On Blu-ray: Rory Calhoun Rocks a Toga in The Colossus of Rhodes (1961)

Before Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone made his name with spaghetti westerns, he began his career taking a stab at the sword and sandal genre with The Colossus of Rhodes. It is astonishing that the director’s first credited directing job is an epic-sized production like this one. While he did have some uncredited work covering directing duties on a couple of productions before winning this plum assignment it is an impressive work of genre filmmaking for a director still learning the ropes. The film has now been released on Blu-ray by Warner Archive.

The Colossus of Rhodes is the kind of movie with large crowd scenes, grand set pieces, orgies, betrayal, and slaves who are forced to taste suspicious goblets of wine before they stagger two steps and collapse in the middle of the dancing girls. I suspect I dug it partly because I was in the prime mood for it: drinking a beer, eating take-out and slightly logy from a warm summer day.

The film’s basis is the true story of a massive statue of the Greek sun god Helios (Apollo in the film) that was erected in the harbor of the Island of Rhodes. It follows Darios (Rory Calhoun) a military hero visiting his uncle in Rhodes. There he becomes involved in various plots to bring down Serse, the evil king.

Though packed full of all the earthquakes, battles and coliseum scenes the genre has to offer, Colossus can move a little slow, and ultimately, it goes on for too long. It looks good, but the action never really cooks. Still, it has well-crafted grandeur, beautiful people, hedonism, and the unmatchable Rory Calhoun in a shorty toga, with his twinkly eyes and fluffy forelock.

The deadly Colossus itself is a great prop, clever and horrific. It straddles the entrance to the harbor, and men inside open a trap door and pour flaming oil upon any vessel that passes between its spread legs. True to the cinematic spirit, the statue is shown to be about three times the height of the actual structure, which now only survives in historical renderings.

The Warner Archive disc includes a commentary by film historian Christopher Frayling. Image and sound are good, with the varied soundtrack by Francesco Angelo Lavagnino coming off especially well.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Book Review--Leonard Maltin's Hooked on Hollywood: Discoveries from a Lifetime of Film Fandom

Hooked on Hollywood: Discoveries from a Lifetime of Film Fandom
Leonard Maltin
Good Knight Books, 2018

Before the movie guidebooks, television review gig, and thriving podcast, film critic Leonard Maltin was a teenage cinema fanatic living in New York City. There he had access to archives, rare film screenings, and some of the best performers and creators in the business. He made the most of these connections, writing thoughtful reviews of what he saw, putting in diligent research, and coming to interviews with a wealth of knowledge about and respect for his subjects. Now a great treasure trove of this early work is compiled for the first time in Maltin’s latest: Hooked on Hollywood.

The book is organized into four parts: a collection of essays about film and television, Maltin’s early interviews, a collection of more in-depth later interviews, and a final section which is a fascinating history of RKO studio. Much of the material collected here has been in storage for over forty years, and is as remarkable for the pre-VHS time it captures as much for Maltin’s already well-developed critical and interviewing skills.

Maltin draws honest, candid comments from stars like Burgess Meredith, Joan Blondell and Henry Wilcoxon, who perhaps let their guard down a bit in the presence of this curious and unusually knowledgeable young man. He draws an even more interesting perspective from those in the industry who were not superstars, and thus had the advantage of a perspective out of the spotlight. The conversations with prolific radio, stage, television and film performer Peggy Webber and television and film director Leslie H. Martinson are two of the best, revealing the experiences of a pair of industry legends who are not household names, but have contributed a lot and have a knack for telling a good story.

I enjoyed the earnest tone and thorough research of Maltin’s early writings, but it was the interviews that moved me the most. In his respectful, even reverential treatment of these people who for the most part had been forgotten by the public, or at the very least undervalued, he reminded me a lot of the gentlemanly way Robert Osborne would celebrate industry greats. As much as I have seen Maltin as a promoter and lover of all aspects of film history, I hadn’t seen this side of him before. It wasn’t surprising, but it was a pleasant revelation.

This was an enjoyable, educational read and one I plan to revisit.

Many thanks to Good Knight Books/Paladin Communications for providing a copy of the book for review.

Quote: Joe Dante on Movies

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For any movie, it means what you make it mean….Movies are Rorshach tests. There is what you mean when you make them and then there’s also what people get out of them. And sometimes those two things are not always the same.

-Joe Dante

On DVD: Bebe Daniels Charms in My Past (1931)

With a title like My Past and that cover art with Bebe Daniels giving a “seen all, done all” look, I expected a different film than I got. It is pre-code in tone and deed, but more subdued about it: racy, but not saucy. What I liked best about this film now available on DVD from Warner Archive, is that I found a new appreciation for the charming Daniels.

The plot is familiar: a gorgeous showgirl (Daniels) is loved by a wealthy older man (Lewis Stone), but she’s got the hots for his younger, unhappily married friend (Ben Lyons). It’s all just a framework for beautiful costumes and settings, and reliably appealing performers like Stone, Lyons and the always marvelous Joan Blondell as Daniels’ best friend.

There are some typically pre-code sleeping arrangements and flexible ideas about marriage, but the thing that makes it pop is the chemistry between Daniels and Lyons, who were married from 1930 to her death in 1971. This isn’t a screen partnership with a Bogie and Bacall sizzle, but there’s a warmth between them that elevates the familiar material. It’s pleasant to see them at play together. You feel the affection.

My introduction to Bebe Daniels, as with many classic film fans, was as the distraught musical star Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street (1933). Though she is technically the star of that production, it is Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell who people remember. I now realize this sour, if not entirely unsympathetic character was not the best way to get to know her, much like seeing Norma Shearer for the first time in The Women (1939) is not a great introduction to her persona.

By the time of My Past, Daniels had been in films for over twenty years. She came from a theatrical family and had been before the camera since her silent short debut as a child. Though she faltered a bit at the start of the talkie age because she’d become associated with the overdone musical fad, Warner Bros saw her potential and picked her up for a great run in the 1930s. This film was the start of that period, which also included starring roles in Counselor-at-Law (1933) and in the first screen version of The Maltese Falcon (1931) (in an amusing scene in My Past, she cheekily signs a copy of Dashiell Hammett’s source novel).

Here, for the first time, I finally appreciated what made Daniels appealing to audiences. She’s got the beauty and glamour of a movie star, but there’s always a part of her that feels relatable in a deeply humane way. It’s not the gal pal warmth of Blondell or the weary shopgirl earthiness of early Joan Crawford, but rather an air of truly taking things to heart. It was satisfying to see her take center stage, where her appeal could be fully appreciated.

While this isn’t a remarkable production, it offers many low-key pleasures and will especially satisfy pre-code fans.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Quote of the Week: About Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens

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The critics were apoplectic. They seemed to feel that Little Edie, in particular, was just crazy, and therefore wasn’t capable of giving informed consent for the filming. I totally disbelieve that: Edie managed her life just fine after her mother died. She was eccentric, certainly, but not crazy.

-Muffie Meyer, about Grey Gardens (1975)

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