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Even the mighty Shakespeare couldn't make good drama out of the story of the Roman warrior Coriolanus. (Never mind that T.S. Eliot thought the Bard's "Coriolanus" was superior to "Hamlet." Quick, how many lines can you quote from "Coriolanus"?)
The historical background, in a nutshell: the newborn Roman Republic is imperiled by conflict within and without engaged in a desperate war with the neighboring Volsci, and riven by internal strife between the upper and lower classes (patricians and plebeians). Roman super-elitist Gaius Marcius becomes a war hero (hailed as Coriolanus for his heroism in taking the Volscian stronghold of Corioli), but when he enters politics, scheming plebeians bring him down. Forced into exile, the super-patriot becomes a super-traitor, joining the Volsci to march on Rome. Can an appeal from his mother and wife stop the warrior from destroying his home town?
It's great material, but the actual history is problematic, thanks to the thorny complexities of the patrician/plebeian conflict and to contradictions in Coriolanus's character (it's even uncertain whether he was patrician or plebeian, though his sympathies were decidedly with the former). Shakespeare couldn't make good drama out of the politics, and he couldn't make a compelling hero out of Coriolanus; neither can this movie, though it tries (mainly taking its cues from the Bard by villainizing the plebs.) At least Shakespeare realized that the story had to be a tragedy; this movie insists on a triumphant ending, which insults the history and the man.
It also doesn't help that the big action scenes are stolen straight from other sword and sandal movies; the contest of strength in the Volscian camp is footage from THE Trojan HORSE and the big battle scene was previously used in HANNIBAL starring Victor Mature.
On the plus side, Gordon Scott makes a terrific Coriolanus; he projects both the requisite vanity and charisma. The scene in which he goes electioneering, insulting the plebs even as he asks for their votes, is priceless. You never saw a stiffer candidate! Despite its flaws, the film is still worth watching for Scott fans and Roman history mavens, and perhaps for the Shakespeare completist as well.
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