Friday, November 25, 2016

THE SLAVE (1962)

In 48 BC, Julius Caesar sends loyal soldier Randus (Steve Reeves) on a mission to Egypt, ostensibly as a representative of Caesar but actually to spy on Crassus, a Roman governor who is suspected of plotting against the Empire. On the way, Randus saves Saide, a slave girl, from the whip of her overseer and she joins him. Their ship is lost in the fog and hits a reef; they survive, but while they struggle through the desert, they are captured by slave traders. The slave Gular recognizes an amulet Randus wears as having belonged to the legendary slave Spartacus who led a revolt against Rome some years ago before being crucified by Crassus. At first, Randus dismisses this and eventually finds his way to Crassus where he is taken into the court. But soon, he is operating under two identities: during the day, he appears to be just a loyal Roman centurion at Crassus' beck and call, but by night, he wears a mask, strips down to sweaty muscleman togs, and leads a band of slaves fighting for freedom. A large painted "S," the former sign of Spartacus, is left behind whenever the slaves attack—shades of Zorro—fomenting the rumor that Spartacus has somehow returned. Crassus doesn't become too concerned until he finds an "S" on his own bedroom wall. Given that the original Italian title of this film is SON OF SPARTACUS, it's not hard to predict that this is heading to another "I am Spartacus" finale.

The presence of a bare-chested Steve Reeves on the poster for this movie would seem to promise a typical Hercules-type adventure; on a production level, that's what this is: a (high) B-grade sword-and-sandal film. But in content (and intention), this really is trying to be a sequel to SPARTACUS. It contains one of Reeves' best performances—despite the awkward dubbing—and the plot is more complex than that of the usual Italian peplum film of the era. The sets and costumes look good, and the violence is amped up a bit. There is a (not terribly graphic) decapitation—in fact, if you blink, you’ll miss it; I had to back the DVD up to be sure I'd seen what I thought I saw. There's also a very cool death-by-molten-gold scene. The director, Sergio Corbucci, has a nice eye for pictorial composition, and it helps that many exteriors were shot in Egypt. The acting is passable and better—in addition to Reeves, there’s Jacques Sernas as Vero, the man who first recognizes Randus' parentage; Claudio Gora as Crassus; and Gianna Maria Canale as Crassus' wife. Frankly, though SPARTACUS is the higher quality movie, it's always struck me as overlong and overdone; this was almost more enjoyable as entertainment. [DVD]

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