The Warner Archive burn-to-order collection continues to deliver long-forgotten classic movies to DVD. It has already released Antonio Margheriti’s Italian sci-fi cult movies, ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ and ‘War of the Planets’, Duccio Tessari’s crime thriller ‘The Cats’ which teams Giuliano Gemma and Klaus Kinski as brothers (Rita Heyworth plays the unholy duos mother!) and the desert-set heist movie ‘They Came to Rob Las Vegas’ starring Gary Lockwood, Elke Sommer, Jack Palance and Lee J. Cobb. August 30 sees five rare Italian sword and sandal ‘pepla’ being released, some in widescreen, for the first time. They include Sergio Corbucci’s ‘The Slave’, plus ‘The Tartars’, ‘Hercules, Samson and Ulysses’, ‘Damon and Pythias’ and ‘Gold for the Caesars’.
An in-name-only sequel to Kubrick’s ‘Spartacus’ (1960), Corbucci’s ‘The Slave’, aka ‘Son of Spartacus’, is the pick of the bunch. It’s 20 years since Spartacus’ uprising, the Third Servile War, and Marcus Licinius Crassus (Claudio Gora), Spartacus’ vanquisher, is now Consul of the African province of Iscia. Caesar is wary of slave trader Crassus, who is stockpiling gold and weapons to strike against Rome. Caesar sends Centurion Randus (Steve Reeves) and his Germanic scout Barros (Franco Balducci) to Zudma, Crassus’ capital, on a secret mission to investigate. Through his contact with ex-gladiator Gular (Enzo Fiermonte), now a rebel slave leader, Randus learns that he is the son of Spartacus, as identified by the Thracian amulet he wears around his neck. This big-budget production, photographed on location in Egypt (including the Pyramids and Sphinx), is Corbucci’s best peplum, before he made his name with spaghetti westerns such as ‘Django’ and ‘A Professional Gun’. It was photographed in Eastmancolor and Cinemascope by Enzo Barboni. Interiors were filmed at Titanus Studios in Rome and at Studi MISR Guizeh Le Caire in Cairo, and Piero Piccioni provided the moving score (also heard in ‘Duel of the Titans’/’Romulus and Remus’). Particularly memorable is the scene when Randus arrives in the sun-crumbled dune-buried ruins of ‘The City of the Sun’ and encounters Spartacus’ tomb. The supporting cast includes Jacques Sernas, Gianna Maria Canale, Ombretta Colli and Benito Stefanelli. Reeves’ stunt work was performed by his double, Giovanni Cianfriglia, who also has a small role as a soldier.
Curtis Bernhardt’s ‘Damon and Pythias’ (1962), set in 400 BC, told the story of Athenian Pythias (Don Burnett) who journeys to the city state of Syracuse to find Arcanos (Andrea Bosic), a teacher of the outlawed Philosophy of Pythagoras. There Damon is befriended and later duped by scallywag thief Damon (Guy Williams). The film’s best assets are its photography and city matte effects by Joseph Nathanson. The city sets were at Cinecittà, with location footage filmed in the cavernous Grotto Di Salone, a bridge spanning the Monte Gelato waterfalls, the valley at Tolfa, the towering cliffs at Gaeta and the seaside at Terracina. ‘The Tartars’ (1961), co-directed by Richard Thorpe and Ferdinando Baldi, is a shot-in-Yugoslavia epic starring a cult movie dream team of Orson Welles and Victor Mature. Set on the banks of the Volga in Russia, the film tells of battles between Vikings, led by Oleg the Brave (Mature) and the Tartar hordes, commanded by their Khan, Burundai (Welles). Folco Lulli, Bella Cortez, Liana Orfei and Luciano Marin fill out the interesting cast. Listen out for Welles’ rich tones, as he enunciates such quality dialogue as: ‘So the Viking wolf has ventured into the den of the Tartar bear’.
‘Hercules, Samson and Ulysses’ (1963) is directed by Pietro Francisci, who kick-started the peplum fad with ‘Hercules’ (1958) and ‘Hercules Unchained’ (1959). While chasing the Great Sea Monster, Hercules (Kirk Morris), Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico) and crew end up shipwrecked in Judea, where they are embroiled in the rebellion against the evil Palestinian ruler, the Seran (Aldo Giuffre, from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’), who is searching for his sworn enemy, Samson (Richard Lloyd). In a wonderful example of pepla’s attention to period detail, the Seran’s soldiers wear World War 2 German helmets. Though Steve Reeves doesn’t appear in this official sequel, other actors from the original ‘Hercules’ films do. King Laertes (Andrea Fantasia) still rules Ithaca, old Aesculapius (Walter Grant) also reappears and Hercules crew on his adventure includes Tifi, Castor and Pollux. The finale, shot at the beach and headland at Tor Caldara, has Hercules and Samson joining forces, jacking up the Temple of Dagon, which collapses and buries the Seran’s army (in the Bible story, Samson demolished the Temple of Dagon, killing himself and his enemies). Also released by the Warner Archive is ‘Gold for the Caesars (1964) directed by Andre De Toth and starring Jeffrey Hunter, Mylene Demongeot, Massimo Girotti and Ettore Manni, which I haven’t seen.
These pepla and many others are discussed in detail in my book, ‘Cinema Italiano: the Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’, out now from I.B. Tauris. It’s recently received another good review, this time from Dr, George Elliott Clarke, professor of English at the University of Toronto. To read his review visit: