Friday, December 12, 2014

GOLD FOR THE CAESARS (1964)

Part of the charm of the sword-and-sandal epics of the 60s is the low budget of most of them; granted, they did often look cheap and didn't have the best actors, but they often made up for that with a scrappy energy and an anything-goes tone. This one was partially backed by MGM; it has a bigger budget, a stronger screenplay, a name star, and glossy sets & costumes, but it's rather lackluster and not all that fun. In Spain at the end of the first century, the occupying Romans, under Maximus, are building a bridge and holding off the barbarian Celts of the north. Centurion Rufus (Ron Randell) is the overseer, and Lacer (Jeffrey Hunter), a former slave, is the architect. Word reaches Maximus (Massimo Girotti) that the emperor is dying, and if Maximus can head north and mine gold from Celt territory to send to fill up Rome's empty coffers, he would be named Emperor. An uneasy truce is reached with the Celts and Lacer is sent with some slaves to get the gold, but Maximus gets restless, breaks the truce, and enters Celt territory with his army, leading to an all-out battle. This isn't a complete slog: the young and beautiful Jeffrey Hunter (pictured) is effective as the slave hero—and even when he's just standing around, there enough close-ups of that face to make a fan swoon; Randell is suitable as Hunter's chief antagonist; the final battle—which involves the destruction of a dam—and an earlier earthquake sequence are pulled off fairly well; I also liked Giulio Bosetti as Scipio. But Hunter's love interest, Mylene Demongeot, is bland, and Girotti as Maximus seems to be holding back a bit. Much of the film was shot on natural locations, but parts of the final battle were shot on sets with very obvious painted backdrops—maybe they were running out of money by the end. [DVD]

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