Treacherous Roman senator Lucius Quintilius plans a secret journey into Thrace to recover a legendary treasure. He is accompanied by his daughter Livia posing as a Christian slave girl, his... See full summary »
Treacherous Roman senator Lucius Quintilius plans a secret journey into Thrace to recover a legendary treasure. He is accompanied by his daughter Livia posing as a Christian slave girl, his cruel henchman Commodio, and Terenzius, an ex-gladiator and Nero look-alike who fools the local Thracians into believing he is the real Emperor. But Lucius's plans are thwarted by Spartacus and his band of rebels who succeed in capturing the treasure for Thrace. When news arrives from Rome that the real Nero has died, local Roman governor Consul Metellus joins forces with Spartacus to defeat the traitors. Written by
CHALLENGE OF THE GLADIATOR (Domenico Paolella, 1965) *1/2
The peplum genre has always been one of the most erratic branches of the "Euro-Cult" style; for every gem, there's a score of average efforts and even a handful of turkeys and this is clearly one of the latter species!
The narrative throws in historical figures the hero is called Spartacus and the villain Nero (albeit an imposter who makes the Emperor seem mentally-challenged as opposed to mad!) who, historically, never actually 'got together', so to speak; they just make easy identification points for the audience, I guess! The muscular lead is one Rock Stevens(!) whom I'd recently watched in MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (1964): the stage name itself suits that empty-headed ambiance somewhat better but his performance comes across as wooden under any circumstances; for what it's worth, this was Stevens' fourth and final outing of the sword-and-sandal variety.
The heroine is as bland as her male counterpart irritatingly, she has a tendency to shriek when wishing to attract Spartacus' attention (incidentally, she's made up to be a femme fatale for much of the duration but, characteristically, it's such a clumsily-handled twist as to utterly lack conviction and, ultimately, merely serves to notch another fiasco in the film). The villain, then, is played by a regular in this type of low-brow fare Massimo Serato who's visibly bored throughout; as for Livio Lorenzon, his imposing bald-headed acolyte, he was much more in his element in the Spaghetti Western Texas, ADIOS (1966) which, coincidentally, followed this viewing. What's worse, for being Roman nobility, both Serato and the 'Nero' impersonator are bafflingly made to lust all through the film for some hidden treasure belonging to Spartacus' people!!
Amusingly, the film unwittingly makes a perceptive statement about the whole 'muscle-man epic' fad in which the heroes more readily display brawn than brain throughout because, at one point here, after explaining the situation to Spartacus, the heroine instinctively asks him "Are you sure you understood?"; similarly, as if the audience were expected to be asking itself just what form of challenge did the gladiator hero put forth to the Empire, the elders of his community are made to blatantly state the fact when Spartacus accepts to face Nero in a duel inside the proverbial arena!
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