Tuesday, December 03, 2013


Egypt is occupied by the Romans under the strict rule of Petronius (who paints his face and talks about his beauty). He frequently rounds up of groups of Egyptians to sell into slavery, but gangs of rebels led by El Kabir, known as the Phantom of the Desert, are engaging Roman soldiers in small skirmishes. It seems that El Kabir can be in two places at once, and that’s because both he and his brother Uro are presenting themselves as the same figure, their faces covered to hide their true identities. There is some squabbling among the rebel leaders and soon El Kabir finds out that he is not who he thinks he is: he is Caesarion, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, hidden away after birth to keep him safe.  Soon, the Emperor Octavian sends Furio to investigate Petronius's problems; he is accompanied by Petronius' daughter Livia, who is briefly kidnapped by El Kabir's men after Uro is captured, tortured and killed. When she is released, she begins thinking that maybe El Kabir and his men have legitimate complaints.

This is a sword-and-sandal movie with a difference: instead of being about a mythical hero such as Hercules or Maciste, it is based more solidly in history. There really was a Caesarion, though Julius Caesar never acknowledged him as his son, and he was ordered killed by Octavian. Another difference: the hero (played by Mark Damon) is not a bulked-up muscle man but a hunky little guy with a lithe physique. The entire enterprise is a notch above the average peplum movie of the time with an engrossing narrative—the surface of which I have only scratched above—and some rounded characters. Damon (pictured) makes a fine leading man, and Livio Lorenzon as Petronious is an equally good villain. Scilla Gabel as Livia is distracting only because she looks a bit like Barbara Eden as Jeannie. There are a couple of good action and torture scenes, though at the end, the build-up to a final battle is wasted. Worth seeing for fans of the genre. This is the last of the peplums for now, but I have a few more queued up for the future. [DVD]

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