#7 in my ranking of Sergio Leone’s films.
I think it’s obvious why Sergio Leone’s first credited feature directing credit gets ignored by most people. It contains none of his stylistic flourishes that he became known for, is removed from the Italianized version of America he liked to set his films in, and feels wildly generic. It feels like a film that any talent working in the Italian studio system in the early 60s could have tackled with identical results. It’s also boring and kind of just outright bad.
Set on the island city-state of Rhodes in the post-Alexander period of Greek history, the film tells the fictionalized story of the state of Rhodes and its politics in the aftermath of the erecting of the titular statue. Standing astride the entrance to the harbor, the Colossus is three hundred feet high, hollow, and a defense system designed to pour burning oil out of the large bowl it holds in its hands. It’s an impressive feat of engineering, but it masks the oppressive nature of King Serse’s (Roberto Camardiel) reign which is fomenting revolt in the underground.
Into this walks the Grecian hero Darios (Rory Calhoun), famous for martial feats, come to Rhodes to visit his uncle. The single largest problem with this film’s story begins and ends with Darios. He is completely unconcerned with the central conflict for about two-thirds of the film. He outright wants nothing to do with it, and he eventually gets involved for unclear reasons. The path to that involvement is the evidence of the film’s long screenwriting process that left the film with four credited screenwriters and a rumored five others who had made their own contributions. This movie moves in fits and starts as Darios settles into Rhodes, tries to get close to Diala (Lea Massari), daughter of the Colossus’ architect, and this is supposed to be a central relationship.
She leads him into the catacombs, traps him there, and that’s about it. She disappears until Darios decides to leave Rhodes for home, and they get one quick scene where he shows that he’s not too sore at the prank she played on him. That’s about all we have for this pair until the end of the movie when things like double crosses and reveals begin happening. The other major thing going on is that the resistance, led by Peliocles (Georges Marchal), wants to recruit Darios to help fight King Serse, but, as I wrote earlier, Darios wants nothing to do with it. We get a slightly entertaining little scene where Darios fights off three resistance fighters who want to take him away to talk while Darios’ uncle lays in bed with ear plugs to keep him free from thunder while he sleeps.
This would honestly be enough to fill a two-hour film, if done right, but the movie decides to throw an extra curve ball by having Serse’s right hand man, Thar (Conrado San Martin), scheming with Phoenicia to secretly import an army to overthrow Serse. This muddies things up a fair bit. The first time this plot became evident, I wondered if the resistance and Thar were on the same side (using the resistance to kill Serse would have been a good idea for Thar that didn’t open him up to potential client state status with a foreign power he relied on for his troops, but whatever). There are several different ideas running around this movie, and our entry point into the story, Darios, doesn’t care about any of it while his central relationship with Diala is spare and unconvincing at best.
Of course, all the action moves towards the Colossus to end the film, and it’s largely competent stuff just not really involving. Darios decides to get involved too late. There’s a love triangle that comes out of nowhere. There’s a death that’s filmed like it’s of great emotional import, but it falls completely flat.
The physical production is largely impressive with large sets both indoor and outdoor while Leone pulls the camera back to allow for a wide view of things and a lot of detail to sink in. There are matte paintings, and the Colossus itself is often quite impressive, especially when a fight breaks out on its shoulders and it’s obvious that those on the statue are on a very large prop. That doesn’t always last, though, for there are also shots where the model is obviously only about six inches tall because of the nature of the flame its holding. It’d kind of adorable, but not the kind of feeling you want in the middle of the film’s action climax.
This film was a chore to sit through. This was Leone taking a studio job for his first credited film as director (he finished The Last Days of Pompeii uncredited) to advance his career. The screenplay he inherited and worked on was a mess, and he seems to have done it no favors at that stage. He filmed the movie competently with an eye to the physical elements in the absence of anything terribly compelling on the storytelling front, but it simply wasn’t enough to save a fatally flawed film.