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The Terror Of Rome Against The Son Of Hercules (Mario Caiano, 1964) **1/2
Surprisingly engaging peplum featuring one of the most popular muscle-bound heroes – Maciste, a home-bred figure who had first appeared in the Silent epic CABIRIA (1914)…which leads one to pose the question: how did he come to be the Son Of Hercules (in the English-language version of the film), even if he is in fact made to emanate from Greece in this particular outing (as per the original Italian title MACISTE, GLADIATORE DI SPARTA)?
Incidentally, this appears to have been a pretty rare item until its recent release on Italian DVD – for I could only find the ambiguous and idiotic English title above attached to it, slapped on dubbed TV prints of the film! The epithet “Terror Of Rome” may, in fact, be a reference to any of the following: the Roman Emperor (who’s actually quite genial here!), his influential but vindictive aide, and a giant ape(!) whom the hero fights and defeats in the arena (for the record, other enjoyably inventive challenges he has to overcome during the course of the film are a gladiatorial bout in which Maciste’s outnumbered four-to-one, a blindfolded swordfight between hero and villain, and also being tied to a number of horses and dragged across the field of the Circus Maximus).
Anyway, this is easily the best of the recent spate of such low-brow spectacles I’ve been watching (if somewhat overlong at 103 minutes) – which still isn’t saying much perhaps; even so, the fact that the movie was presented in Italian and Widescreen (albeit with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 rather than the official 2.35:1) certainly helped in this regard. Once again, Mark Forest is the impossibly youthful hero – with THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964)’s Marilu' Tolo as the female lead (interestingly, however, she’s a popular Roman courtesan who’s accustomed to getting her way but whom Maciste spurns after falling for a blonde, and bland, Christian: nevertheless, Tolo remains faithful to him and even goes so far as sacrifice her life for his new cause!). Speaking of which, an unintentionally funny incident occurs when Maciste (and a handful of Spartan gladiators) beats up the Roman garrison guarding the dungeon prisons and, upon freeing the aged Christian bishop, the latter naively enquires of the hero, “Have you turned Christian?”
The supporting cast is also above-par for this type of film: the villain is played by Robert Hundar (whom I first got to know via his role of the ill-fated revenge-seeking hero of the fine but notoriously nasty Spaghetti Western CUT-THROATS NINE ); typically, he’s a rival to Forest for Tolo’s attentions and, of course, a fervent enemy of the Christian faith – at one point, he promises to throw Forest’s new girl to the lions completely naked but, naturally, this never comes to pass (pity, therefore, that the film wasn’t made by De Mille back in the day!). Hundar’s death, by the way – knifing himself by accident after Maciste slips from his grasp – was an unexpected but welcome ironic touch. Another important figure in the film is the corpulent Roman Emperor – depicted as jaded, volatile and, needless to say, perennially-hungry; on the side of the Christians, providing the comic relief (which, for once, is agreeable rather than intrusive), we get Ferruccio Amendola – father of popular actor Claudio and who’s better known for dubbing the performances in native editions of titles featuring such heavyweight American stars as Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro!
As for director Caiano, he was another versatile artisan of the “Euro-Cult” school: I’ve watched a number of his films over the last few years…though, ironically, I was personally let down by what is probably considered as his best-known work – NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1965), an atmospheric but derivative Gothic chiller starring iconic “Scream Queen” Barbara Steele!
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