Sergio Leone would later say his official film debut was basically a check to fund his Spain-set honeymoon, and critics have accordingly dismissed it as Mediterranean pulp of the Hercules-Goliath-Mature tradition. Indeed, it goes through the check-list of peplum staples -- credits superimposed over a silvery gong, a bacchanalia interrupted by poisoned nectar, odalisques at play and Circus Maximus atrocities, emphasis on flagellated beefcake (undraped male torsos whipped, poured acid over, and generally spread-eagled). It is 280 B.C. and, chasing a foxy flirt (Lea Massari, taking it easy after evaporating in L'Avventura) around the underground chambers of the Rhodes palace, the camera halts for a 360° pan to reveal a whole dynasty mummified before pushing nominal hero Rory Calhoun into skullduggery intrigue involving the corrupt elite. The picture probably displays more of the camp streak David Thomson wrongly found in the later Westerns, though Leone's genre handling lacks the knowing effects of a Cottafavi, closer in fact to his uncredited Sodom and Gomorrah job, down to the last apocalyptic cataclysm. Even then, Leone's cynicism is worlds away from Aldrich's unexpected Old Testament morality, and, as Calhoun falls in with Georges Marchal's rebel group, the film locates a Leonesque loner caught in the insurgent flux -- a politicized slant to reemerge only later in the disillusioned peasant-revolution context of Duck, You Sucker. Leone's opera-heightening of form is still a few years off, so that, "Supertotalscope" widescreen or not, the static medium-shot is given preference over the mega close-up. Still, there is always togaed Calhoun stepping out of the hollowed-out behemoth's ear, a Pastrone quote and reminder of the filmmaker's Italian silent-movie heritage. With Mabel Karr, Conrado San Martín, and Ángel Aranda.
--- Fernando F. Croce