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Monday, May 10, 2010

Colossus of the Arena (1962) review


Mark Forest (Maciste), Scilla Gabel (Talima), Jose Greci (Resia), Dan Vadis (Sidon), Pietro Ceccarelli (Astorige), Harold Bradley (Tucos), John Chevron (Largo), Germano Longo (Ligonio), Erno Crisa (Oniris), Maurizio Conti (Menide)

Directed by Michele Lupo

A rare peplum starring Mark Forest as Maciste finds the wandering hero trying to foil a plot to kill a beautiful Queen by one of her subordinates. The story has been done many times before and after in the genre, but there's enough lively moments including two gorgeous co-stars and a stand out performance by Dan Vadis displaying a lot of agility as one of the hired mercenary assassins. Well worth tracking down for sword and sandal fans.

In the kingdom of Mersabad in Asia Minor, the duplicitous Oniris, along with a group of conspirators, plots to usurp the throne held by Queen Talima replacing her with her sister, Resia. He recruits a group of gladiators trained by Largo with which to use in his scheme. Maciste learns of this plot and secretly joins the motley group of warriors in an effort to protect the Queen. Oniris gets wise to Maciste and orders Largo to kill him. However, one of the seven mercenaries is sympathetic to the strongman and pretends to kill Maciste after he has been given a drug in his wine.

While the assassins head off to kidnap Talima, Largo discovers Maciste is still alive. The two have a fight resulting in Largo being mortally wounded. Later, the gladiators find Largo dead and learn that Maciste is responsible. Oniris concocts a new plan to frame the strongman for the disappearance and presumed death of Talima. While this is going on, the remaining six gladiators attack Maciste's village killing everyone in it. Maciste vows revenge and eliminates the various gladiators led by the treacherous Oniris.

Michele Lupo directed a handful of these movies in the mid 1960's. While most are merely escapist entertainment, some are quite good such as Lupo's REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964). COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA is one of the more rare and obscure peplum adventures. It's the second of three Mark Forest films all with similar sounding titles. The others are the laughable MACISTE, I'UOMO PIU FORTE DEL MONDO (MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES) and the sprawling MACISTE, L'EROE PIU GRANDE DEL MONDO (GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON).

Dan Vadis as Sidon sends Mark Forest's stunt double tumbling from the top of the Monte Gelato, an extremely popular peplum location

Lupo later went on to direct his own trilogy of gladiator movies that were not related to one another, but featured roughly the same cast and crew. These were THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964), SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST THE WORLD (1964) and SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS (1965). Lupo also utilizes the plot device of seven fighters for COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA. Only here, the seven warriors are all villains. You almost forget this is a Maciste movie as the character doesn't show up until 20 minutes in the picture.

Mark Forest did a dozen of these movies. In half of them, he played the traveling savior of the people, Maciste. While seemingly very popular, Forest, for whatever reason, did very little of the action in his films leaving the bulk of it to his stunt double. COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA is apparently an elusive movie outside of Italy as there's very little information about it. This is the one film of Mark Forest I had been searching for and finally lucked up and found this Italian DVD in stunning quality.

While the group of vicious gladiators take turns beating up Maciste, Sidon (Dan Vadis) shows off some amazing acrobatic skills

Dan Vadis and his pet, Cleopatra

COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA (1962) is also notable for being the first role for Dan Vadis seen here playing one of the main villains. Vadis is ferocious here and is often referred to as "The gorilla". He also has a pet chimp named Cleopatra. Vadis shows a lot of agility in this movie and he was quickly picked out as another American to be cast as a lead in these movies. He had a good look about him and had a successful career after the sword and sandal movies ended. This was the only one where he played a villain. He briefly turns bad guy in Alberto De Martino's THE TRIUMPHS OF HERCULES (1964) when he's bewitched by an evil sorceress forcing Zeus to temporarily strip him of his super strength.

Scilla Gabel (left) with Jose Greci (right)

Many of the cast would later turn up in Lupo's aforementioned gladiator trilogy starring Roger Browne. Scilla Gabel, a gorgeous and statuesque Italian beauty, plays Queen Talima. She would also feature in two of Lupo's films playing the love interest for Roger Browne. Here, she shares the screen with another striking screen siren, the elegant Jose Greci, who is one of the most recognizable females in the peplum/fusto movies.

Tucos (Harold Bradley; far left) and Sidon (Dan Vadis; far right) menace two supporting characters

Maciste (Mark Forest; left) delivers a killing blow to Astorige (Pietro Ceccarelli; right)

COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA (1962) also has comedy here and there and a brief appearance by a dwarf again named Goliath. The comedy is spread out, but occasionally lightens the mood after some of the more grim sequences, even if its insertion is a bit jarring. It's not the best film of Mark Forest and far from the mediocrity of MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961) or the terribly poor THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR (1964). It's rarity warrants a viewing and it's a fine showcase for Dan Vadis who actually steals the movie away from Forest with his steely and intimidating role as Sidon. Fans of gladiator movies will surely want to see it and it's a shame it isn't more widely available in an English friendly format.

This review is representative of the Eagle Pictures Italian R2 PAL DVD

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