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Sergio Leone's Colossus Film Debut!



Persian Anachronisms in Cult Sword & Sandals film The Colossus of Rhodes



©photocomposition DK



Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves


 - Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (I,ii,136­38)


Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, situated in eastern Aegean Sea. This Greek island lies approximately 11 miles (18 km) to the west of the Turkish shores, situated between the Greek mainland and the island of Cyprus. As of 2001, it has a population of 117,007 of which 53,709 reside in the capital city of the island.Historically, Rhodes was famous worldwide for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The medieval Old Town of the City of Rhodes has been declared a World Heritage Site and is a major international tourist destination. However for Film Fans and Sword and Sandals Aficianados Rhodes is synonymous with Sergio Leone's film The Colossus of Rhodes shot in Spain and Italy for Cinecitta Studio's and distributed by Hollywood Studio's. It was not the first incursion into Epics for the Future Maestro of Western Spaghetti's who was to shoot to International Stardom an unknown American actor named ... Clint Eastwood. Indeed, although often uncredited as in most oversea Hollywood productions, Leone had nevertheless worked as first and second unit director on such Great Classics as Quo Vadis ?, Ben Hur, or Helen of Troy all shot in Cinecittà in the mid 50's and early 60's. He had acquired the necessary craftsmanship to direct action scenes while developing his unique personal style that was to be noticed in his later Spaghetti Westerns for which he won Fame and Fortune. The interesting thing about Il Colosso Di Rhodi which Leone shot and released in 1961, is that despite some historical and archeological knowledge Sergio Leone prefered to weave his  tale around fictitious account of the construction of the famous Statue. In addition what was meant to be a Greco-Helenistic society turns out to be a collage from various ancient civilizations and particularly that of the Ancient Persian Empire. In that Persian names, props and Sets appeare clearly throughout the film and any knowledged eye familiar with Persian History and Culture can see the striking anachronisms.

©MGM & ©photocomposition DK

Thus American actor Rory Calhoun better known for his roles in some B-Movie Western's is Cast as a Greek hero who has fought the Persians, however his name is Darios aka Dario which is the Latin name for Darius which in fact also happens to be the name of Three Persian Aechemenid Kings. In the supporting role of one of Dario's companions is Spanish Star Ángel Aranda cast as Koros not very different from Kouros or Kourosh which is the Persian name for Cyrus. It also happens to be the name of the Founder of the Persian Empire:Cyrus the Great. As for the Villianous King of Rhodes played by Spanish actor Roberto Camardiel  he bears the name of Serse the latin name for Xerxes who historically was the son of Darius the Great who was stopped at Thermopylae by 300 Spartans in 480 B.C. which led to the Greek Victory against the 2nd Persian Invasion. Serse is also the name of Handel's famous Opera on the Persian King. As for Dario's ultimate sweetheart played by Spanish actress Mabel Karr she happens to have the name Mirte which could have been a phonetic distortion of Mitra or Mithra the Persian Divinity that was adopted subsequently by Roman Troops throughout the Roman Empire as their God of War ...

© & MGM ©photocompositions DK

As the pictures in this article will also testify, many items used for creating the Sets were  simply copied from existing Persian artifacts that can be found in World Museums like the Louvre or the British Museum ( See Forgotten Empire Exhibition)


A Greek military hero named Darios (Rory Calhoun) visits his uncle Lissipu in Rhodes in the year 280 BC. Rhodes has just finished constructing an enormous colossal statue of Apollo to guard its harbor and is planning an alliance with Phoenicia, which would be hostile to Greece.

Darios flirts with the beautiful Diala (Lea Massari), daughter of the statue's mastermind, while becoming involved with a group of rebels headed by Peliocles. These rebels seek to overthrow the tyrannical King Serse; but so does Serse's evil second-in-command, Thar. He has Phoenician soldiers smuggled into Rhodes as slaves, and his men occupy the Colossus to secure safe entrance for the Phoenecian fleet.

©MGM & Photocomposition DK

The rebels learn of this plan, however, and decide to apply to the Greek for help; Darios, who is forbidden to leave Rhodes as he is suspected a spy, is to serve as an unwitting message carrier. But as they try to exit the harbor under the cover of night, they are foiled by the Colossus' defensive weaponry and arrested; Darios is of course convicted as a fellow conspirator. However, just before the captives are to be executed, the rest of the rebels break them out.

In their hideout, Peliocles decides that the only way to stop the invasion is to control the Colossus and free their fellow rebels who have already been captured and sentenced to work as slaves beneath the Colossus; the release mechanism for the dungeons is located in the statue itself. Darios realizes that without reconnaissance the mission is doomed to fail and tries to enlist Diala for help. Unfortunately, he foolishly tells her about the rebels' hideout. Diala, who longs for power, betrays Darios and has Thar have the rebels nearly wiped out - with the exceptions of Mirte and Koros, Peliocles' sister and brother, who have managed to hide.

©MGM & Photocomposition DK

Peliocles and his men are captured and forced to provide amusement in the local arena; but just when Darios arrives to publicly expose the traitor's plot, Thar executes his coup and kills Serse and his retainers. The rebels immediately set out to carry out their plan, but the rebellion seems doomed to fail: Darios is captured while he tries to work the release mechanism to the dungeons, and Koros, who accompanies him, is killed. An all-out assault of the rebels on the Colossus is foiled by its formidable arsenal, which forces them to retreat into the city.

Thar's plan seems to go smoothly until he kills Diala's father, who does not want to see his life's work abused, and an earthquake and a violent storm hit the island just as the enemy fleet is visible on the horizon. Thar and his men flee the Colossus, only to be slain by the rebels in the city streets; Diala, plagued with remorse, frees Darios but is soon afterwards killed by falling debris when a tremor shakes the Colossus violently. As the quake continues, the Colossus finally topples over and crashes before the harbor bay.

After the fury of nature has passed, Darios and Mirte meet Lissipu outside the ruined city. Lissipu remarks that Darios is now free to leave, but his nephew announces that he will marry Mirte and stay in Rhodes to help make the island peaceful again.

©MGM & photocomposition DK

On a final note, what can be said of all these anachronism's in Sergio Leone's major film debut, were they purely accidental or volunteer ? ...


Probably both given that Films meant to entertain as was the case for the Colossus of Rhodes were never meant to be historically accurate. The film was also subject to the imagination and aesthetics of the director and his creative team. As much as for his subsequent and more successful Western Spaghetti's, Sergio Leone, was not aiming at History but at a film genre he admired in this case: The Sword and Sandals genre. It was also strangely enough an indirect tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest where Rory Calhoun and the Colossus serve as the ancient substitute to Cary Grant and his climatic scene above Mt. Rushmore. As for the Music Score it was composed by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino and not Ennio Morricone with whom Leone gained fame on his Western Spaghetti's. It should be noted that Morricone was also to work on Valerio Zurlini's final film shot in Bam, Iran in the mid 70's that became a classic: The Tartars Desert ( See:Bam:An Epic Nightmare ).


©MGM photocomposition DK


Although released by MGM, The Colossus of Rhodes jumps ahead about five years, beyond Ben-Hur when Rome's Cinecittà was the center of European production. Big money went into fancy pictures like The Last Days of Pompeii and The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah, drawing money and stars from all over Europe and across the Atlantic. Dozens of much cheaper productions would soon clog the market, but The Colossus of Rhodes was an expensive proposition all the way. It's a hot ticket now because it's the first directing credit for Sergio Leone, and is more of a high-budget sword-and-sandal tale which benefits from clean direction and some clever action scenes inside, outside and clinging to the gigantic statue that inspired it.

©photocomposition DK




Authors Notes:


The DVD of The Colossus of Rhodes is Available on


Recommended Viewing:


Trailer of the Colossus of Rhodes


Recommended Reading:


Xerxes (SERSE), the opera by Cyrus KADIVAR (


THE LAST DYNASTY: Sassanian Glory Exhibit In Paris by Darius KADIVAR


The Persian Empire Strikes Back by Darius KADIVAR


Fardin's Western Spaghetti by Darius KADIVAR


In The Arena With Omid Djalili by Darius KADIVAR


Tarkan Versus the Vikings ( A Turkish Sword and Sandals Cult Film)


Last Colony:filmmaker Parvin Ansary with Italian Film Icons by Brian Appleton


About the Author:
Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant.

... Payvand News - 10/24/07 ... --

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