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:


5 thoughts on “SONS OF THUNDER

  1. tim ed kenneally says:

    howdy mr. hughes, just saw “gold for the caesars” last month. i’ve been collecting jeffrey hunter films lately and a friend traded me a copy of it. really liked it and jeff was excellant as always. of the five you talk about never seen the tartars or the slave. just got in a 16 film set called “clash of the olympians”. really liked giant of marathon and giants of rome but turned off hercules and the masked riders. cheers, have fun, tim ed kenneally reno, nevada

  2. Hi Tim,
    That’s the only one of the five I haven’t seen. What did you think of ‘Gold’? There’s preview clips of all the Warner Archive titles on YouTube. ‘Gold for the Caesars’ looks great quality and ‘The Slave’ is 2.35:1 widescreen. I’ve only seen this one in a fullscreen English language version (with Greek subs) and widescreen in Italian so am looking forward to this. ‘Damon and Pythias’ has been shown over here on TV, in fullscreen (by TCM) and is in those Mill Creek boxed sets (in a very faded ‘sepia’ print). ‘The Tartars’ I have seen is also off tv. That ‘Clash of the Olympians’ set is an abridged version of the ‘Warriors 50 movie boxed set’. The best of these sets is the ‘Adventures of Hercules’ set I mentioned in another post. Its films are panned-and-scanned, but good video and sound quality, plus they are good examples of the genre. Also worth getting is the ‘Goliath contro i giganti’ disk from RHV in Italy – 2.35:1 and English language audio track. Great cinematography and partly filmed in Almeria.
    Best regards,

    • tim ed kenneally says:

      hi howard, yes, “gold” is good and love that mylene demongeot. i always think of her as a poor-girl’s brigitte bardot. actually is better looking. jeff elevates this peplum with his performance and the story is better than most. i really can’t watch many sword and sandal before going a little bonkers. just got in your boy kinski in a weird horror film called “the hand that feeds death” i trade alot with folks all across america; too bad you’re in england with that dreaded PAL format. cheers,tim

      • Thanks Tim,
        Mylene’s very good in ‘The Singer Not the Song’ and ‘Giant of Marathon’ and she reminds me of Bardot too. Watched Hunter in ‘The Searchers’ last week, his best performance I think. And as his looks (and fame) began to fade, he’s very good in the spaghetti western ‘Find a Place to Die’, as a washed-up deserter hiding out in a bottle in a dangerous border town.

      • tim ed kenneally says:

        hi howard, “the singer not the song” is the first film i saw with mylene and fell hopelessly in love with her at a tender age. it is my favorite film as a kid and always remember that scene where john mills is praying with dirk bogarde in the middle of a gun battle. being catholic it meant so much to me and still to this day say that “special” prayer every night before going beddy-bye bye. “searchers” is a great film and not because of big ol’ duke wayne. everybody always talks about his performance and forgets jeff’s. jeff was the one who saved the girl and blew away scar while big ol’ duke is hee-hawing around. jeff gave us his best work for sure but there are many others. sailor of the king, no man is an island, hell to eternity are just some of them. jeff, like so many others, took long pulls from the whisky bootle until one day the bottle began to pull him in. i’ll always miss him, henry or hank mckinnies (jeff hunter). best regards,tim ed kenneally

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