Wednesday, November 25, 2015


In the kingdom of Alba Longa, Rea Silvia has been made a vestal virgin but she's pregnant by the god Mars and delivers twins. To avoid being found out, she sets the infant boys adrift in the Tiber River. They are found and cared for by a wolf until a shepherd kills the wolf and takes the boys in. Some twenty years later, they have grown into Romulus (Steve Reeves) and the more headstrong Remus (Gordon Scott), sturdy, handsome musclemen shepherds, and they are part of a group of outlaws who steal horses and such to get back at the King for taking the people's money and resources. At the festival of Pan, also being used to celebrate the marriage of the King of Alba Longa to Princess Julia (Virna Lisi) of the Sabines, Romulus helps Princess Julia get away from the crowd during a strange ritual involving ecstatic whipping of the crowds with the skins of sacrificed lambs, and he winds up spiriting her away to be with his men who are now contemplating a full-scale shepherd's revolt. Now the King of Alba Long and the King of the Sabines are after them. The brothers discover that it was prophesized that they would found a new city, but Remus wants to go in a different direction from Romulus, so they split up, leading, in the end, to a (rather short) duel of the titans over where they will build their city, which winds up being Rome.

This is an unusual entry in the Italian sword-and-sandal genre; instead of centering on a mythical superhero like Hercules, this is about mythical average (more or less) guys who just happen to be really strong. Though I'd heard of Romulus and Remus, I was not familiar with the specifics of their myth, but based on this movie, it's interesting to see the parallels with Moses: tossed in a river as a baby, unaware of his background while growing up, leading his people on an exodus to a promised land. In this film's telling, Remus is pretty much a jackass who does everything wrong, right up to the last scene, the "duel" of the title which is quite disappointing. But the rest of the movie is definitely a notch or two above the typical peplum film—strong production values, a script that is a smidge more complex than normal, and good acting from both Reeves and Scott (pictured above right). Scott is usually worth seeing, especially in his Tarzan movies, but this is certainly Reeves' best performance and he carries the bulk of the movie. Virna Lisi, who went on to become a major movie star, is fine. Lots of attractive men and women fill out the backgrounds. Standout scenes include the torture of Reeves on a spinning cross and a rockslide/volcano sequence. [Streaming]

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