After the worldwide success of HERCULES in the late 1950s, Italian filmmakers (experienced and novice alike) started churning out Sword and Sandal movies (or Peplum movies, if you prefer) by the dozen, and sweaty, muscle-bound heroes like Hercules, Maciste, Ursus, Samson, and Goliath began to conquer the world. As the mid 1960s pulled up, however, the Peplum Industry began to wane – audiences near and far were probably a bit tired of seeing the same old story over and over again (although as to how American audiences let Jerry Bruckheimer get away with it is beyond me), and, with the advent of the Spaghetti Western, the entire Sword And Sandal genre laid down to rest for a couple of decades. One of the later entries made before the field went completely kaput was a feature called IL MAGNIFICO GLADITATORE, known in the U.S. under its literal translation, THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR.
Starring Brooklyn-born Mark Forest, THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR brings us the story of Attalus, son of the fallen Dacian king, whose country has been besieged by those darn Romans. Captured by the treacherous Zullo (Paolo Gozlino), Attalus is forced to fight in the arena for Caesar Galienus (Franco Cobianchi – having the time of his life here), who subsequently awards his victor with his freedom, Roman citizenship, and the hand of his daughter, Velida (Marilù Tolo). As I’m sure you may have noticed, this Roman Emperor is not your usual run-of-the-mill psychopath: in fact, he’s quite a nice guy, but his kindness is too much for the jealous Zullo and his girlfriend Clea (Jolanda Modio), who soon find the perfect way to make all of their deranged and greedy dreams come true when Zullo finds an imprisoned actor who bears more than a passing resemblance to his Caesar Galienus (and whom is also played by Cobianchi).
Soon, Zullo is pulling the strings of the imposter Emperor: imprisoning Attalus, betrothing Velida to Zullo, and condemning both the real Emperor and our muscular hero to death. Fortunately for Attalus, he has his loyal band of followers comprised of Dacian detainees and Roman rogues to assist him, including the very spry Horatio (Nazzareno Zamperla) and the loony sheep-loving Drusius (Oreste Lionello), who serves as both the movie’s comic relief and weakest link at the same time (comedian Lionello, who passed away in February of 2009, was famous for dubbing Woody Allen’s voice in Italian-language features, and his onscreen character here speaks with a New York accent for some reason). Eagle-eyed viewers should keep an eye out for the familiar mug of Nello Pazzafini as one of Attalus’ Dacian warriors.
Like many other non-Hercules vehicles, THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR’s main character (in this case Dacian Prince Attalus) is referred to as Hercules in this English-dubbed print – a very common practice amongst American distributors who were still trying to cash in on the Steve Reeves hit, but the name change only causes confusion here, with viewers left wondering “Since when was Herc a Dacian Prince with a mortal father?” It’s pretty apparent that our feature film here wasn’t graced with an overly large budget, and the very sight of writer/director Alfonso Brescia’s name (aka Al Bradley) causes brain hemorrhaging to anyone that’s ever seen any of his sci-fi opuses, but, when all’s said and done, THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR is good, innocent fun (with the exception of Oreste Lionello’s weird animal fetish, that is), and actor/bodybuilder Mark Forest seems to be enjoying himself here (as are all of the actors, really): he has a sort of “Yeah, this is my last movie here and after that, it’s opera all the way, baby!” smile on his face throughout, which just sort of ups the camp value a little. No harm done.
RetroMedia Entertainment continues to bring us the good stuff with the first official DVD release of THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR in an anamorphic widescreen presentation (2.35:1). Although it’s safe to say that the source print wasn’t in the best of shape (the movie contains more than a bit of scratches, splices, cigarette burns, etc.), this is a clear case of “beggars can not be choosers” and peplum fans must simply be grateful that we have this title on video at all. The movie’s mono stereo English soundtrack has a few modern sound effects added into the mix (an inexpensive copyright form, I imagine?) which will most likely stand out on surround sound systems – but I doubt most people will even notice.
Also on the single-sided disc is a secondary feature (yay!) called REVOLT OF THE BARBARIANS (LA RIVOLTA DEI BARBARI), a mind-numbing flick (wait, boo!) that is presented in a cropped 1.33:1 full frame ratio (double boo!) and featuring Roland Carey and Maria Grazia Spina as the leads. The film has our Roman hero Darius (Carey) being sent to the Gaul region to find out who’s stealing the Rome’s gold shipments, only to find a group of barbarians ready to, er, um – revolt. It isn’t a very good film from the get go, but between the atrocious dubbing and foley work (example: there may be 20 people charging down the hill but the foley artist only puts in two footsteps and a very silent yell), an excessive use of stock footage, and the fact that the print used here is quite shabby, REVOLT OF THE BARBARIANS comes off as being a pretty dull film. Best viewed after a couple bottles of wine and a big spaghetti dinner.
Special features on this Region 0 disc are limited to a few trailers for several other peplum movies: HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN (ERCOLE CONTRO I FIGLI DEL SOLE) with Mark Forest; URSUS AND THE TARTAR PRINCESS (URSUS E LA RAGAZZA TARTARA) starring Yoko Tani, Maria Grazia Spina, Akim Tamiroff and Joe Robinson; THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR; and, finally, JULIUS CAESAR AGAINST THE PIRATES (GIULIO CESARE CONTRO I PIRATI) with Gustavo Rojo and Gordon Mitchell. These previews are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Of course, as I said before, beggars can not be choosers, and even though REVOLT OF THE BARBARIANS really sucks, I am nonetheless grateful that Infinity Entertainment and RetroMedia have brought us another double feature of beefcake to enjoy. Hopefully, we’ll see some of the titles from the trailer section out on DVD soon. (Adam Becvar)
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