Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seven Wonders Of The Ancient World - The Colossus Of Rhodes As A Screen Hero

One of the 7 Wonders in Widescreen, December 11, 2007

This is one transfer to DVD that has been worth the effort. . . and worth the wait. Fortunately, there is still an audience for these Spanish-Italian spectaculars. After the many disappointing transfers of the sword-and-sandal genre -- such as ROME AGAINST ROME, THE TROJAN HORSE, the washed-out color of THE AVENGERS (THE LAST GLORY OF TROY) and the interesting but dismal print of FURY OF ACHILLES -- this is a welcome appearance on a big-screen TV. If only the experts who tackled this transfer would tackle some of the Italian epics, those of us who teach mythology, or just appreciate it for its own sake, would be happier.

We have no GOOD, BAD, AND UGLY score for this pre-spaghetti western effort by Sergio Leone, and we have none of the stylistic flourishes that became a Leone staple in his garlic-flavored shoot-'em-ups, but we do have another misplaced American actor in the grinning persona of Rory Calhoun, who is a long way from his RIVER OF NO RETURN. He seems to know he is out-of-place with his miniskirt and grinning "I'm so handsome so it doesn't matter" countenance; he doesn't even bother to change his hairstyle from the Fonz-fifties greaser look.

Why Leone didn't bother to do anything about his appearance as a Greek hero is a curiosity; perhaps his name in the credits was all he was after at the time. This was, after all, not EL CID or THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, and Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were undoubtedly not available to wear the toga fashion of 280BC. Some reviewers are looking for hints of the stylized Leone touch, as I was. Perhaps one can count the knife-throwing youth who might be a prototype of the deadly accurate Eastwood with a gun, able to gun down five men from a fence. After all, doesn't Eastwood's zarape resemble a toga? And you thought we were in the southwest with those two follow-ups to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.

Anyway, it is fortunate that this transfer was made with the anamorphic vistas clearly visible in sharp, crisp colors -- something that was not always apparent in these Italian epics, some of which appeared as though the prints had been processed at the local drugstore. Exceptions would be the two Hercules film starring British strongman Reg Park. HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD and HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (film in 70mm but relying, in one scene, upon music from 1950s USA sci-fi films) are available in crystal clear color versions on DVD. As clear as the images are in THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES, this DVD belongs on the collector's shelf with those two films.
The colossus itself invites comparisons with the metal creature of Talus in Harryhausen's superb effects epic JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, and the images of the Greek sea (filmed in Spain) remind one of the beautiful images of THE MAGUS. The second male lead in this film is the (bleach) blond-headed Georges Marchal, a veteran of such efforts as SIGN OF THE GLADIATOR. He bears a startling resemblance to American actor Tom Drake (MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and WARLOCK); only John Drew Barrymore is conspicuous by his absence.

So. . . no scenery chewing by Barrymore. . . and no muscle-flexing by Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott, Mark Forrest and the rest. . . but plenty of the usual intrigue until the deus ex machina of the earthquake (standing in for the volcanic eruption at the finale of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII and HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN) topples the colossus. If the film makes you run for your classical history texts, great. If you merely enjoy the brilliant colors and action on the widescreen, fine. This is well worth the price of a ticket to the ancient world.

Charles J. Garard is a PhD in literature and film now living in Ningbo, China, where he teaches literature and writing at the Ningbo Institute of Technology. He writes about films and mythology (such as his recent article about creatures in Indonesia published in a paranormal magazine) and works on his novels about time-travel, vampires, and mainstream topics.

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