Sunday, October 26, 2008
Romulus & Remus (1961) review
ROMULUS & REMUS 1961 aka ROMOLO E REMO aka DUEL OF THE TITANS
Steve Reeves (Romulus), Gordon Scott (Remus), Franco Volpi (Amulias), Virna Lisi (Julia), Andrea Bosic (Faustalus), Laura Solari (Rea Silvia), Massimo Girroti (Tasius Nemulias), Jacques Sernas (Cursias), Ornella Vanoni (Tarpea), Piero Lulli (Sulpicius), Giovanni Cianfriglia
Contributing Writers: Sergio Corbucci, Luciano Martino, Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari; Cinematography by Enzo Barboni; Music by Piero Piccioni
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Born of a God and a mortal, two babies are abandoned to a river. Nurtured by a wolf, they are later recovered by a sheperd. They grow up to lead a band of thieves in an effort to eliminate two cruel Kings-- Amulias and Nemulias, the King of the Sabines. After 20 years, the two twins are briefly reunited with their mother. Before she dies, she tells her sons that they are destined to be the founders of a great city.
Later after having fallen in love with the daughter of Nemulias, Romulus is unaware of his brothers ambitions as Remus steadily succumbs to the temptations of power and greed. King Tasius pursues the brothers and their followers both to retrieve his daughter as well as avenge the destruction of his city of Abalonga. Soon, a rift develops between the two siblings leading to a death duel between both sons of the Gods to determine the true founder of Rome.
A fine directorial effort by spaghetti western master filmmaker Sergio Corbucci. A great number of Italian technicians worked on this picture including Sergio Leone. Both Sergio's careers parallel each other (in Italy anyway). Both Sergio's worked as AD's on THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959) which led to Leone directing THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES (1961) and Corbucci handling ROMULUS & REMUS (1961). Corbucci also had a hand in MACISTE AGAINST THE VAMPIRES (1961; aka GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES) co-directed with Giacomo Gentilomo.
While it's one of the finest sword & sandal movies, ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) bears none of the marks of Corbucci's later career (although the extreme violence inherent in his westerns is foreshadowed here), but the film is directed with great care along with a fine script and memorable performances by everyone.
Steve Reeves puts in possibly his best acting gig as the gentle and kind hearted Romulus. He chooses to think his way out of a fight and save those around him as opposed to his brother, who cares only for his own personal gain and glory. Reeves doesn't do any superhuman feats but flexes his acting muscle as does Gordon Scott as the supercilious Remus.
Corbucci carefully builds these two characters to the breaking point till avarice and sovereignty totally consumes Remus. Even at this point, Romulus doesn't want to fight his brother only when it is obvious that the two must duel does he take up arms against him. In death, Remus realizes his mistake but finds content in the notion that it was destined from the beginning.
Destiny and fate play an important role in this movie. After Remus defies the Gods by crossing the shorter route to the prophesized city of glory, he and his followers must traverse an unstable volcano. Inevitably, the volcano erupts splitting the mountain in two sending everyone to their doom save for a badly injured Remus and Tarpea, the woman who loves him. As she prays for the Gods to save him, the Sabines arrive with the intentions of killing both of them. Tarpea gives the information to Tasius as to the location of his daughter.
He gives his word to spare them should she speak where Romulus and the others are. When she does, the easily riled Cursias adamantly disapproves of letting them go free. King Tasius responds, "That man has his destiny...as have all of us." The Sabines are, surprisingly, not the real villains here, but Remus, who eventually becomes overpowered by his ambitions to rule a city; a city by which he is willing to sacrifice all for his own gain. At the end, the Sabines join forces with Romulus and it is here that Remus appears and attempts to kill his brother to rule what is to become Rome.
Frequent Spaghetti Western villain Piero Lulli plays a rare good guy role and gets more screen time than another heroic peplum role in THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964). Steve Reeve's stunt double, Giovanni Cianfriglia also plays a small role in the film attempting to have his way with the beautiful Julia until Romulus intervenes and let's his fist explain that the lady isn't interested.
In what is essentially a chase movie in a Roman setting, Corbucci keeps the action moving at a smooth pace perfectly balancing the plot, characterization and the action sequences never allowing the film time to become tiresome. It would be interesting to learn if there were any conflicts on set between both Reeves and Scott but they work well together and both play vastly more interesting personalities than their usual brawny types. The character of Remus being the more interesting and complex of the two, Reeves (of course) gets top billing as the kinder, more cautious Romulus. However, both get equal screen time. Gordon Scott was a better actor than Reeves and would appear to have been more agile in his action scenes.
With such an awesome pedigree both behind and in front of the camera, Corbucci's famous entry in the Sword & Sandal sweepstakes is one of the greatest the genre has to offer. I'd definitely rate this as one of Corbucci's best films and worthy of a wider audience. Fans familiar with his more well known Italian westerns should seek out this film to see what Sergio Corbucci was capable of outside of the habitual western setting he was most commonly associated with.
This review is representative of the German DVD which has English options.
DVD Availability: Koch Media (R2)