The Last Days of Pompei

Director: Sergio Leone
Year: 1959
Rating: 6.0
Country: Italy

This is a Sergio Leone film so watch it even if it is a Sword and Sandal or Peplum film. Admittedly not anything close to his Spaghetti Westerns that were not to come till some five years later and actually before he got to those he was to make another film in the same genre - The Colossus of Rhodes. He had been lined up to only be the Assistant Director but the director had to bow out very early on with an illness and Leone took over but did not get official credit. The film looks great shot in CinemaScope with bright colors, some good models and sets and a few very lovely women. It is also clumsy, corny, kind of low-brow but still fun in a throwback popcorn kind of way.

It also stars body builder Steve Reeves, a young man from Montana, who had just hit the sweepstakes with Hercules the year before. That film got the whole Peplum genre rolling and made Reeves hugely popular. Yes, he acts like a rock at rest but he really was a good looking guy. We get to watch him beat off an army of bad guys, kill an alligator in the water, kill a lion in the gladiator arena, swim under a ring of fire and save the girl. The best part of the film is probably when at the end Vesuvius raises its wrath like a woman scorned and rains down ash and fire upon the city. For 1959, they did a pretty good job of filming a city aflame and panicked crowds fleeing for their lives. Models come crumbling down upon the populace. Scientists think that the explosive power of Vesuvius was enormous and released more thermal energy than the bomb at Hiroshima. Only one survivor ever wrote about it - Pliny the Younger who witnessed the event from a distance.

This is loosely based on the novel of the same name written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1834. The gist of the plot is still here -an evil Priest of ISIS (no, not today's terrorist group), a young hottie and the hero living in Pompeii in 79 A.D. - not a good time to be there. It was an interesting and chaotic period in the Roman Empire. Nero had died only 10 years before, a civil war broke out between four men for the title of Emperor and the man who won it Vespasian had just died. Also, this period was the rise of Christianity and the empire's attempts to destroy it, which is a large part of the story. There have been a few film versions of the book and though not based on the book there was a story of the end of Pompeii a few years ago in which John Snow, I mean Kitt Harington, gets to play the lead.

Of little interest to anyone but me the film also has Fernando Rey as the evil Priest who just had one of those incredible lengthy careers in international films - to me best known for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. And totally unknown to me in the role of the love of Reeves was Christine Kauffman, who is quite stunning and still alive and appeared in over 100 films in her life - among them Taras Bulba, Lola, Lili Marleen and Bagdad Café. Her last listed role was in 2014.