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Monday, June 28, 2010

Son of Spartacus (1962) review


Steve Reeves (Rando), Jacques Sernas (Vetzio), Gianna Maria Canale (Claudia), Claudio Gora (Crasso), Ombretta Colli (Sela), Franco Balducci (Vero), Enzo Fiermonte (Goro), Ivo Garrani (Julius Caesar)

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

The Short Version: Epic scope early peplum adventure from Sergio Corbucci hot on the success of his prior sword and sandal classic, ROMULUS & REMUS. Corbucci's film benefits from some choice Egyptian location shooting and plenty of action. The characters are suitably villainous and the violence level is unusually high in this obscure gem.

Rando, a Roman Centurion, is sent by Caesar to spy on Crasso in order to learn if rumors of a massive assault against the Roman Empire are true. Traveling by ship, the vessel crashes into a sandbar leaving both Rando and a pretty slave girl, Selia, stranded on an Egyptian shoreline. Captured by a band of slave herders, Rando meets up with another captive named Goro. Spying the emblem around his neck, Goro explains this is the sign of Spartacus and that Rondo must be some relation to the dead hero of the slaves. Eventually, Rondo breaks free and releases his new found friends. Returning to Goro's encampment led by rebel leader Vero, he is taken to the tomb of Spartacus and finds his sword and shoulder plate which also bears the same emblem as the one he wears.

Rondo and Vero decide to hatch a plan to destroy Crasso. Rando now leads a double identity. Still on his mission from Caesar, he moonlights as the Son of Spartacus, his face covered by a helmet. After several raids, Rando is captured and his cover blown. Vero and his men launch a final assault against Crasso to free Rando and execute the cruel tyrant. Shortly thereafter, Caesar arrives to observe the carnage and discovers to his surprise that Rando has led this slave revolt against his enemy. Planning to execute him despite his heroic act, hundreds of slaves and peasants appear on behalf of Rando, the Son of Spartacus.

Following the success of ROMULUS & REMUS (1961), Sergio Corbucci retained the services of Steve Reeves to take the lead in this spectacular and big budget sword and sandal epic. It would also be the last such film from Reeves before he would embark on a couple of pirate movies for Umberto Lenzi and a western, his final film, before calling it quits to raise horses. Reeves makes his last peplum adventure count with this rousing and frequently exciting actioner. He also seems far more lively in the action scenes than he normally did in his other movies.

No doubt, though, that his regular double, Giovanni Cianfriglia was doing the fight scenes when Reeves was wearing the helmet of Spartacus. The movie has quite a few dangerous bits of stuntwork and the fights are well choreographed. 1962 was a good year for gladiator and fusto movies and this is one of the best I've seen. I had been wanting to catch up with the film for years, but have been unable to locate a good copy until now. Still, this Italian DVD has no English options, nor Italian subs although there is an English dubbed bootleg out there in fan circles.

The film itself is quite rare and hardly ever mentioned when such movies are discussed. It's a shame really, as SON OF SPARTACUS is one of the best movies Steve Reeves ever starred in. Nearly all of his movies are available overseas on the digital format, although another rare film with him, WHITE WARRIOR (AGI MURAD IL DIAVOLO BIANCO;1959) is likewise hard to come by in good quality.

The aforementioned action scenes are plentiful and exciting. Corbucci was an ace at handling big scale battle sequences and he delivers here. One of the more curious additions to the already impressive script (his brother, Bruno, was one of the writers) are the Zorro references; the most obvious being the bloody 'S' left on walls, or corpses left behind from skirmishes. Already suspicious of him, Rando is able to fool Crasso a while longer by having Vero masquerade as the son of Spartacus on a few occasions.

This being a Sergio Corbucci production, he shows an early penchant for grim violence. During the finale, there are several striking shots of nasty brutality. Numerous brutal stabbings, a decapitation (the first I've ever seen in one of these movies) and a vicious denouement for Crasso by having his pilfered gold melted down and then poured over his face. His lover, Claudia, is spared a violent death and is instead given a knife and sent off into the barren desert to her doom. The sets are huge complete with several forts and ships, hundreds of horses and extras to ride them. The picture also benefits from some striking Egyptian locales showing off the pyramids and sphinx.

Despite conflicting stories regarding his participation on GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRE (1961), Sergio Corbucci's deft hand is in evidence here in a grand follow up from his previous movie, the superb ROMULUS & REMUS (1961). Sadly slipping through the cracks all these years, hopefully, it's only a short time before this rare and obscure film gets an English friendly release. Definitely a must see for Sergio Corbucci fans and sword and sandal enthusiasts.

This review is representative of the Italian R2 01 Distribution PAL DVD


Samuel Wilson said...

That mask gimmick reminds me of Goliath and the Barbarians. Was it that common in this genre? Anyway, it looks like one I'll want to look at with Corbucci at the helm.

venoms5 said...

I wouldn't necessarily say it was a common gimmick although in SEVEN SLAVES AGAINST THE WORLD (1964; reviewed here, too), the seven heroes use masks to get close to their target by becoming gladiators whom no one knows their identities.

According to an interview with Corbucci, he had nothing to do with GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRE. His ROMULUS & REMUS is a must see film in this genre, Sam. A true classic. Corbucci also directed some second unit of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959) also starring Reeves. That movie is also said to have been mostly directed by Sergio Leone. I have the Italian special edition of that one, too (with the English version for a change), but haven't gotten around to viewing it.

I must say, though, I was a bit disappointed with the DVD presentation for SON OF SPARTACUS. It's non anamorphic and the quality, while not horrible by any means, isn't as good as a lot of other foreign releases. Minor quibble, but it was one of the most sought after titles for me.

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