THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES: Blu-ray (MGM,Produzioni Atlas Consorziate, 1961) Warner Archive
In 280 BC, Chares of Lindos inaugurated a twelve-year architectural odyssey with one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – a spectacular 108-foot statue, forged of iron tie bars and brass plates melted down from various weaponry, and, affixed to a marble pedestal near the entrance to Mandraki harbor. This fabulous tribute to the Greek sun-god, Helios, would affectionately ever-after be known as the Colossus of Rhodes, and, owing to a cataclysmic earthquake in 226 BC, which toppled it into the sea, today remains as much a part of Hellenic mythology as Jason and the Argonauts. The real statue was meant to celebrate Rhodes’ victory over Cyprus’ Antigonus I Monophthalmus, whose son abortively blockaded the port city in 305 BC. And although much prized, as parts of it were recovered after the quake, it was never rebuilt. Let’s be real here…twelve years is a long time! And, as only artists’ renditions of the actual statue survive today, what once towered over Mandraki Harbor is really open to the imagination.
Were that director, Sergio Leone (on his first time out) had plied a bit more of such creative pixie-dust to his would-be faux epic, The Colossus of Rhodes (1961) and it might have been an exhilarating spectacle on par with 1959’s Ben-Hur; although, with all due respect to Leone, I do not believe this was ever his ambition. Any comparisons between these two movies is grotesquely prejudicial to the latter as a glowing exemplar of the Hollywood epic, and the aforementioned, as a thoroughly campy claptrap Leone wound up making. For kick starters, Ramiro Gómez’s production design forgoes historical fact. He even ignores the film’s own poster art, depicting the Colossus as a glistening bronze Adonis, outfitted with Roman sandals, armor and a centurion’s imperial galea.
The statue in the movie is instead – presumably - made of greyish iron; curly-haired, barefoot, bare-chested and bareheaded, wearing only a Greek-style skirt and headband. We could possibly forgive this oversight. But this Colossus is not even of Helios, but an Etruscan replica, in the kouros style, of Apollo – envisioned nearly three times the height of its historical counterpart and grasping a bowl at chest level with its elbows raised outward. Bearing no earthly resemblance to the past, this reincarnation, with muscular legs and bare feet straddling the harbor entrance, also contains interesting warrior-esque anomalies – a spiral staircase leading to a dungeon below or the head far above, with openings in the neck, eyes and ears large enough for a soldier in full regalia to pass through; the bowl, a burning altar; the head, possessing dodecagonal openings for catapults. Okay…so much for authenticity.
I suppose it is important to place The Colossus of Rhodes – the movie – in its proper context; caught in the mid-fifties to mid-sixties cycle and milieu of the sword n’ sandal quickie; a favorite of the Italians, importing American stars – or rather – ‘B’ (and often ‘C’) grade facsimiles, who never exactly ‘made it’ in Hollywood (though they appeared in movies state’s side, usually as supporting players or background filler). The most successful of these was bodybuilder, Steve Reeves, whose outings as another Greco-Roman goliath, Hercules, became wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a pity Leone could not get Reeves for this movie. He might have at least lent it the necessary beefcake status it sorely and otherwise lacks, despite most of the anemic men herein sporting some very skimpy battle attire. Shot on location, with interiors lensed at Cinecitta in Rome, The Colossus of Rhodes is a fairly tepid affair, made less effective by its threadbare conjoining dramatic bits, atrocious dub job, and a screenplay by (wait for it, and drum roll, please) Ennio De Concini, Sergio Leone, Cesare Seccia, Luciano Martino, Ageo Savioli, Luciano Chitarrini and Carlo Gualtieri. Whew! With all that…um…talent on tap, one might have expected The Colossus of Rhodes to emerge as one magnificent contribution to the genre. Alas, Leone – to achieve later renowned for his spaghetti westerns – has instead, herein, served up lugubrious linguine gumbo.
The production was already in trouble even before a single frame of film had been shot; original star, John Derek, wisely bowing out just as cameras were about to role. His replacement is bedroom-eyed B-grade western hero, Rory Calhoun, literally plucked from MGM’s Marco Polo (1962) on a day’s notice and thrust before the cameras where he rather clumsily took a tumble into a swimming pool on his first day’s shoot. Calhoun is decidedly not John Derek, the content of his character too sly and silly to be believed. Observing Calhoun in his stiffly draped toga (a pose to conceal tattoos) and polished white go-go boots (a real fashion faux pas), is to recognize not every actor can wear traditional garb and still come across as the epitome of testosterone-charged manliness. Calhoun is more of a hoot than hot. We’ll give him grace notes for having the temerity to step into a production sight unseen and at a second’s notice, while questioning precisely how bad he needed this pay check. Because his Darios is a deliciously out of whack modern fellow, looking more like the cowabunga Californian surfer/stud playing at a Greek sun god. Even so, his acting prowess, or lack thereof, is light years ahead of Lea Massari’s Diala – whose lock step approach to the viperous ‘bad girl’ has about as much appeal as Calhoun’s tapioca-flavored hero. It really is something of a pity too, because we know Massari as a far better actress. She proved it with her subtly nuanced portrait of the stymied sexpot in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura the year before.
Before proceeding, I suppose I should point out that I have never understood the ever-lasting appeal of ‘camp’. A bad movie is a bad movie – period. And The Colossus of Rhodes, despite Leone’s pedigree and being shot in Supertotalscope (the Italian knock-off of 2oth Century-Fox’s patented Cinemascope) is a rancid affair, fraught with historical inaccuracies that perhaps only a purist would notice, but nevertheless, speaks to the sort of Euro-trash expediency its executive producer, Michele Scaglione was likely counting upon, merely to capitalize on the then current trend in such popularized balderdash, still unabashedly professing to be gleaned from antiquity. The oversights range from the obscure (a bust of Roman statesman, Cicero, clearly visible in the background during a climactic kidnapping. Cicero was not born until 106 BC) to the weird politics evoked by the presence of Roberto Camardiel’s Serse – supposedly ‘the king’ when Rhodes was, in actuality, a republic at the time and, even in this movie, professes to be as much. Serse’s reception for the Ambassador of Phoenicia also makes reference to a unified Greece. Too bad the nation was little more than a series of not-altogether-harmoniously co-existing states; among them, Attika, Lakaidemon, the Akhaian League, the Aitolian League, Epiros, and, Makedon.
The Colossus of Rhodes opens with (what else?) an action sequence; rebels invading a Roman dungeon to liberate their brethren, setting ablaze the outer parameter of the encampment to discourage any centurion from following. After an uninspired main title sequence, set to Francesco Angelo Lavagnino’s forgettable underscore, we are introduced to the two leading men who are expected to carry the load for the remainder of the plot; the rigidly dull architecture of the Colossus – in plastic hanging miniature for long shots (built only full scale from the nipples up, to take advantage of the many warrior-like features concealed in its bust and brain), towering over Mandraki harbor, and the equally as wooden Greek military hero, Darios, newly arrived, on leave and visiting his uncle, Lissipu (George Rigaud). This massive feat of engineering is about to be inaugurated by King Serse, whose life is threatened by an avenging rebel loyal to Greece. This foiled coup is mere window-dressing for the romantic pas deux shortly to take place between Darios and Diala, the conniving daughter of the statue’s creator, Carete (Félix Fernández). Although we do not know it yet, Diala is loyal to the rebel revolt, headed by Peliocles (Georges Marchal) plotting Serse’s overthrow. Meanwhile, Serse’s brutal second-in-command, Thar (Conrado San Martín) is importing Phoenician soldiers into Rhodes, presumably as slaves, though actually, as loyalists to him, who will occupy the Colossus and thereby secure a safe passage for the approaching Phoenician fleet.
Discovering this plot, the rebels apply to the Greeks for help. Suspected of being a spy, Darios is forbidden to leave Rhodes, instead unwittingly serving as a message carrier. Alas, the rebels are intercepted in the harbor; Darios, convicted and sentenced to be executed along with the rest. Before the inevitable can occur, the remaining rebels break into the prison and free their brethren. Taken safely to Peliocles’ hideaway, it is decided the only way to prevent a full-scale invasion of Rhodes is to storm the Colossus and liberate the rebels already captured and toiling as slaves beneath its towering edifice. Alas, the release mechanism for the dungeons is located in the statue itself. As this reconnaissance is doomed without reinforcements, Darios foolishly tells Diala of Peliocles’ plan and she, power-hungry and devious, betrays him with Thar, who invades the hideaway and all but decimates the rebel alliance.
Mercifully, Mirte (Mabel Karr) and Koros (Ángel Aranda), Peliocles’ sister and brother, manage their escape. Taken captive and made to provide amusement in the arena, Peliocles and his men are on the cusp of a reprieve, thanks to Darios’ public exposure of the traitor's plot. Only Thar now executes his coup, murdering Serse and his retainers. The rebels counteract, but are outnumbered; Darios, once more taken prisoner as he tries to work the mechanism that will free the remaining rebels from the dungeons below the statue. Koros, is killed, forcing the rebels to retreat into the city in order to refortify their reserves. Meanwhile, Thar orders soldiers to kill Diala’s father, who does not wish to see his life’s work desecrated as an implement of war. Rhodes is besieged by an impromptu earthquake and ultra-violent storm at sea, even as the Phoenician fleet approach on the horizon. Fearing the tremors, Thar and his men flee the Colossus and are quickly dispatched by the rebels awaiting them in the city. Plagued with remorse, Diala liberates Darios from his chains, her one redemptive act before being struck and killed by more falling debris. The quake eventually topples the Colossus into the sea; a tragic end to this monument of Rhodes. In the wake of nature’s raw fury, Darios and Mirte rejoin Lissipu beyond the walls of the decimated city. Darios announces he will marry Mirte and devote his life to a free and peaceful Rhodes once more.
The Colossus of Rhodes is an uber-kitschy version of Hollywood’s more glamorously slated Bible-fiction epics of yore. Those anticipating an early miracle from Sergio Leone are undoubtedly going to be very disappointed; the picture’s only genuine similarity to Leone’s future masterworks, the truly horrendous dub job in which no actor’s lip sync is spared. There is virtually no weight to the drama, no lustful ballast to these love scenes, and very little to recommend the wall-to-wall action sequences that simply occur with perfunctory ennui, further complicated by Antonio L. Ballesteros’ lackluster cinematography. With so much lack of judgment – good, bad or indifferent – and taste – varying from bad to worse, The Colossus of Rhodes stretches its barely 2-hour run time into what seems like an interminable 4-hour clusterfuck of fanny-twitching tedium. It is a ‘colossus’ only if one chooses to regard its titanic waste of time, energies and talent (such as they are) on a big and bloated would-be spectacle that, quite simply, fails to enthrall. Badly done is badly done, and this one is very badly undone, indeed.
I can say almost as much about the Warner Archive’s new to Blu reincarnation of The Colossus of Rhodes. Honestly, I cannot understand why WAC continues to invest time and monies releasing twaddle like this in hi-def when there are so many bona fide classics in the queue still awaiting their 1080p debut. And let us discuss this transfer for a moment, shall we? Because The Colossus of Rhodes is pretty unsatisfactory on that score too. I suspect no fault can be ascribed WAC’s remastering efforts. The Supertotalscope production was always flawed. But herein, colors are wan, marginally faded and fairly dull to boot. The palette mostly favors a ruddy brown/beige; flesh tones, fairly clumpy and flat. There also appears to be some problematic hints of vinegar syndrome. At times, the image can appear very grainy with meager contrast; grain, not looking altogether indigenous to its source and minute hints of edge enhancement at play. The 2.0 DTS mono audio is limited and, again owing to its source, makes no attempt to achieve any sort of ambiance outside of the perfunctory ‘let’s just get on with it’ motivations of its mostly Italian production team. Overall, I was sorely unimpressed by this effort and sincerely do not hope it is the start of some more slapdash junk on the way from the Warner Archive. Please, no! Again, not sure how much time and/or money was spent deriving a new master for this release. I only know WAC could have saved and spent the cash allocated herein much more wisely elsewhere. Bottom line: nothing to see here, folks, except perhaps Sir Christopher Frayling’s audio commentary – ported over from the original ‘cult classics’ DVD release. Otherwise, pass – and be very glad that you did!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)