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A Leone Double Feature: The Last Days of Pompeii & The Colossus of Rhodes

I discovered Sergio Leone in college when I rented The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the library. It was the film that got me into the western as genre. It wasn’t long until I was able to watch A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Eventually I discovered the greatness of Once Upon a Time in the West as well as Once Upon a Time in America and Duck, You Sucker. However, I never saw his 2 earliest works. Both are part of the biblical/historical epic category. Leone was part of productions like Ben-Hur and Quo Vadis so it was familiar territory for him. With these first 2 films he cuts his teeth and we see where this master of the medium began his career at.

THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII

I was expecting this is be a very low budget operation. It still might have been, but I was very impressed. Mario Bonnard took ill on the first day of shooting and Sergio Leone steps in to take care of everything. Although he wasn’t credited, this is his first work as a director and it’s a pretty solid effort. Some beautiful sets, decent pacing. I also was not expecting the decent sized addition of Christianity into the film. It’s not preachy or anything, mostly just showing the way of life of the people. Leone becomes known later for his extreme close ups and huge wide shots, but he had a handle on quiet indoor scenes as well. Also, the climax? Really well done. I’m surprised I managed to get this many words out of this film, but it surprisingly surpassed my expectations.

THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES

The Colossus of Rhodes is Sergio Leone’s first credited directorial work. Believe it or not, with higher production value than The Last Days of Pompeii, I felt The Colossus of Rhodes although entertaining, didn’t entertain as much as the prior film. Yet with it, we see Leone step away from what is basically his apprenticeship on these historical, biblical epics and move into the era and genre he would be best know for. I think one basic shortcoming of The Colossus of Rhodes is it’s a bit over plotted. It’s actually very Hitchcock in nature with the central character, played by Rory Calhoun is on vacation keeps getting caught up in the political intrigue of the land. His character comes across much like a Cary Grant which is also why I made the Hitchcock connection. We do see Leone’s development with size and scale. I think my issues were mostly with scripting. Funny enough, The Colossus of Rhodes feels more accomplished than A Fistful of Dollars. That might be due to it having MGM’s backing. The Colossus of Rhodes and The Last Days of Pompeii were the only of Leone’s directorial work I had not seen and with that I feel I can safely say, Sergio Leone never made a film I did not like.


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