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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Seven Slaves Against the World (1964) review


Roger Browne (Marco), Gordon Mitchell (Balisten), Scilla Gabel (Claudia), Germano Longo (Emilio), Alfredo Rizzo (Efrem), Carlo Tamberlani (Terenzio), Arnaldo Fabrizio (Goliath), Giacomo Rossi Stuart (Gaio), Calisto Calisti (Selim),
Giovanni Pazzafini (gladiator), Pietro Ceccarelli (gladiator)

Directed by Michele Lupo

The short version: Lupo delivers an effective, if by the numbers gladiator movie, the second in his trilogy. There's some interesting performances, but the movie itself is more or less a restructured version of the superior THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS released earlier in the year. The costumes are inventive, the fights are good and very energetic and Mitchell fans will surely want to see this. It's one of his better movies. Roger Browne encores with a similarly dramatic performance that suits the film well.

Under orders of Emperor Nero, the Roman tribune, Marco Aulo is sent to Africa to oversee the construction of an aqueduct lorded over by the cruel Centurion Gaio. Marco disapproves of Gaio's vicious methods of keeping the slaves in line. Frustrated by his continued interference, Gaio challenges Marco to a duel. Gaio loses and is humiliated. Out of desperation to rid himself of the tribune, Gaio makes a secret order to free all the slaves. A great battle ensues with many dead. Marco is seriously injured, but Balisten saves him. Five of the escaped slaves soon meet up with Balisten. Marco, trusted by Balisten is allowed to return to his people. Learning of his arrival, Gaio frames the tribune, Marco, by stating it was his fault that the slaves escaped at the cost of dozens of lives.

Balisten and the others question Marco's loyalty

Ordered to be arrested, Marco escapes and finds Bilisten and his six friends. Now a fugitive, Marco joins the slaves as they plot revenge against Centurion Gaio by entering Rome as masked gladiators. The seven soon become favorites of the Roman spectators. Trouble arises for Marco as the others soon to suspect him of treachery. He is again an outcast and is forced to set a trap for Gaio to clear his name with the court. His deception now uncovered, Gaio uses his influence to plot a quick rebellion by using the invincible gladiators as a means to regain power.

Gaio tortures an exhausted slave

Michele Lupo's follow up to his excellent THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964) has pretty much the entire cast returning in a slightly different capacity. Some of the sets and locations are reused and the stunning Monte Gelato makes yet another appearance in a sword and sandal adventure. In addition to that oft used locale, the film begins with an expansive view of massive waterfalls.

Balisten (right;Gordon Mitchell) insists Marco (left;Roger Browne) kill his opponent to gain favor with the bloodthirsty crowd

The production itself is less grand than the previous movie. Told on a smaller scale, it retains a good amount of intrigue and several dramatic sequences. Towards the end, the subterfuge is piled on thick and while there's not a whole lot of action, what's here is well choreographed. The few arena battles are nicely done, the seven gladiators themselves have interesting costumes complete with these large black helmets in the shape of a horses head. The final duel between Marco and Gaio is spread all over the Roman city, which is a nice change.

Gaio (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) discusses his plans with the investigating Marco (Browne) and Emilio (Germano Longo)

Marco and Gaio battle all over the city ending up in the arena

The script and acting of Giacomo Rossi Stuart goes a long way in making the character of Gaio truly one to hate. Stuart also played the lead heavy in the first movie and was definitely gifted at portraying villainy. He gets even more scenery to chew in this film and goes to great lengths to eradicate Marco. The humiliation he suffers is almost like an obsession. Gaio uses any means possible to kill him off even after his own treachery is discovered. With his own army searching for him, Gaio turns to a band of Arab traders (led by Calisto Calisti) he shadily dealt with earlier to help him overthrow the proxy in a last ditch effort. Of course this is foiled by the seven gladiators of the films title.

Marco catches Goliath after stealing baskets of food from a merchant

There's a few extra comical scenes here in contrast to the sole comedic sequence in the first movie. By the third film, the comedy was more prolific. Here, it's all relegated to midget actor, Arnaldo Fabrizio and his very tall friend. Arnaldo plays a character named Goliath of all things. There is a genuinely funny scene where Goliath steals a lot of food right out from under the nose of a street merchant. I really have no problem with midget action in these movies, although some fans say they are an annoyance. Italian filmmakers frequently utilized them in these movies and always for comic relief.

Marco and Claudia share an embrace moments before he's arrested, framed for the slave rebellion by Gaio

Roger Browne is just as intense here as he was in the previous production. His role and motivation is almost identical. It would seem the script for REVENGE OF SPARTACUS was refurbished to dwindle the slaves from a whole army down to six plus Browne's character who suffers similar indignities this time out. Now, he's a Roman tribune who is framed for trying to cease needless violence against the slaves being used by Gaio and his army. He then becomes a fugitive. In the previous movie, he was again a Roman soldier who rebelled once his family was killed for housing followers of Spartacus. Again, he becomes a fugitive.

Marco teaches the six escaped slaves how to fight with swords for their mission

Gordon Mitchell plays a farmer who is unjustly arrested by Roman soldiers to be used as a slave during the first scene in the movie. Mitchell is actually the co-star as he was in the previous picture. His character is a bit different, though. Here, Mitchell is a good guy from start to finish. He's the leader of the six rebel slaves joined by the fugitive Marco Aulo. Mitchell is good in the fight scenes and he and Browne both vie for screen supremacy. Both have good chemistry together and it would have been great if Mitchell had been available for the third outing.

The absolutely gorgeous Scilla Gabel returns for the second go round, but in a slightly lesser capacity. Again, she's window dressing, but her role has been dramatically condensed from before. Here, she once more is the love interest to Roger Browne's character, but has far less to do than in the prior peplum picture. What's funny is the film ends almost verbatim the way REVENGE OF SPARTACUS ends with both Browne and Gabel in a loving embrace. Francesco De Masi also encores to deliver another score, but this one is much less ambitious in scope from the one he did the first time around.

Balisten looks to the crowd to make the final decision to spare, or kill his opponent

With some well directed scenes of pathos akin to Lupo's previous effort, this slightly lesser and smaller scale motion picture will be of most interest to die hard fans. The story is simple, but gets a bit convoluted as the film goes on. Mitchell fans will enjoy his presence and Roger Browne is intense as usual. All in all, it's not a classic by any means, but much more accomplished than a lot of entries from 1964. The end was coming, but director Lupo had one more torch and toga movie left in him.

This review is representative of the Italian Eagle Pictures R2 PAL DVD

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