The Colossus of Rhodes (1961)

a.k.a. - Il Colosso di Rodi (ITA)

Rory Calhoun takes the lead role in Sergio Leone's huge scale Historical Adventure Peplum. WB R1 DVD.

The Film

The Greek soldier Darius, weary of his campaigns for Athens has accepted the invitation of Lissipu to spend some time on the island of Rhodes where the giant statue, the Colossus, has just finished construction. As King Serse blesses the statue, an assasin attempts to stab him but is caught in a hail of arrows. The assasin was the member of an underground group who oppose the King and they look to Darius to help them contact Greek forces to support their revolution. Meanwhile Serse is plotting with the Phonecians to form an alliance against Greece, using the impregnable harbour of Rhodes as their base.

Written by a team of genre regulars, including Duccio Tessari and Luciano Martino, The Colossus of Rhodes does not get off to a good start. Slowly paced but without any real characterisation the first half hour drifts by without hooking the audience in. The rebels are poorly defined (we never find out why they particularly oppose the King), there is a general lack of direction in the storyline and the character of Darios in particular seems to be foisted upon us as the lead without any reason for us to like or care about him - the script at times seems to waiver between presenting him as a bumbling fool or as an intellegent military officer.

Fortunately the second half-hour begins to pick up the pieces with political conspiracies and a dramatic attempt to escape the island - from then onwards the script moves up a gear with some impressive set pieces so that by the final 30 minutes the film has built up dramatic tension and real excitement with a fitting climax and conclusion. While characterisation remains relatively poor (and we never do find out much about the rebels) it works enough to make us care about the characters. The only poor point is a rather generic explanation for why our hero is spared from death by the villains (a cliché of most adventure films) when the script itself offers many possibilities (being an Athenian he could be a valuable bargaining tool or source of information for their designs on the Greek forces).

Director Sergio Leone, in his first credited directoral role here, would become famous for revolutionising the Western - we don't get anything too revolutionary here but there is some solid direction throughout, particularly with the hard job of shooting the Colossus via a mix of models and full size body parts for close-ups - and not a blue-screen shot in sight, although a couple of obviously stock shots do stand out elsewhere in the film. The Colossus itself is based on the mythical invention rather than the more prosaic modern ideas about the statue (most of which place it on a hill overlooking the harbour). Leone is certainly aided by one of the most impressive production budgets of all the Pepla, providing an enourmous cast and some really large and good looking sets. Genre regular Angelo Francesco Lavagnino provides a generic but well suited score.

Rory Calhoun is rather odd casting in the lead role (he was forced to step in at the last minute) and his rather slick American appearance makes him seem rather out of place in many scenes - however this seems appropriate for a man who is a stranger to Rhodes. Calhoun certainly gives a decent performance, particularly in the latter half when the script improves, although he is never perfect. The beautiful arthouse star Lea Massari (Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960)) plays the seductive female lead while French actor Georges Marchal (Luis Buñuel's La Mort en ce jardin (1956)) is the head of the rebels. There are a number of familiar faces including Roberto Camardiel (Django... Kill (1967)) as a suspiciously Irish looking King Serse, Peplum regular Mimmo Palmara (Hercules (1958)) with babyfaced Ángel Aranda (Terrore nello spazio (1965)) as rebels and George Rigaud (Horror Express (1973)) as Dario's friend.

A slow start and generally over-long runtime from the script is made up for by some solid direction throughout and some real spectacle that makes this one of most visually impressive Pepla. Fans of the genre will certainly want to check this one out and it makes a great starting place for newcomers to Italian sword and sandal. Sergio Leone buffs will want to see this one, just don't expect anything as revolutionary as his Western work. Generally recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Rory Calhoun - an American actor best known for starring alongside Marilyn Munroe in River of No Return
Directed by anyone interesting? Sergio Leone - the legendary Italian director behind Fistful of Dollars (1964) and The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966). He had worked on several earlier Pepla including The Last Days of Pompeii (1959).
Any gore or violence ? Some occasional blood and a surprisingly violent torture sequence.
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? Certainly recommended to Pepla and Sergio Leone fans, of general interest.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is strong with good colours and detail, although the grain is very heavy.
Note: a few of the nighttime scenes appear to be missing tinting leading to some continuity problems, although this might date from the original print.
Audio English mono - sounds good.
Subtitles English, English HOH, French
Extras The disc includes:
  • An audio commentary from Sergio Leone biographer Christopher Frayling, full of interesting detail and not too monotonous.
  • Original US theatrical trailer.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Also available on DVD from France and Italy (with no English options).
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut as per the English language release. The print used is English language.
Note: The Italian version of the film runs about 10 minutes longer.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 19th January 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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