Monday, February 4, 2013

REVIEW: The Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus of Rhodes
Director: Sergio Leone
Year 1961

The Colossus of Rhodes is an outstanding Peplum film, which fictitiously imagines the fall of Rhodes in a twisting tale of betrayal, bedlam, and complete spectacle. Directed by the iconic Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone, this impressive sword and sandals production revels in its breathtaking locations and grandiose sets, as it vividly depicts its larger than life narrative in the most boldest and entertaining of ways. With the film's lofty air of adventure and its tremendously spirited portrayal, The Colossus of Rhodes is a fun-filled epic which proudly boasts its heroic heart on its sleeve.

The film follows a Greek war hero by the name of Darios as he goes on holiday in Rhodes to visit his uncle in the year 280 BC. Once there, he learns that the peaceful island of Rhodes is anything but peaceful, as he quickly finds himself smack dab in the middle of a rebellion where both Rhodian slave patriots and usurping Phoenician agents vie to overthrow King Serse from his lofty and mismanaged thrown. Accused with sympathizing with the Rhodian rebellion, Darios is relentlessly hunted by the powers that be, forcing him to officially side with the rebels and help restore their corrupt city amidst a cataclysmic earthquake which threatens to consume both sides.

Rory Calhoun takes on the role of Darios, the Greek military hero who’s quiet vacation suddenly takes a turn for the worse. What I find especially interesting about the character of Darios, is that as the film progresses along, he begins transforming into what I can only describe as being a precursor to the Eurospy agents of the mid 60's. He's brash, cocky, arrogant, sure-headed, and above all flirtatious to any woman with a pulse. Not only that but he has a moral code of honor that he lives by. This is Eurospy 101 here and Darios is the early prototype of what soon would be a Bond explosion on the genre scene. In The Colossus of Rhodes, Calhoun gives Darios a fun swagger that just lights up the screen and energizes the film, gifting the story a much needed sense of fun and adventure that I'm sure would be missing if they hadn't cast him in this essential part. Calhoun fights, lives, and loves as any hero should and his actions up on screen are wholly believable and rather impressive to behold.

As for the rest of the characters in this sprawling epic, there are indeed a handful that truly stand out from the pack. The two female love interests of Darios are depicted by two flesh and blood beauties, Lea Massari and Mabel Karr, and they do a remarkable job in keeping our main hero's interest. Massari takes on the role of the deceptive Diala, who bears a hidden agenda, while Karr plays the role of the virtuous rebel Mirte, who cares for nothing but the freedom of her people. The two make for a beautiful contrast and the interactions that they share between Calhoun's character are genuinely felt and intricately interlaced throughout the film's runtime. Another stand out would be Georges Marchal as Peliocles, the leader of the Rhodian rebels. The man imbues a sense of wisdom and strength, and his heartfelt portrayal of an underdog leader up against a more than overwhelming foe, was much appreciated and respected by myself.

Spectacle is the name of the game with The Colossus of Rhodes and nothing could visually summarize that notion up more succinctly then the depiction of the film's title behemoth, the Colossus. Guarding the harbor and towering over all that enter, this monumental statue of Apollo is a sight to behold and the filmmakers did a tremendous job in replicating the sheer awe of this man-made wonder. I also found it intriguing that the enormous monument was not only made to impress and intimidate, but it was also used as a weapon in the film. Not only was the presence of the Colossus statue a visual asset for the film, but the filmmakers also made it a device of power for anyone who possessed it, giving the film a great power struggle angle that is central and inherent to the movie's theme.

As for the execution of the statue of Apollo and all the other visual wonders in this film, the makers behind this movie do them justice. The epic nature of the story can be felt throughout every aspect of the film, thanks to the elaborate sets and locations. The coastal venues are especially breathtaking as we are able to see the full breadth of this captivating island province and its awe-inspiring landscapes, both man-made and otherwise. Like all good Peplum films, the interior sets, consisting of the temple location and the various living quarters of the characters, are ambitiously created and elaborately decadent, making for some scenes that are just truly beautiful to look at. With the addition of Sergio Leone's exquisite eye for visually pleasing compositions and scale, this production aims for the stars. With its robust action and appealing imagery, you really can't go wrong with this gem of a flick.

The Colossus of Rhodes is an underrated Peplum film that has sadly been lost with the passing of time, doomed to obscurity, and long forgotten. With its ample production value and epic scale, it boggles the mind that such a diamond in the rough can fade from cinematic memory and be labeled as simply “gladiator” fluff or pure unadulterated “camp”. Being one of Sergio Leone's earliest credited works, you can see the skill that the director possessed as he made such an intimidating and sprawling story, like the destruction of Rhodes, seem comprehensive, entertaining, and downright fun.

From the outstanding visuals to the intricate narrative, the film has a quality to it that really should be held in high admiration. The cast that fills the world of this magnificent sword and sandals production are stupendous in their own right, especially Rory Calhoun as the hero, Darios. With his witty delivery, physical prowess, and charismatic charm, he makes the film fantastically fun and endlessly entertaining. If you're new to the genre and want to dip your feet in the obscure waters of the Peplum phenomenon, then this would be the perfect first step. It has a grand scale, an accomplished presentation, and a wholly engaging story. What more could you ask for? The Colossus of Rhodes is.....

Let's get this party started!

How you doing?

Don't be downwind of Peliocles when he farts. Trust me.

Have you seen my mummy?

Oh Darios, you charmer you.

I think we all can agree that this is one kick ass model.

What a lovely torture room you have here.

Check out my posse.

Stop struggling or my friend here is going to give you a noogie.

Darios loves to hug a little too much. Note to self.... watch out for Darios.

Check this out Mean Gene! It's total pandemonium!

Strike a pose, there's nothing to it. Vogue!

Do you guys mind not fighting on my shoulders? Kind of annoying.

Was it something I said? Yes Darios... Yes it was!

Excuse me everyone! Has anyone seen my pants?


I see you!

Take a hint grandpa. Three's a crowd!

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