THE MANY FACES OF ITALIAN MUSCLEMAN EPICS: THE BOLD, THE BEAUTIFUL & THE SCOUNDREL CHAPTER 2
Continuing from the fourth chapter, this is the fifth and final installment in the Peplum and Fusto film overview. This last article pays more attention to the gorgeous ladies of this unfairly neglected genre. Whether it was larger than life heroes and adventure, or elaborate sets and sumptuous costumes, this genre provided lots of allure for movie buffs; and these beautiful women were a large part of that. Whereas the musclemen garnered the bulk of the attention, we now continue our tribute to these bountiful beauties and the "muscles" they had to showcase.
Moira Orfei was yet another exotic Italian beauty who made some money portraying several roles in films like THE LOVES OF HERCULES (1960), THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964) and TWO GLADIATORS (1964). Growing up in a circus family, she was one of the most well proportioned and athletically built of all the torch and toga lovelies. Orfei had a sensual presence and often played strong female characters both good and bad. Whether it was an evil sorceress, or the ruler of the Mole Men in MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961), she could bring life to lesser films in the genre. Her cousin, Liana Orfei, also appeared in some peplum and fusto films such as HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES (1963) among several others.
French actress, Mylene Demongeot, did relatively few Italian costume epics, but she lit up the screen with lots of sex appeal opposite Steve Reeves in THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) and also played Roger Moore's(!) love interest in the odd, ROMULUS & THE SABINES (1961) wherein the future James Bond played Romulus, the founder of Rome. Demongeot's curves are clearly apparent in her slinky white apparel in the more widely known Reeves movie.
Another amatory actress from France with a body to die for was Helene Chanel. Possessing a hypnotic pair of eyes and magnificent curves, this hypnotically sexy siren played in some of the more obscure entries in the genre such as THE INVINCIBLE MASKED RIDER (1963) and HERCULES OF THE DESERT (1964). Chanel shows off her frame in SAMSON & THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (1962) and also appeared in two of the more peculiar strongman hybrid movies, THE WITCH'S CURSE (1963) and THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965) both starring Kirk Morris.
Chanel would go on to appear in a lot of action films sometimes playing tough characters or a devious or scheming character. Examples of these two character types where Chanel's mesmerizing beauty can be seen are TWO R-RINGO'S FROM TEXAS and .32 CALIBER KILLER (both 1967) respectively.
The luscious allure of German actress, Helga Line showed some spunk in several fusto and gladiator movies such as the last two of the TEN GLADIATORS trilogy as well as HERCULES & THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON (all 1964). Outside of Rosalba Neri, Line quite possibly had the longest acting career of any other female actress working in the Italian film industry.
She crossed over into every other European genre style that became popular whether it was westerns, spy pictures or horror films. Helga Line lent her talents when they were needed. Thankfully, it was quite often. One of her most memorable roles was a supporting role in the wonderfully bizarre horror sci fi monster flick, HORROR EXPRESS (1972) wherein the German lovely shared the screen with heavyweights, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Rosalba Neri was a sexy actress who often shedded her clothes on many occasions in later Italian horror pictures. Earlier in her career, she played numerous damsels in distress in the muscleman films and also in a lot of spaghetti westerns. Curiously, a lot of the western pictures in which she featured, Neri often was only in the movie briefly before being killed by one of the villains. She also played both good and bad characters in her peplum/fusto films as well as playing the oft used bad-girl-turns-good plot device.
As already mentioned, many of these actresses went on to appear in similar roles in Italian westerns once the costume adventures had run their course. A handful of supporting actors went on to prosperous careers as leading men, or bountiful roles as bad guys in the Euroaters that followed. Below is a handful of the more familiar actors that populated the peplums, or had successful careers in both sword & sandal adventures and the European westerns that usurped them.
The most famous and popular of the peplum co-stars would have to be Guiliano Gemma. Making an impression in SONS OF THUNDER (1961) directed by his future western director, Duccio Tessari, Gemma would appear in a few other movies with one of his biggest roles being in GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963). He would also feature in lesser entries like HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN and TWO GLADIATORS (both 1964) in support of leads Mark Forest and Richard Harrison respectively. Gemma found major stardom in Italian westerns with the release of A PISTOL FOR RINGO in 1965. From there, he was a top draw and possibly the biggest and most popular Italian actor of the genre till the release of THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970) starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, a duo who took the waning genre to new heights (or lows, depending on your point of view).
Another actor would also star in TWO GLADIATORS who would be one of the most recognized and prolific performer associated with the muscleman epics. This actor would be synonymous with the genre and appear in more sword & sandal pictures than the many leads in the films.
Mimmo Palmara is probably the most recognizable face in all sword & sandal cinema. He often played the main villain, or the chief underling to the main bad guy. He also sometimes played heroes in supporting roles and later went on to feature in some lesser known Italian westerns. He did manage to co-star alongside Steve Reeves yet again in the western, A LONG RIDE FROM HELL (1968) also written by Reeves. Palmara, though, has co-starred in some of the most memorable sword and sandal movies that ever came out of the Italian film industry.
He had villain roles in the first two Hercules films starring Steve Reeves, another quirky lead bad guy in the hybrid fusto film, KINDAR, THE INVINCIBLE (1964) where Palmara was the most interesting thing about the film. He had a big supporting role alongside Mark Forest and Guiliano Gemma in the epic, GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963), one of the genres best outings.
Other films include the classy and majestic THE TROJAN HORSE (1961) starring Steve Reeves. Here, Palmara plays the Trojan hero, Ajax. He also headlined one of the more bizarre muscleman hybrid movies, HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964) where he played the lead, a Zorro type hero. Mimmo Palmara was one of the most unique stars in the genre and one of the most welcome faces. If the movie was bad, Palmara could generally be counted on to deliver a fun and interesting performance.
Arturo Dominici will most likely forever be remembered for the role of Juvutich in Mario Bava's seminal horror classic, THE MASK OF SATAN (1960). Dominici had a devilish visage that advertised him as an easy candidate for evildoers. He was likewise a villain in Pietro Fransisci's HERCULES (1958). He effectively played the second in command, Seyvo, to Livio Lorenzon's Igor, the leader of the barbarian hordes in GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (1959).
Dominici also essayed the lead heavy in the lively fantasy romp, MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (PERSEUS, THE INVINCIBLE; 1963). Dominici again played the villainous Captain Blasco in the lively swashbuckling adventure, HERCULES & THE MASKED RIDER (1964).
Leo Anchoriz was a more familiar face in the numerous spaghetti westerns in which he appeared. Prior to that, Anchoriz played supporting bad guy roles in sword and sandal adventures such as HERO OF ROME (1962) and MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1963). He later had a decently prosperous career as a lead heavy, or sometimes as a supporting player in a number of westerns. Anchoriz was also memorable as the lead antagonist in the pulpy Steve Reeves pirate adventures, SANDOKAN, THE GREAT (1963) and its first action packed sequel, SANDOKAN, THE PIRATE OF MALAYSIA (1964).
Piero Lulli, mentioned briefly earlier in this article, is probably the most prolific actor in terms of how many genres he appeared in. Rivaling Nello Pazzafini, Lulli surpasses him in that he played bigger roles. Pazzifini often played minor, or background characters while Lulli played either one of the main antagonists, or a benevolent figure who met his end in battle, or in some other tragic way.
He's played the typical peplum villain in such films as GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963), TWO GLADIATORS (also with Mimmo Palmara as a villain; 1964) and HERCULES & THE TYRANTS OF BABYLON (1964). He was an incredibly memorable villain in the outrageous science fiction Fusto movie, THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965) starring Kirk Morris. Here, Lulli plays an evil wizard named Ramir. Lulli's dress and look recalls the character of Ming the Merciless from the famed FLASH GORDON serials and feature film from 1980.
Piero Lulli appeared as a good guy in such films as the classic, ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) and the lesser, but fun film, THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964). A fine actor, his turn as the cruel Don Rodrigo in HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATE (1964) is a highlight and one more testament to his ability to imbue a lot of charismatic evil in a performance regardless of the fact it's dubbed, or post synced.
After the sword & sandal and costume adventures in Italy ended in 1965, the genre left behind some 200 movies of varying style and quality. Many of them were forgettable and yet many of them deserve to be rediscovered, or are rife for newfound critical appraisal. They epitomised the comic book/fantasy adventures by featuring larger than life heroes, sadistic and evil villains, duplicitous women and the ubiquitous damsel in distress who would nearly always be seen riding off into the sunset with the musclebound hero. Hopefully, the Italian Fusto and Gladiator movies will garner some new fans in order to keep the genre alive and not just a distant memory of Saturday Morning entertainment remembered by a select few who have all but forgotten them.