The Last Days of Pompeii (Italian: Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei) is a 1959 Eastmancolor sword and sandal action film starring Steve Reeves, Christine Kaufmann, and Fernando Rey and directed by Mario Bonnard and Sergio Leone. Bonnard, the original director, fell ill on the first day of shooting, so Leone and the scriptwriters finished the film.
The film is characterized by its CinemaScope framing and lavish look, and is one of many films produced during the 1950s and 1960s as part of the peplum sword and sandal craze, originally launched by Pietro Francisci‘s 1958 film Le fatiche di Ercole, released as Hercules in the United States.
The 1959 film The Last Days of Pompeii was the eighth cinematic version of Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s novel of the same name. First published in 1834, the novel became a bestseller, helped on its release by the eruption of Vesuvius just before publication. The novel was a fictional account of the events surrounding the eruption of Vesuvius that buried the Roman city of Pompeii in AD 79. It was an example of a widespread English fascination in the 1830s with great natural catastrophes and the moral lessons to be learned from them.
There have been many film adaptations of the Pompeii legend, but most of them have not followed Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s novel. The story of Pompeii’s destruction was one of the most popular topics of early Italian cinema and was filmed several times during the silent movie era. It has been filmed twice as a Hollywood epic. The first was produced in 1935 by Merian C. Cooper. In 2007 Roman Polanski was attached to a film adaptation based on a Robert Harris novel set in the city—but that project was ultimately brought to fruition by Paul W. S. Anderson in 2014. The 1984 television film is the only version so far to have closely followed the original Bulwer-Lytton novel.
The film versions before 1959 had centered on the eruption of Vesuvius, the Christians, the lions in the arena and the villainous high priest, leaving the rest of the plot. The idea to make a new film on the same subject, taking advantage of Eastmancolor and a Supertotalscope widescreen, came from producer and director Paolo Moffa. Moffa had produced and co directed with Marcel L’Herbier a film version of The Last Days of Pompeii ten years earlier.
Two weeks before shooting began, Steve Reeves was cast in the main role of Glaucus, a Roman centurion. The Last Days of Pompeii was his first film since gaining international fame playing the character Hercules in Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959). After he was cast, the plot of the film was modified to take advantage of Reeve’s physique adding more spectacular scenes: an underwater fight with a crocodile; a sequence where the column of a temple is lifted and the confrontation with the lions. Reeves, cleanly shaven this time around, injured his shoulder while filming an early scene when he saves Ione from driving her chariot into a wall, the wound was further complicated during the swimming scene fight with the crocodile. This injury effectively put an end to his bodybuilding career, as well as ultimately forcing his early retirement from the movie business a few years later after A Long Ride from Hell. The injury presented a balance problem for Reeves, and stunt doubles were used for his scenes on horseback.
DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case, wrapped in plastic!