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Case Number 11660

Buy Cult Camp Classics 4: Historical Epics at Amazon

Cult Camp Classics 4: Historical Epics

Land Of The Pharaohs
1955 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
The Prodigal
1955 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
The Colossus Of Rhodes
1961 // 128 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge Dylan Charles (Retired) // July 10th, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Dylan Charles went to cult camp one summer. He didn't like the white robes and hours spent making flower chains, but the free love and interesting snacks made up for it.

The Charge

The Barbarous Love that Left Egypt's Great Pyramid as Its Wondrous Landmark!

Opening Statement

I have a…problem. When I see a movie labeled as, say, "bad" or "camp" or "cult," I go out of my way to see it. This is why I own copies of Nukie, Bats, and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Crash of the Space Moons. So seeing a collection of Cult Camp Classics gave me a case of the vapors and I needed some smelling salts to recover.

Unfortunately I picked Volume Four in the series, the Historical Epics. Now, I love history. I love bad movies. What's the worst that could happen if you combined these two great loves into one package?

Joan Collins steeped in bronzer for starters.

Facts of the Case

Land of the Pharaohs
Pharaoh Cheops (Jack Hawkins, The Bridge on the River Kwai) is hellbent on making sure that both he and his treasure are safely sealed away once he keels over and enters the warm embrace of the sun god. Unfortunately, his wife Nellifer (Joan Collins, Empire of the Ants) is equally hellbent on making sure that she gets his treasure and his throne. Will the Pharaoh be buried in accordance to his final wishes as stipulated in his will? Will Wife #2 get to keep that clunky, gaudy necklace she stole out of his treasure room? The answers to these questions and more in Howard Hawks' (Yes, THE Howard Hawks) LAND OF THE PHARAOHS!

The Prodigal
From the director that brought you Ivanhoe and Jailhouse Rock comes a Biblical epic based on twenty-one lines from Luke, the story of the Prodigal Son. The brash, yet noble, man named Micah (Edmund Purdom) falls in love with the beautiful high priestess (Lana Turner, The Postman Always Rings Twice) of some evil pagan goddess. Along the way he rescues slaves, beats up a vulture, and fights against tyranny. He also blows all of his cash on parties, abandons his fiancé, and nearly gets the slaves he saved killed through his own selfish actions. A heartwarming tale.

The Colossus of Rhodes
Sergio Leone's first credited directorship takes place in the times of the Ancients, when heroes strode across the Earth battling evil. Rhodes is under sway of the evil king Circes and only a crack team of elite rebels can bring him down. The key to victory is within the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The Evidence

I was expecting to have a good ol' time, either because Warner Brothers accidentally stuck three excellent movies in the Cult Camp Classics collection or because the movies would be so bad that they're funny (something akin to Hercules Unchained). Instead, I got three dull, plodding flicks that lost my interest in a myriad of ways.

The three films share one problem in common: they're in love with spectacle. Grand armies put together from casts of thousands. Beautifully elaborate soundstages. Themes of love set on a backdrop of sweeping historical change. Land of the Pharaohs has some of the most impressive crowd shots I've ever seen, with literally thousands of extras in full costume cheering their Pharaoh. The back of the box boasts that 9,787 extras were used for one scene. The Prodigal creates a version of Damascus that may not be historically accurate, but is still a damn fine thing to look at. And The Colossus of Rhodes (my favorite of the lot) has fight scene after fight scene, each one trying to outdo the last in terms of size and participants, culminating in the grand, climactic battle.

But spectacle is all there is; a beautiful extravagance covering up the fact that there's nothing even remotely interesting underneath. These movies are as if someone placed a fantastic serving dish in front of you, an ornate creation that Faberge might have designed. A serving dish that might have come from Tiffany's. Finally wrought metals with intricate patterns grace the surface of the lid, while various precious stones line the platter. You lift the lid of this gold plated, diamond encrusted dish and find nothing but five pounds of boiled potatoes underneath. And you have to eat every last one of those potatoes.

The Land of the Pharaohs managed to populate itself with characters that don't have a single interesting quality. It was a constant battle for me to try and figure out who I was supposed to be interested in. Was it the Pharaoh, a cold and cruel man who wanted to take it all with him? Was it the bland slave, who was acted with such flair that sometimes various pieces of the scenery outshone him? The self-righteous architect? The manipulative, scheming Nellifer? And then, to further disconnect the audience from the characters, Mr. Hawks graciously threw in criminally long montages of slaves building pyramids. There's only so many times you can watch limestone being cut before you lose any and all interest.

As for The Prodigal, Richard Thorpe took a fairly thin Biblical parable to begin with (son takes money, son spends it all on hookers, son asks for forgiveness, father gives it) and then stretches it into a 112-minute movie. The son is actually given a name in the movie, Micah, and a personality, too. Unfortunately, it's the personality of a spoiled brat. He does what he wants to do and then ends up in huge trouble because of his actions. His greatest heroic moment is less because of his own noble ambitions and more because it'll get him what he wants. There are some fun moments to be found, such as Micah's valiant struggle against a vulture on strings (a struggle he just barely manages to win), but these moments are buried beneath a slow plot dealing with a fairly unlikable man.

While The Colossus of Rhodes suffers from the same pacing problems as the other two films, Leone pulled off an overall better flick. This is more the kind of movie I was expecting when I first saw the Cult Camp Classics set. It's fun, lively, and filled with large scale action set pieces. Watching Rory Calhoun fighting armed guards on the Colossus itself is worth seeing, as is the destruction of Rhodes via earthquake.

There is one silver lining to these rather dank clouds, and that's the treatment Warner Brothers have given the films. They're all beautifully transferred, clean and clear. And the commentary gives you all the background you could possibly want to know about the films. Each commentary is given by a film historian. The commentary for Land of the Pharaohs has excerpts from an interview with Howard Hawks inserted in it. The excerpts vary in quality, and some of them can be difficult to make out, but it's interesting to hear the opinions of a director who doesn't like his own film. Christopher Frayling even gives background information on the real Colossus itself and he often has dryly funny comments about the flick. The commentary for The Prodigal is the driest, but still has its own interesting nuggets.

Closing Statement

All I wanted was a couple hours of some fun, lively action films with a historical flavor. Instead I got Joan Collins overacting in Egyptian bronzeface. And wearing bright red lipstick. That's not an image easy to remove from your brain.

If you're looking for campy fun, rent The Colossus of Rhodes and one of the Steve Reeves' Hercules pictures. If you wish to experience the actual length of time it takes to build a pyramid, check out Land of the Pharaohs and The Prodigal.

The Verdict

Cult Camp Classics 4: Historical Epics is guilty of playing out the entirety of human history in real time.

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Genres

• Action
• Classic
• Drama

Scales of Justice, Land Of The Pharaohs

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 89
Acting: 60
Story: 50
Judgment: 55

Perp Profile, Land Of The Pharaohs

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Land Of The Pharaohs

• Commentary by Filmmaker/Historian Peter Bogdanovich with Interview Excerpts of Director Howard Hawks
• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Prodigal

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 89
Acting: 70
Story: 55
Judgment: 50

Perp Profile, The Prodigal

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Prodigal

• Commentary by Film Historian Dr. Drew Casper

Scales of Justice, The Colossus Of Rhodes

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 89
Acting: 70
Story: 70
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, The Colossus Of Rhodes

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Colossus Of Rhodes

• Commentary by Film Historian Christopher Frayling
• Theatrical Trailer








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