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Messalina (1960)

Messalina Venere imperatrice (original title)
Scheming Messalina marries Roman Emperor Claudius but goes too far with a gladiator.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
... Messalina / Valeria
Spiros Focás ... Lucio Massimo
Carlo Giustini ... Lusio Geta (as Carlo Justini)
... Aulo Celso (as Gian Carlo Sbragia)
Giulio Donnini ... Narciso
... Caio Silio
... Silvia (as Arianna Galli)
Marcello Giorda ... Claudio
Mino Doro ... Suplicio
... Courtisan Lover of Aulo Ceso
Aroldo Tieri ... Pirgo Pollinice
... Marcello
Lia Angeleri ... Vipidia
Vittorio Congia ... Ortotrago
... Tortured Servant of Messalina (as Paola Gargeloni)
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Storyline

Scheming Messalina marries Roman Emperor Claudius but goes too far with a gladiator.

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Drama

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Release Date:

12 March 1960 (Italy)  »

Also Known As:

Messalina  »

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(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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User Reviews

 
MESSALINA, IMPERIAL VENUS (Vittorio Cottafavi, 1960) ***
20 April 2011 | by See all my reviews

To begin with, years ago I had watched a 1951 film (with Luis Bunuel alumni Maria Felix and Georges Marchal, the latter also a Cottafavi regular) about the same notorious historical figure – for the record, she would be played in the interim by Susan Hayward in DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (1954). I would love to be able to re-acquaint myself with that earlier version (incidentally, I still recall the protagonist's hysterical come-uppance) also for the sake of comparison with this one. By the way, the film under review makes for an indirect addition to my stalled Josef von Sternberg retrospective, given that it deals with the era of the Roman Emperor Claudius (though he is a rather ineffectual presence here). While I did manage to acquire a much-superior copy to the one I already owned in time for the Epic Easter marathon I have embarked upon all through this month, my viewing of it still did not occur under the most congenial of circumstances – as the English-dubbing left a lot to be desired!

The short-lived Belinda Lee is ideally-cast in the title role: Cecil B. De Mille had described Cleopatra – actually dealt with by Cottafavi in his subsequent effort LEGIONS OF THE NILE, released the same year and which I have just checked out – as "the wickedest woman of all time", but this epithet would serve this famous harlot ruler even better! Ordained to be a Vestal Virgin, she still manages to seduce her way to the throne (albeit ridding herself of any conquest/associate once his purpose is fulfilled) and even causes discord among childhood pals! The male lead, then, is Spiros Focas – why the role was not given to an Italian actor is a mystery, but he acquits himself quite well under the circumstances. The hero falls for Messalina before her ascent to power, which happens while the young officer is off to war; later, he even commits atrocities in her name – before being brought back to his senses as much by the death of a Senator friend as the love of a Christian girl played by a young Evelyn Stewart (still billed under her Italian birthname).

The rest of the cast includes: Giulio Donnini, a minor genre fixture as virtually the only man not to fall under Messalina's spell and, in fact, is the one to deal her the deadly blow; Arturo Dominici, who bafflingly exchanges loyalties along the way and even becomes Emperor prematurely (after an attempt on Claudius' life is thwarted but, ingeniously, he still sends news to Rome of its success!); and a pre-stardom Giuliano Gemma in a brief role early on as a would-be assassin, subsequently lover/victim, of Messalina's – his head being disdainfully presented on a plate to her befuddled enemies (with this in mind and in view of the vibrant colors on display here, one regrets the fact that Cottafavi steered clear of the horror genre throughout his career)!


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