beautiful sets and production design

- A bit of a heavy-handedness to it

The Greatest Story Ever Told

- Max Von Sydow totally miscast as Jesus; his voice alone doesn't work

- Claude Rains totally miscast as Herod the Great

- Charlton Heston sounds better than Robert Ryan as John the Baptist but looks ridiculous in fake looking wig and beard

- Almost entire cast is miscast: Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate?

- Constant use of cameos are terrible; with John Wayne's being the worst

- Narration wasn't obtrusive

- Stunning production design

- Stunning cinematography

- Beautiful, realistic locations

- Direction more fluid and organic

- More realistic looking

- Music score is good but film employs classical music which was beautifully incorporated with story

- Relies on classical music and Michelangelo's paintings to set up scene so a bit of laziness in direction here

- Ending has more impact than King of Kings but still sorta flat

All in all, it's a virtual tie with The Greatest Story Ever Told edging out King of Kings because of stunning production design/cinematography, etc. Now if they combined the best qualities from both films then there would be the perfect film: King of the Greatest Story Ever Told!


Favorite List of Charaters Names

From SAPPHO ~ THE VENUS OF LESBOS. One of my favorite list of characters names for any movie. Sappho, Phaon, Hyperbius, Melanchrus, Laricus and of course Actis, who's my favorite character in the film. The names for the original Italian version is slightly different but still cool.  You can view the entire film at SapphoPEPLUM

Here's who played whom:

Tina Louise

Kerwin Mathews

Riccardo Garrone

Enrico Maria Salerno

Alberto Farnese

Susy Andersen