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Not wishing merely to watch yet another gladiator movie in such quick succession, I was relieved to find that this here revolved around the antics of the third mad man to lead the Roman Empire on a course of self-destruction, Commodus. According to the IMDb, this is also the second of three Peplums to deal with that tyrant out of a total of five movies made; the remaining two, quite obviously, are the acclaimed Samuel Bronston/Anthony Mann epic THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964; released two months prior to the film under review) and Ridley Scott's Oscar-winning and Malta-shot GLADIATOR (2000). While the Commodus of the latter two (portrayed by Christopher Plummer and Joaquin Phoenix respectively) had a lean built and were insane or ill-tempered egomaniacs, the one here essayed as a virile, bloodthirsty athlete by a miscast Mimmo Palmara falls far short of hitting their marks. Even so, this version of events is clearly the superior one to emanate from Italy; although this type of fare has not been broadcast on Italian TV as regularly as it used to be, some good souls have uploaded several rarities like this one on "You Tube" and, in this case, in a refreshingly good condition to boot!
At first, I thought that the title was referring to nominal leads Richard Harrison and Giuliano Gemma two Roman legionnaires being arrested and pitted against one another in the arena at some point; however, since these two actually formed part of a devil-may-care trio, I realized that this was not going to be and, indeed, it is Harrison and Palmara (dressed in exactly the same gladiatorial garb from head to foot) who take on each other for the gratification of the Roman masses, with Commodus eventually landing on the wrong side of the blade. Apart from the three above-mentioned actors, there are a couple more genre regulars in the cast, namely Moira Orfei (as Commodus' neglected wife), Piero Lulli (as his ruthless adviser) and Alberto Farnese (as Lulli's henchman, who also nurses an unrequited love for his empress), not to mention director Caiano of whose 7 such genre works this was his penultimate effort and co-writer/2nd unit director Alfonso Brescia. Every self-respecting hero needs to have a virginal damsel-in-distress to save and, eventually, hook up with: that part is here played quite blandly by blonde actress Ivy Holzer (lusted after by Commodus and whose rejection he takes out on Orfei) a name and a face that did not register with me at first but now I realize I have already caught her in a couple of other Peplums and, in fact, have two more lined up for viewing presently.
As already intimated earlier, the story does end exactly as the one told in the above-mentioned concurrent Hollywood epic with the soldier hero (here Commodus' unsuspecting twin brother!) declining the Senate's offer to become emperor albeit with a more optimistic outcome as he leaves the reins of Rome in the hands of a trusted senator, while he runs into the arms of his beloved and the comfort zone of his cohorts of legionnaires. Before that, however, we have seen Commodus learning of Harrison's threatening existence, having him arrested and put in the dungeons in the same cell as Holzer (incarcerated by a jealous Orfei), escaping and leading a revolt with the help of the rather irritatingly gambling-mad Gemma, his equally-occupied pal and a sympathetic innkeeper. Orfei also eventually befriends Holzer, is subsequently rejected by Farnese and gets mowed down by pursuing Praetorians during a night-time excursion to the politically-charged tavern. All in all, while not a particularly notable entry in the prolific genre, it passes the time agreeably enough and does not outstay its welcome.
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