More Than Meets The Mogwai

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Roots of Leone: THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES (Sergio Leone, 1961)

Leone’s first solo directorial work (apart from assistant duties and second-unit chores) is a wishy-washy medley of the usual trotted-out peplum staples and must-haves, including the ubiquitous glistening beefcake, dark Roman beauties (Lea Massari, the missing girl in L’AVVENTURA and the incestuously-focused ma mère of Malle’s MURMUR OF THE HEART), and half-whispered political alliances with ensuing Coup d'états (over an erected behemoth harbor statue, also the picture’s most worthwhile set, with some critics [including tireless Leone scholar Christopher Frayling] equivocating it with the use of the Statue of Liberty in SABOTEUR and Mount Rushmore in NORTH BY NORTHWEST).

What makes this film feel so nakedly deficient and downright uninteresting is that there’s not an over-emphatic, operatic score by Leone’s former school chum/future vital collaborator Ennio Morricone (the chores are handled by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino here, who does an adequate, if forgettable, job). Rory Calhoun’s also a questionable lead to bolster the heroic strains of a Roman epic, what with his ‘50s greaser swagger, although his deep-set eyes align him with Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and a host of others in the annals of Leone’s cinema that share similar remote, unremitting peepers. The ultra-“beeg” synonymous-with-Leone close-ups are nowhere to be seen, with the newly minted director favoring long shots to get the most bang out of his buck for the gold-colored sets and medium two-shots for the protracted dialogue scenes.

Still, a must-see for dogged completists, as it can actually be quite captivating once Calhoun enters the fray of a band of upstart rebels looking to overthrow the domineering, current in-command King; he somehow remains a fervent supporter of their cause while keeping his objective, outsider perspective (traits not out of place within Eastwood's Man With No Name).

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