Of Muscles and Men: Essays on the Sword & Sandal Film

I’d like to report that OF MUSCLES AND MEN: ESSAYS ON THE SWORD & SANDAL FILM is as much fun as it sounds. Instead, like a good chunk of the so-named peplum genre, it can’t live up to the hyperbolic art — in this case, not a poster, but a book cover.

Published by McFarland and edited by Michael G. Cornelius, the compilation of a dozen pieces sure seems like a ball. Just glance at some of the titles listed in the table of contents: “Homer’s Lies, Brad Pitt’s Thighs” and “By Jupiter’s Cock!” With rare exception — such as David Simmons’ aforementioned “Cock!” piece, which focuses on the campy cable hit SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND — the essays take both their subjects and themselves too seriously.

Are Steve Reeves’ starring vehicle of HERCULES and its sequels and imitators really worth dissecting? Or are they merely just B movies with no intent but to entertain? Maria Elena D’Amelio thinks the former, batting about terms like “fascist” and “autochthonous.” I highly doubt the filmmakers were thinking about addressing the Marshall Plan or responding to the death of Mussolini — certainly they were just out to shit screenplays that would make a buck. (And, no, I don’t have a reference to cite.)

The same goes for The Three Stooges movie in which they MEET HERCULES, which Daniel O’Brien discusses in terms of how the comic team parodies the masculine man, as if that didn’t already exist on the surface.

Cornelius may be the biggest offender, reading far too much into children’s action figures in “Beefy Guys and Brawny Dolls: He-Man, the Masters of the Universe, and Gay Clone Culture.” All kids’ dolls are without genitalia, sir; it doesn’t mean He-Man can’t please She-Ra.

It is tough to take Cornelius seriously from the start since, in his introduction, he makes some startling errors — not typos, but sore-thumb errors — that undermine his authority, from misspelling the name of BEASTMASTER director Don Coscarelli to saying that GLADIATOR won a Best Director Oscar. —Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

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Comment by JT
2012-01-06 17:53:36

Too bad… I am enjoying Howard Hughes’ CINEMA ITALIANO which spends some time on peplums (probably enough for my taste), while tackling giallos, poliziottechis, spaghettis and other assorted genres with some depth and knowledge.

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Comment by Rod Lott
2012-01-07 14:55:44

Glad to hear you’re enjoying CINEMA ITALIANO; it sits on my nightstand, awaiting to be opened.

Comment by R
2012-01-09 11:37:45

So…ever been in a Turkish prison?

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Comment by Richard Oravitz
2012-01-11 16:28:00

…yeah, I too was hoping for a fun read. Knowing McFarland’s practice of putting out skimpy books for a big price tag, I thought I’d look around to see what others may be saying. Thanks for your info, looks like I’ll pass.
I watched all these SONS OF HERCULES, etc. on tv as a kid in the late 1960’s and loved them. Mythical heroes fighting monsters and saving the kingdom. Gladiators, arenas, Royal back-stabbings, wars and all kinds of great stuff. I didn’t think once of gay agendas and phallic symbols and to do so now would ruin these movies for me. I think the producers and directors could care less about making any kind of social statement, they just wanted to make money and did so by putting out so many of these popular films.
Got Howard Hughes’ CINEMA ITALIANO sitting next to the computer right now, so I knew I had to respond. I was hoping to find more of the same in OF MUSCLES AND MEN.

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