THE INVINCIBLE GLADIATOR (Alberto De Martino & Antonio Momplet, 1961) **1/2
This is a very typical peplum, one of countless efforts dealing with the Roman Empire and which involve slaves fighting it out in the arena; I have at least three other such films lined up for the current Easter marathon (apart from one I had watched prior to it). Being English- dubbed, panned-and-scanned (the copy I watched was culled from "You Tube"), the debut of director De Martino (albeit in collaboration and who would eventually specialize in horror movies) and star Richard Harrison's first European venture, I was not counting on it being very good; however, it turned out an above-average outing with standard plot and excitements, to be sure, but certainly not a total waste of 91 minutes.
Unusually, we start off with Harrison already awaiting to see one-on-one combat duty for the entertainment of the jaded masses; the gladiatorial instructor (Livio Lorenzon) gives his men a long-winded talk about the honour of their 'profession' (while suggesting they will not be allowed to die as the sovereign would then have to pay him for the lost members of his team!), while Harrison's military background allows him to speak out for the necessity of self-preservation over comradeship to a fellow slave (since, following each individual duel, the eventual winner has to match himself against his peers all over again)! Presiding over the carnage is villainous Regent Leo Anchoriz (in a surprisingly dignified and two-dimensional characterization), flanked by the boy heir to the throne and his elder sister Isabelle Corey; the latter, who secretly leads a group of brigands that look more like cave-men(!), displays an unwarranted coldness towards the hero when he accepts to serve Anchoriz by hunting down the rebels. Amusingly, the Regent takes the protagonist into his employ after a javelin he had defiantly thrown in his direction happened to hit instead an assassin approaching from behind him! Apart from Corey, the opposition here is very weak and this makes Harrison join her cause and, at one point, saves the child from certain death after his chariot has been maliciously tampered with!
The climax sees the star take on a Mongol warrior (whose face seemed familiar from others of its ilk) in the arena, after the latter had defeated his sidekick with the bizarre aid of rampaging bloodthirsty dwarfs! In the meantime, Lorenzon leads a gladiatorial revolt underground but takes his sweet time to reach the surface and join our hero even if he still manages to be the one to execute Anchoriz (after the latter has engaged in a staff duel a' la Robin Hood at which he had professed to be unbeatable with Harrison)! An odd touch here concerns the score which, at certain moments, builds to a crescendo and sustains it far longer than necessary which might explain the fact that the film's official length is given as 105 minutes on IMDb!
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