For the longest time, I never thought I would actually see this film. This is Sergio Leone's first official film as director, and it's been notoriously hard to find in any home video format. I was plesantly surprised when I found out that it was officially released, so I rented it immediately.
Leone started as an assistant director on many Hollywood productions that shot in Italy in the 1950's, and many of them were part of the Roman epic cycle. This film follows in that vain (even though it's on Rhodes, not Rome), and it's a decent "Roman" epic film, nothing more. You would have to be clairvoyant to think that Leone would go on to direct masterpieces after this film, though. Some of the action scenes are awkwardly choreographed, and much of the acting is rather formless (the film has that awkward dubbing best known in Italian films), or it's so over the top. Many have said Rory Calhoun was miscast here, but I thought he was OK. He wasn't great, but it didn't bother me that much. He's kind of endearingly goofy, like he knows he really shouldn't be in the film, but he's enjoying himself anyway. The original leading man, John Derek, was fired early in the production because Leone was convinced that he was trying to steal his job (John Derek did go on to be a director, but his films were horrible). It's kind of fun to see Lea Masari in this film. The previous year she played Anna, the woman who disappears in L'avventura. Maybe this is where Anna ended up.
There is some good here. Leone's framing is pretty good, the crowd scenes are well handled, the plot twists are surprisingly good for a film like this, the inside of the Collusus is cool, and the film is never boring. It's definitely worth watching once, just don't expect the beauty and mastery of Leone's best films. It's not a great debut or anything, but if you're a Leone fan (like me), you should check it out nevertheless.