THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS 1964 aka LA VENDETTA DI SPARTACUS
Roger Browne (Valerio), Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Fulvio), Scilla Gabel (Cinzia), Gordon Mitchell (Arminio), Daniele Vargas (Trasone), Germano Longo (Marcello), Giovanni Pazzafini (Muzio), Pietro Ceccarelli (rebel)
"We must remain united...and we must revenge for Spartacus!"
The remaining followers of Spartacus remove his crucified body and spread the word that the rebel slave is still alive. However, it is later learned that the famed freedom fighter died from his wounds. Meanwhile, a Roman legionnaire named Valerio returns to Rome and joins in the search for the remaining Spartan warriors. With orders to kill any followers, Valerio discovers too late his family was harboring one of the rebels which turns out to be his brother, Marcello, who manages to escape. His family slain, Valerio takes to the mountains and joins the resistance led by Arminio. It is discovered too late that the treacherous Arminio was working with the Romans all along and that the rescue of Spartacus was an elaborate plot to eliminate his followers.
Michele Lupo directs the first of his obscure (at least in the US) gladiator trilogy that continued with SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST THE WORLD (1964) and concluded with SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS (1965). None of the three films are connected save for the same cast and crew. Whereas the next two installments had a high comedy quotient spearheaded by the participation of midget performer Arnaldo Fabrizio, this entry is dead serious save for a brawl in a grain mill. Having now seen all of Lupo's peplum and fusto films, I've noticed he had a penchant for utilizing sporadic comical moments although here, he eschews that approach entirely.
This film is a rousing revenge story peppered generously with undercranked action sequences and a stirringly opulent and romantic score from Francesco De Masi. It's probably the best historical soundtrack I've heard from this underrated composer. He must have been a favorite of Lupo's as De Masi worked on many more of his movies including all of his costume epics. He also contributed a very nice score for Lupo's excellent spaghetti western ARIZONA COLT (1966) starring genre mega star, Guiliano Gemma.
Valerio (Roger Browne) arrives home just as his brother races past him and Roman soldiers are slaughtering his family
Roger Browne totally gets into his role as Valerio. The scene where he is walking home to see his family and a slew of Roman soldiers rushes past him towards his home is one of the best in the movie. He quickly runs home as fast as he can only to find his family slaughtered by the soldiers. He goes inside and finds them looting the house. It is at this point he throws away his life as a soldier and becomes a fugitive. He kills the Romans and heads off to join the Spartan renegades and gets into a relationship with a woman named Cinzia played by the astounding beauty, Scilla Gabel.
Gordon Mitchell was the single most imposing actor in the muscleman canon. He had a striking face akin to the leathery looks of Charles Bronson. Chiseled in granite, Mitchell was also one of the best and most energetic of the actors to appear in these movies. He really got into his roles and truly shined in THE FURY OF ACHILLES in 1962. He was also one lucky bastard getting to share the stage with Chelo Alonso in his first outing in MACISTE IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS (1961) released here as ATLAS AGAINST THE CYCLOPS. Mitchell was one of the most successful American actors to appear in Italian genre movies. Mitchell also returned in Lupo's next installment, SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST THE WORLD (1964).
Spaghetti western favorite, Nello Pazzafini (billed here as Giovanni Pazzafini) featured in countless of these movies, but he gets a lot of screen time and a handful of dialog sequences.
What makes THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS so immersive is its storyline, some stand out performances and that wonderful score by De Masi that brings it all together. This is truly one of the best of the last in the peplum cycle. This is one of the relatively few serious and dramatic sword and sandal films during a time when the bulk of them were either comical, or an excuse for non stop mindless action scenes. Curiously, the opening of the film is in bad shape and appears either sliced in from another source, or was so badly damaged, it couldn't be repaired to the splendor of the rest of the film. The film quality becomes impeccable once Mitchell and company kill the guards and remove Spartacus from the cross.
One of the best scenes is during the finale. Trasone and his Roman army along with the traitorous Arminio casually ride along the beach marveling at the dozens upon dozens of dead rebels, young and old. Trasone begins to laugh at all the impaled, bloodied bodies and the rest of his regiment do likewise. What they don't realize is that a good number of these "corpses" are merely playing, waiting for the Romans to pass over.
The only thing that hurts the movie in my opinion is the closing fight between Browne and Mitchell. Mitchell cleans house and has a nice fight with Browne, but the way Mitchell's character is finished off is kind of cheap. It's as if the filmmakers said, "Okay, we are out of time, let's get it over with." The last scene is touching as the women and oldsters wait impatiently by the sea not far from the battle hoping their loved ones are victorious. All in all, it leads to a very satisfying conclusion and two sequel/follow ups with virtually the same cast.
Sword and Sandal fans definitely need to seek this one out. It's well worth your time and the print is gorgeous. Oddly, some of these Eagle Pictures releases are in 1:78 wide. They're all 2:35 up until the credits then they revert to a different ratio. There doesn't appear to be much compromised, though. At any rate, you will never find a legit release for these titles any time soon, if ever at all. No English subs, or dubs, which is to be expected. Italian subs are available, though, and you can make do with translating them using babelfish.
Michele Lupo was a fine director of torch and toga epics. This production is the best of his films in this genre. It's easily the most dramatic and poignant which is due in no small part to that damn fine score by Francesco De Masi.
This review is representative of the R2 Italian PAL DVD from Eagle Pictures.