In "Airplane," when Captain Oveur asks young Joey, "Do you like gladiator movies?" he is slyly and salaciously referring to films like "The Colossus of Rhodes." While technically not a gladiator movie, Sergio Leone's directorial debut is rife with scantily clad men whose rippling muscles and impeccable abs are fully exposed while they wrestle with each other or undergo whippings, torture, and bondage. The national pastime of Rhodes must have been doing crunches and lifting weights, because even the mature men have flat tight stomachs and bulging biceps. Meanwhile, the women, while lovely of face, remain chastely clothed and relegated to the sidelines. The homo-erotic visuals of this tale of ancient Rhodes call into question the film's intended audience. Were there enough closeted gays in the early 1960's to make a success of mediocre movies such as this?
Despite some good action sequences that hint at Leone's directorial talents, the film's dialog is stilted, the special effects dated, and the performances generally wooden. In desperate need of judicious editing, the film drags on far too long, and the plot sags in the middle. American actor, Rory Calhoun, a fading western hero who was obviously hired only for his name, wanders through the proceedings like a stranger in a strange land in more ways than one. Portraying the Greek Darios as an American on holiday, Calhoun remains nonplussed in the face of death, torture, and the lures of beautiful women. Decidedly less buff than his Italian counterparts, Calhoun nevertheless overwhelms men whose physical strength obviously exceeds that of his own lean build. Perhaps his attire gave him self-confidence. The stylish mini-togas with colorful scarves thrown over one shoulder and white, laced boots to the mid-calf make Calhoun resemble Captain Marvel more than an ancient warrior.
When viewers tire of Calhoun's costume changes and the sight of bare male flesh, they can amuse themselves watching the actors' mouths move without once matching the words that they supposedly utter. In the scenes between Calhoun and Lea Massari as Diala, there is little doubt that neither performer knows what the other is saying. Calhoun recites his lines in English while Massari recites hers in Italian, which was later ineptly dubbed. However, even Italian sandal epics can be entertaining, and "Colossus" is no exception. If expectations are kept low or the viewer is an undying fan of Rory Calhoun, then "Colossus" provides some camp moments and decent action in addition to its legions of male Italian bodies.