Thursday, January 13, 2011

Julius Caesar Against the Pirates (1962) review


Gustavo Rojo (Julius Caesar), Gordon Mitchell (Hamar), Abbe Lane (Plaudia), Erno Crisa (Silla), Piero Lulli (Edom), Mario Petri (Nicodemus), Franca Paris (Cornelia), Silvana Jachino (Quintilia)

Directed by Sergio Grieco

The Short Version: This peplum/pirate adventure based on true events is a decently mounted production kept afloat by a kinetic performance from Gordon Mitchell and a plethora of busty female cast members. The women here get lots of screen time, too. For Italian cult fans and Gordon Mitchell followers. For curiosity seekers, there's better examples of the genre out there.

After learning of a deadly conspiracy against him by his subordinate, Silla, Caesar flees Rome and is lost at sea with his servant and his doctor, Plubio. The trio are eventually captured by Edom, under the command of King Nicodemus. The king wishes to use Caesar to help him make military strategies under his employ. Nicodemus shares allegiance with Silla much to Caesar's chagrin. Meanwhile, a band of pirates led by the maniacal Hamar learns his treaty with the king has been broken and his promised bride, Plaudia has been kidnapped and made a slave in the king's court. While he's allowed to sail for Melato, Nicodemus secretly plots against Caesar as well, but his plan is to have the Roman ruler cut down by Hamar as he sets sail the following day taking Plaudia with him unaware that the female prisoner is the pirate leaders woman.

Surprisingly adept pirate/peplum picture made even more curious in that it was directed by sleaze specialist, Sergio Grieco. The movie isn't the best of its type, but the picture is shockingly well made when compared to some of the directors other works such as VIOLENCE FOR KICKS (1975) and BEAST WITH A GUN (1977). The level of misogyny present in Grieco's above mentioned works is non existent here. Some of the women are luscious in the statuesque forms of both Abbe Lane and Franca Paris. Some others aren't much to look at, but were apparently chosen for their expansive assets. A strong sexual vibe is present throughout this movie. It's as if the makers were itching to toss in a gratuitous sex scene, or show more skin than they could get by with at the time. Grieco is remarkably restrained here, only to cut loose later in his career.

Even in this early adventure picture, Grieco takes several opportunities to exploit his bosomy female cast. Definitely not a bad thing, but during the final years of his career, those later films showed an incredible amount of disdain for the fairer sex. The film itself gets by on its action and minor league spectacle. The production was able to afford some big ships and there's also some miniature work present. But the laughable matte painting representing Rome looks like a drawing from a slop artist. It's not a bad film by any stretch, but it offers nothing that hasn't been seen before, but at least Grieco keeps things moving along at a fair clip. The action scenes are sloppily handled although it's obvious Mitchell throws himself into the fights and does his best to make them look as good as possible.

This Yugoslavia lensed film is based on actual historical accounts. Caesar was in fact captured by Cilician pirates of the Eastern Mediterranean and held for ransom. Treating his captives with contempt, he personally upped his own ransom and also brazenly threatened that should he be set free, he would return and lay his vengeance upon them. Entertained by his brash attitude, the pirates were oblivious to the fact that Julius Caesar meant every word he said. Upon his release, Caesar then returned to the Cilician buccaneers location and captured the lot of them. Later, he personally had them all crucified.

Grieco's movie isn't quite as gloomy as that, nor is Gustavo Rojo's interpretation of Caesar remotely close to the historical ruler. He does, however, raise his ransom along with a few others which is met with contempt by Hamar. Caesar also threatens Hamar that when he escapes, he will return and settle with him. Caesar's merciless nature is ignored here instead showcasing him as a romantic hero fighting against an injustice. Although Rojo has presence, his character is virtually overshadowed by the manic performance of Gordon Mitchell as Hamar, the loony leader of the pirates.

Both Erno Crisa and Mario Petri play villains here; the former as a power hungry usurper and the latter as an orgy loving king. Piero Lulli as Edom is also a villain under the employ of Nicodemus. While this version is widescreen and runs 96 minutes, the fate of both Silla (Crisa) and Edom is not shown. We hear that Silla is killed, but we never see this. That's a bit odd considering he's Caeser's usurper and we never see him pay for his conspiracy and attempt on Caesar's life. Edom's disappearance is a bit more understandable, but also a bit strange considering he figured into the story in an important way towards the end. The last we hear of him is his ambush of Hamar's men whose ship returns with all aboard dead save for Akeem, Hamar's close subordinate.

Other pirate themed peplum adventures include the so-so THE PIRATE & THE SLAVE GIRL (1959) starring Lex Barker, Chelo Alonso and Massimo Serato; the slow, but epic feel of MORGAN THE PIRATE (1961) starring Steve Reeves and Chelo Alonso; the action packed excitement of THE LION OF ST. MARK (1963) starring Gordon Scott and Gianna Maria Canale; the lame low budget SAMSON & THE SEA BEASTS (1963) starring Kirk Morris and Margaret Lee and the spirited action of HERCULES & THE BLACK PIRATE (1964) starring Alan Steel and Rosalba Neri.

Compared with the best of the genre, CAESAR AGAINST THE PIRATES doesn't stand up coming off as an average entry bolstered by plentiful action, an energetic performance by Gordon Mitchell and some pretty girls all vying for the affections of the testosterone fueled male cast members. Unusually, the female cast figure into the story in a huge way, and that's not a reference to the bust size of some of the female stars. Their extended presence here are definitely a worthy addition to maintain interest when the story lags. Still, Grieco hints at the exploitation to come--his film contains two dance sequences that lead to orgies, forced (implied) sex, a cat fight, misogyny and numerous shots of heaving bosoms from Gordon Mitchell and the quartet of "evenly matched" lovelies.

Sword & Sandal fans and those who enjoy Italian style adventure movies will be the best audience for this mild diversion as well as those with an affinity for the movies starring Gordon Mitchell. He had just burst on the scene the year prior, but was already playing bad guys. His granite features were suited more to an antagonist than a hero, anyways. This film is also of value for those familiar with Sergio Grieco's work, a director of little consequence outside of showcasing cheap exploitation with a high degree of violence and alarming levels of misogyny. You can see traces of that here, but this is one of the directors better made productions and an average picture altogether. Thanks to Sean M. for providing this film.
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