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The Colossus of Rhodes [1961]: Sergio Leone’s Directorial Debut

Marking the commencement of a filmmaking career that would attain cinematic immortality within a decade, Sergio Leone's debut feature is instantly forgettable when compared to his greatest works but it isn't a complete disaster either, for The Colossus of Rhodes packs a plot filled with action, twists & betrayals, and makes for a sufficiently amusing & technically impressive sword-and-sandal epic.

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Sergio Leone’s directorial debut is an ambitious, if unrefined, production that’s much inferior to his finest works but The Colossus of Rhodes (Il Colosso di Rodi) still manages to create moments of tension & suspense by skilfully utilising all the available resources to finish as an amusing, if somewhat forgettable, sword-n-sandal epic.

Set in 280 BC, during the void years after the days of Alexander the Great but before the advent of Roman Empire, the story follows a Greek military hero who visits his uncle on the island of Rhodes to enjoy his vacation but inadvertently finds himself involved in two different plots to overthrow the tyrannical king.

Directed by Sergio Leone (best known for The Good, the Bad & the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West), The Colossus of Rhodes takes some time to find its footing but once the premise is set, it throws in some good dose of action, twists & betrayals into the mix to deliver an experience that works to an extent & is sufficiently enjoyable.

Despite the low budget, this Italian production features some impressive set pieces that have an extravagant feel to it. The title refers to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world that is used as a backdrop for its fictional narrative. The director’s trademarks are missing yet you can figure out elements that Leone would perfect in his later films.

But as polished & refined its set design is, the story doesn’t have enough meat on it and the characters inhabiting it aren’t that interesting either. The story is also overlong & poorly edited. Performances range all over the place plus there are no memorable characters to be found here, a rarity in a Leone film. However, for a debut effort, the technical execution is surprisingly good.

On an overall scale, The Colossus of Rhodes marks the beginning of a filmmaking career that would later attain immortality by changing the landscape of western genre forever. A training ground of sorts for Sergio Leone to carve his cinematic style, and his only feature that isn’t scored by the legendary Ennio Morricone, The Colossus of Rhodes has its shares of ups n downs but the action-packed entertainment it has in store isn’t entirely a disaster by any means.

★★½

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