Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie — Sappho, Venus of Lesbos — stars Ginger from Gilligan’s Island (Tina Louise) along with scores of scantily clad women. Now, if that’s not enough enticement to watch the movie, you’ve got ice water coursing through your veins, not blood.
Inexplicably released in the United States as The Warrior Empress, this 1960 Italian import was one of 300 sword and sandal epics rushed into production in a three-year span following the success of Hercules, with Steve Reeves. Sappho, Venus of Lesbos doesn’t boast any Hercules wannabes, let alone bare-chested men. But Kerwin Mathews, fresh from playing the lead in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, resurfaces as an earnest and energetic hero, the type usually aided by Hercules. In the absence of same, Mathews’ Phaon relies for help instead from Louise’s Sappho, billed in the film’s tagline as “the world’s boldest beauty.” She doesn’t bear much resemblance to the historic poetess of yore, but who watches peplum classics for their intellectual content?
Warming up for Gilligan’s Island, she lives in an “island” along a seacoast, cut off from the mainland by a moat. Inside this protected enclave lives a sorority of fetching vestal virgins who parade around in sheer nightgowns. Again, little of this is historically accurate, but who cares? Phaon literally falls into this compound, and falls in love with Sappho, pitting him in a grudge match against Hyperbius (an excellent Riccardo Garrone), the man to whom she is pledged.
Otherwise, this epic touches all of the expected bases. It’s got snarling lions, dueling chariots, an uprising against a greedy king, skullduggery at sea, and enough swordplay to fill an entire Star Wars trilogy. The lush musical score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino adds grace notes. Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.