The Colossus of Rhodes

April 18, 2010
Before he created the great Westerns he's known for, one of which is probably the greatest film of all-time, Sergio Leone was just an apprenticing filmmaker just like any beginner. With guidance from the directors of films like Ben-Hur and The Last Days of Pompeii, Leone was pressured into making a "swords-and-sandals" epic for his directorial debut. Financially, this was a pretty smart decision - this particular genre sold well in Italy, so even if the film came out with horrid reviews, a tidy profit could still be very attainable. On the other hand, this film's considered Leone's weakest as the film wasn't entirely under his creative control. Despite that fact, though, The Colossus of Rhodes remains a pretty entertaining Greek/Roman era flick.

The film follows Darios, a Greek military hero who's vacationing on the island of Rhodes while visiting his uncle. He's come at a very interesting time as well, as the great Colossus - a statue of the god Apollo - has just been finished and unveiled on the island. During the initial unveiling, however, it's revealed that Rhodes is going through a heated political crisis as its king, Serse, barely manages to survive an attempted assassination. Before long, passage to and from Rhodes is blocked and our hero, Darios, is swept into the political climate when the rebels enlist him into fighting the tyrannical king and his seedy consular, Thar.

I was actually thoroughly entertained by this film. Its characters/plot may have been forgettable, but these elements still made up a very likable experience. Darios, for instance, was a charming James Bond-esque character, which already makes him pretty interesting, and the actor who portrayed him (Rory Calhoun) gave a really good performance. The rest of the characters weren't as interesting, or slightly as memorable, as Darios, but they served their purpose nevertheless.

Visually, this film shows that Leone always knew what he was doing - even when he was a beginner. The shots are just so carefully crafted and placed, as if Leone really had the entire visual experience mapped out in his head. It still shows the signs of a beginner, but it also shows signs of a master of the craft coming into his own. I especially liked the variety of shots that Leone used to test his style, from the wide screens of the environment to the cramped atmosphere of places such as the temple of Baal. Speaking of which, this film has a lot of varied settings - the Colossus, the inside of the Colossus, the king's palace, the temple of Baal, the rocky dungeons, the bustling marketplace, the rebels' valley, etc. and so forth.

As far as pacing goes, the film's rather smooth in this aspect. Nothing's shortened or stretched, but everything plays out naturally and the editing is quite smooth. It's the type of pacing I've always admired in Leone's films - slow, steady, and focused.

I didn't like, however, how formulaic the film felt. It's almost as if the film's plot and characters were on "training wheels", if you will, because Leone felt the need to make sure the film followed the same structure found in other sword-and-sandal films. This limitation on Leone's part really makes the film feel predictable. What's even worse is that the romance in the film feels so stilted. We're never given a reason why romance might develop between certain characters, so it appears to come out of nowhere during the film.

I'd also like to point out that the emergence of Leone's style can be slightly picked up in this film. Though his signature close-ups and tension-filled sequences aren't to be found, his interest in well-choreographed action, style, and character interaction can be see in the film. What's also interesting to note are the horseback sequences in the film, which very much resemble the sequences which would be found in his later films, such as A Fistful of Dollars or For A Few Dollars More.

Overall, The Colossus of Rhodes is a pretty fun movie. It's not as great or groundbreaking as his later films, but Leone certainly delivers a good and entertaining film here. The characters and plot can be pretty mundane at times, but the film's other aspects slightly make up for this. It's worth a watch as a classic example of the sword-and-sandal genre, as well as an example of Leone's early work.

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