Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Peplum trio: Pompeii, Marathon, Caesars

A timely look at the 1959 Steve Reeves' THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, just as a new POMPEII hits the weekend screens and from what I saw of it on tv, its a laughably unreal GCI schlockfest which looked totally created in the special effects suite. What one needs from a peplum or biblical or any costume epic is a sense that it is "real" - we want to see real buildings collapsing and all that carnage. There are a few Pompeii movies around now (and Robert Harris's great novel too of course). Steve's one does not disgrace itself, as he and Christine Kaufmann lead the cast, with Fernando Rey as the evil one with that Egyptian sect. When the volcano goes up there's lots of fireworks and general mayhem with people running all over the place as they too head for the sea, after Steve saving Christine and her blind sister from the lions in the arena ... Steve is terrific here and is everything a peplum hero should be. Set in the shadows of Mt. Vesuvius just before its famous eruption, the film begins with Glaucus, a Roman legionnaire, returning to his home from far-off wars. Upon arriving, however, he discovers that his father has been murdered by a gang of black-hooded looting bandits. Glaucus vows revenge against the killers, but just how high up are those involved? In all, quite good from that great era for peplums. Sergio Leone had a hand in this one.

GIANT OF MARATHON - Maybe the best peplum of all? Directed in 1959 by Jacques Tourneur with an uncredited Mario Bava, this looks good with terrific underwater sequences as Steve and his pals in those skimpy white briefs do their best to halt the advance of the Persians. We leared about the battle of Marathon at college, it looks pretty effective here, particularly when Mylene Demongeot as Andromeda is chained to the prow of the advancing ship with those pincer claws, as Phillipides (Reeves) comes to the rescue. 
Singer Sergio Fantoni is the hissable villain, and Daniela Rocca scores as Karis, the good time girl who sacrifices all. The Persian army is invading Greece as Steve leads the defending army including those underwater sequences with terrific special effects. Almost as good then as those Belinda Lee favourites APHRODITE (LA VENERE DI CHERONEA) 1957 and MESSALINA.

GOLD FOR THE CAESARS. Mylene Demongeot features again here, with an older Jeffrey Hunter, in 1963. A slave architect in Gaul is ordered by a Roman governor to lead an expedition, constantly under danger of attack by Celtic warriors, to the Valley of the Sil to find much-needed gold for Rome. Jeff is Lacer and Mylene Penelope, with Ron Randall - who was with Jeff in KING OF KINGS, and with Ettore Manni and Massimo Girotti as the gold-mad would-be emperor-in-waiting. 
Exciting from the start as Jeff saves that bridge under construction as the Gauls wait to attack ... Made at the height of the sword-and-sandal era its a better than average peplum with a good cast and battle scenes. Jeff shows an impressive pair of legs in those mini-togas and Mylene is the perfect peplum heroine. I had dismissed her initially as a Bardot clone, but she in fact has had a longer and better career and is still working.I remember seeing her initially in FAIBLES FEMMES a French comedy and an early Alain Delon film, and she tried to come between Dirk Bogarde and John Mills in trash favourite THE SINGER NOT THE SONG. She was also effective in that 1957 WITCHES OF SALEM and BONJOUR TRISTESSE .... and in LA NOTTE BRAVA among others.

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