Peplum · Sword-and-sandal films, a genre of Greco-Roman era costume adventure films, mostly made in Italy.
My introduction to the sword and sandals films came early on thanks to repeated television airings of Montana born, Steve Reeves, playing the title role in Hercules (1958) and the sequel Hercules Unchained(1959). Great entertainment for a pre-teen. Before Italy had actors of all nationalities strapping on six shooters for the Spaghetti western craze they had already unleashed a steady diet of action adventures with muscle bound heroes playing Hercules, Samson, Spartacus and other assorted historical heroes. Along with Reeves you’ll see the likes of Kirk Morris, Richard Harrison, Dan Vadis, Reg Park and Mark Forest flexing for the camera. The lure of money, tax shelters and maybe a trip abroad had well known actors also signing on for a toga fitting or in the case of some actresses, silky outfits with veils to compliment their eyes.
Which brings us to this latest gallery of posters and lobby cards. Let’s have a look at some of the names that can include a Peplum adventure on their dance card. Many of which may surprise you.
Before Reeves made a huge impact in his signature role, Anthony Quinn was teamed with a newcomer everyone was talking about, Sophia Loren, in 1954’s Attila.
I should think Kirk Douglas was the biggest star to sign on for just such a venture. In 1954 he headlined the Dino DeLaurentiis epic Ulysses.
The Queen of Technicolor becomes the Queen of Rome? Rhonda Fleming seems a perfect fit.
The legendary Jack Palance did more then just westerns. He starred in a number of Italian efforts including this 1961 adventure.
The Earth trembled when Victor Mature faced off against Orson Welles in this 1961 focus on swordplay.
At just 27 years of age, Debra Paget, was nearing an early retirement when she signed on to play the Daughter of Cleopatra.
Ex-Tarzan, Gordon Scott, was a natural to partake in the Duel of the Titans with the genre’s posterboy, Steve Reeves. Scott proved a good fit for the genre and headlined a number of sword adventures. Hero of Rome, Samson and the Seven Miracles and Goliath and the Rebel Slave among them.
Before he revolutionized the western, Sergio Leone, made his directorial debut guiding Rory Calhoun and Lea Massari on The Colossus of Rhodes (1961). Gives one pause to wonder if Rory’s name came up at all when Leone was trying to find an actor, any actor, to wear a poncho for him.
Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price signed on for a trip to Italy as well for Queen of the Nile. I can just see Dear Vincent hitting every antique shop hunting down art treasures within range of the location he was filming at over the course of the production.
While in between big scale productions Can-Can (1960) and The V.I.P.’s (1963), Louis Jourdan grabbed a toga to star in Amazons of Rome.
Jeffrey Hunter joined the fun in Gold For the Caesars.
I’ll bet you didn’t see this one coming. Donald O’Connor? Even Mario Bava had a hand in directing this one.
Bava also directed Cameron Mitchell in Erik the Conqueror.
Along comes Tab Hunter still hanging on to his acting career.
Palance was back with Anita Ekberg this time out in The Mongols.
Real life couple Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay got in on the act for 1960’s The Loves of Hercules.
Enlisting Christopher Lee is a must when Hercules journeys to the haunted world under Mario Bava’s direction.
Tell me this, do you think Broderick Crawford packed his Oscar in his suitcase when he made the toga trip to star as the heavy in Goliath and the Dragon?
From my experience collecting movies, I find the Peplum genre vastly underappreciated and many of the films needing to be restored. Far to many of them are available on cheap budget labels for the home video market while others are just plain hard to come by. It would be nice if one of these specialty labels like Arrow Video would restore many of the bigger titles with named actors as they’ve begun to do with both the spaghetti westerns and Kung Fu epics via the Shaw Brothers.
For more information on the genre I’d like to recommend Barry Atkinson’s detailed source book, Heroes Never Die : The Italian Peplum Phenomenon 1950-1967.
I’ll close as I usually do with something I’ve had tucked away here in my personal collection. Maybe not one of his finer moments but even Alan Ladd was enlisted for toga duty when he signed the contract to star in Duel of Champions. Filmed in 1961, this poster is from the North American release in 1964.