Cult Camp Classics 4 – Historical Epics – DVD Review

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The Colossus of Rhodes
Sergio Leone

Rory Calhoun….Darios
Lea Massari…Diala
Georges Marchal….Peliocles
Conrado San Martin….Thar

Warner Home Video presents The Colossus of Rhodes. Screenplay by Sergio Leone and seven other people. Running time: 128 minutes. Unrated. Theatrical release: November, 1961.

Land of the Pharaohs
Howard Hawks

Jack Hawkins….Pharaoh Cheops
Joan Collins….Princess Nellifer
Dewey Martin….Senta
Alexis Minotis….Hamar
Luisa Boni….Kyra

Warner Home Video presents Land of the Pharaohs. Screenplay by Harold Jack Bloom, William Faulkner & Harry Kurnitz. Running time: 104 minutes. Unrated. Theatrical release: June 24, 1955.

The Prodigal
Richard Thorpe

Lana Turner….Samarra
Edmund Purdom….Micah
Louis Calhern….Nahreeb
Audrey Dalton….Ruth
James Mitchell….Asham
Neville Brand….Rhakim

Warner Home Video presents The Prodigal. Screenplay by Maurice Zimm. Running time: 112 minutes. Unrated. Theatrical release: May 13, 1955.
Warner Home Video presents Cult Camp Classic 4 – Historical Epics. Three movies on 3 DVDs. DVD release: June 26, 2007.

Behold the glory of a cast of thousands captured in Supertotalscope! This trio of films reminds us of that era when movie studios wanted to outdo the menace of television by providing audiences with huge colorful screens filled with epic tales. You couldn’t squeeze these films onto the tiny black and white TV sets. These three films aren’t easily squeezed into the genre of Sword and Sandals. Those mainly dealt with body builders playing Hercules dicing up various ancient armies with their Ginzu knives. In this boxset we get the stories behind two of the Great Wonders of the World and a Bible story illustrated.

The Colossus of Rhodes will be the reason why a lot of film fanatics want this set. This was the first movie that Sergio Leone received a screen credit as the director. He had taken over the director’s chair for a few productions, but was never given the glory. While Colossus did well in the theaters, Leone received worldwide acclaim with his next directing credit on A Fist Full of Dollars. The two films have leads played by American cowboy actors. But instead of Clint Eastwood, Colossus stars Rory Calhoun. You might have heard his name mention by Mr. Burns on The Simpsons. The plot of the film is all over the place. The basic thing is the Colossus of Rhodes is a giant statue of Apollo. Instead of merely being tourist trap like the Statue of Liberty, the locals use it as high ground to get aim at any naval attacks. The movie is filled with a revolution, an invasion, gladiator action, plate spinning and Rory getting busy with a local gal. This is a chaotic mess. For those hoping to the birth of Leone as an auteur, this isn’t it. He did a better job than a lot of the Italian sandal epics of that time. But it’s hard to watch Rory racing across the screen and think the man behind the camera would become a directing icon as the father of the Spaghetti Western.

Land of the Pharaohs features Howard Hawks, director of Scarface and the legendary writer William Faulkner teaming up for an Egyptian epic. You’d expect a lurid and violent tale on the Nile River, but we’re treated to a movie that plays best as illustrative footage for the History Channel’s How’d They Build the Pyramids?. After doing comedies with Marilyn Monroe in the cast, Hawks decided to play with giant train set. What could be bigger than filming the Great Pyramid under construction? He trekked to Egypt to shoot on location and made use of the soundstages of Rome. His fellow Hollywood directing icon would strike oil in the Middle East. Cecil B. DeMille had a Biblical blockbuster with The Ten Commandments and William Wyler whipped a hit with Ben-Hur. Hawks returned from the Middle East with a dud. There are so many bad moves in this film. Wyler and DeMille had the advantage of Charlton Heston in the lead. He knew how to act like a Bible hero. He could share the screen with God. Neither Jack Hawkins as the Pharaoh or James Robertson Justice as the architect of the pyramid have the screen presence to play against the towering scenery. It also hurts that Pharaohs lacks any great action scenes. There’s no major battles or chariot races. The sword fight towards the end lacks gusto. This movie is all about building the secret passages inside the pyramid. This is Extreme Makeover: Ancient Egyptian Edition. The big action is watching the place seal up at the end. There is one truly memorable moment when Joan Collins is flogged as part of her education. Joan does look good in the role of the jealous princess. The film lacks the umph to be a rousing theatrical experience. Hawks should have flogged Joan a few more times to pick up the pace.

The Prodigal has Hollywood adapt the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke’s Gospel to the silver screen. Leave it to the movies to convert a Bible passage that is a few paragraphs long into a two hour spectacular. They used the same process when adapting Dr. Seuss books to the screenplays. Instead of merely padding out the story, the Hollywood rewriters twisted the tale so it was no longer about a greedy brother who burns through his inheritance before his father is close to being dead. In this version the Prodigal Son runs off to the big city with dad’s cash. He hooks up with a religious cult that worships a bull god and a sexy goddess. The son isn’t attracted to the cult or its religious message. He refuses to convert. Why does he linger around the pagan temple? Because he’s got the hots for the high priestess played by Lana Turner. She’s got fierce powers over men. During one ceremony, she has a worshipper take a Greg Louganis-worthy dive into a pit of fire to appease her god. The Prodigal Son burns his inheritance to buy her expensive gifts. He even takes out a short term loan in to pick up an expensive pearl. Unfortunately he defaults on the loan and there’s a major penalty. There’s a lot of action in the flick. A villa is set on fire. The slaves revolt. The film features the greatest prolonged battle between a man and a vulture. Neville Brand (Al Capone on The Untouchables series) steals the show as the heavy in a huge bald wig. He’s whipping anyone that crosses his lash path. While director of The Prodigal doesn’t have the same status as Hawks and Leone in film history, Richard Thorpe would go on to helm the Elvis vehicles Jailhouse Rock and Fun in Acapulco.

The three films in this boxset range the spectrum of camp. The Colossus of Rhodes is a prime example of Italian filmmaking gone wild. Each of the eight screenwriters added their own plot. After a few minutes, you give up on the confusing story and watch the bare chested action. Land of the Pharaohs was supposed to be a noble project. But it lacked the spunk to be award winning intelligent spectacle. Hawks keeps his actors from chewing the scenery so there’s no overboard antics. The film is camp because it doesn’t succeed on so many levels. Although there is a flogging of Joan Collins to keep you entertained. The Prodigal is a prime example of proper camp. It tries to be from the heart, but it pushes too hard. You laugh at the antics on screen that are tossed in to keep the audience excited. I don’t recall the part in the Bible where the Prodigal Son beats up a vulture. That would have been cool if it was in there. The greatest thrill from watching these historical epics is that there’s nothing educational about these films.

The Prodigal and Land of the Pharaohs are 2.55:1 anamorphic. The Colossus of Rhodes is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The colors look great. The prints have been cleaned up, but there’s still smutz on the frame. Nothing looks too nasty to ruin the epic views.

The soundtrack for The Colossus of Rhodes is Dolby Digital Mono. The other two films are Dolby Digital 2.0. The levels are good, but you might crank it up to get the full effect of the kettle drums in the score. The Colossus of Rhodes has a commentary by Christopher Frayling, a biographer of Sergio Leone. He’s really relaxed as he gives plenty of background stories about the director and the production. There’s a great story about how the backers of the film kept thinking the Colossus of Rhodes was going to be played by an American bodybuilder. They thought it was a character like Hercules instead of a statue. Land of the Pharaohs has a commentary track with Peter Bogdanovich (Last Picture Show). He supplements his own talk with tapes from his interviews with Howard Hawks. There’s a great conversation where Hawks praises how Cecil B. DeMille made his mega-films. Hawks explains the themes he wanted to explore in the film. The Prodigal features a commentary from Dr. Drew Casper, a USC film school professor. He’s very academic in his talk as he reads from an essay. There might be an exam at the end of his commentary. All the movies feature subtitles in English and French.

The original trailers for the three films. Land of the Pharaohs (4:18) and The Prodigal (4:02) have truly epic previews that last as long as the film. The Colossus of Rhodes (2:26) gives all the action without much of the confusion.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Cult Camp Classic 4 – Historical Epics
(OUT OF 10)






The Inside Pulse
Having picked through the other three volumes of the series, Historical Epics is the most entertaining of the bunch. I’d imagined Volume 1 – Sci-Fi Thrillers being the gem with Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, Giant Behemoth and Queen of Outer Space. But those are films best scene in clips. What Sci-Fi trio lacked in budget, they didn’t even come close to making up in creativity. Their iconic posters did the heavy work. Historical Epics boxset contains more thrills per title. The Prodigal has everything you want in a camp film including human sacrifice and vulture fighting.