I remember when this movie played at the local drive-in theater, almost fifty years ago, and I wanted to see it then, of course, because I knew it had sword fights in it and I loved anything with sword fights. But I missed it. Then years later, I found out that it was the first movie directed by Sergio Leone, which made me want to see it even more because by then Leone had become one of my favorite directors. Even with that extra motivation, more years went by without me ever watching THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES.
Well, I’ve remedied that now . . . and I’m not sure it was worth the wait.
Washed-up American cowboy star Rory Calhoun plays Dario, a Greek visiting the island nation of Rhodes in the year 260 B.C., and looks a little uncomfortable at times in an ultra-short toga. He finds himself in the middle of a lot of political intrigue involving Rhodes, Phoenicia, and Greece. The Colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue and one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, stands guard over the harbor at Rhodes and plays a major part in all the plotting and double-crossing going on.
To put it bluntly, the first half of this movie is pretty dreadful. Everybody stands around and talks, and since too many of the characters look too much alike, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. Thankfully, things pick up a little in the second half. You’ve got rebels attacking the palace, Phoenician soldiers smuggled into the city to overthrow Rhodes’ king, Rory Calhoun being captured by the bad guys and escaping several times, molten lead being slung by catapults so it rains down from the sky, and numerous sword fights, including one where Calhoun battles against half a dozen soldiers while standing on the arm of the giant statue, a scene that provoked a comment of “Okay, that’s actually pretty cool” from me.
Overall, though, there’s very little sign of the brilliant director Leone would become only a few short years later. There are a few sweeping vistas, and that’s about it. None of his other trademark shots or pacing, and it probably doesn’t help matters that the music isn’t by Ennio Morricone. THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES could have been a pretty good pulpish adventure movie, but it’s too long, too talky, and too complicated. If you’re a Sergio Leone completist, by all means go ahead and watch it. Otherwise I can’t recommend it.
(As I commented to Livia, a few years later and that might’ve been another washed-up American cowboy star playing Dario: Clint Eastwood. As for my favorite Rory Calhoun movie, it’s probably ANGEL, a surprisingly good piece of Eighties sleaze with a title character who is, according to the movie poster, “high school honor student by day . . . Hollywood hooker by night!” Calhoun plays a homeless denizen of the Sunset Strip who’s a, uh, washed-up cowboy star, and he’s great in the role. If you haven’t seen ANGEL, that one I recommend. The sequel, AVENGING ANGEL, is okay but not as good.)