Tuesday, January 19, 2010

RETURN OF THE GLADIATOR (1971)


I watched the peplum THE RETURN OF THE GLADIATOR (onscreen title- Three Giants of the Roman Empire) a few nights ago and it was not a pleasant experience. I generally enjoy nearly any film in the genre so when I say this one stank you can be sure it has problems. The film starts off as a serious drama detailing the political and military complications between various factions in Rome and the Empire at large. The focus is on trusted general Marcus played by Brad Harris who has risen from being a champion gladiator to his role as leader of a full legion. He has a younger sidekick whose lady-love has converted to Christianity and hopes that she can show her lover the way to her new religion. Both Marcus and his protégé are disgusted by the newest form of sport in Rome aristocratic circles – the feeding of Christians to hungry lions. Up to this point the film has been serious and fairly interesting with some obvious plot complications being set up and the bad guys showing their faces. It was looking like it could be a pretty good movie. Then everything went horribly wrong.

Marcus is ordered to go undercover to discover if a provincial governor has been secretly working with Germanic barbarians to bring about the of end Roman rule. To do this Marcus enlists the aid of an old friend who is very good with a bow and very bad with slapstick comedy. From here on out the film wavers sloppily from Three Stooges style comedy bits and serious fights, tortures and hasty intrigue. It does NOT mix together well. While watching the scene involving a comic fight over stolen roasted chickens I was rolling my eyes and wondering if the plot might soon resurface but by the time it did I no longer cared. I was so irritated by the complete lack of a consistent tone that I really considered giving up on the mess but I resolved to power through. Not that there was any reward beyond relief when it ended, but often suffering through bad movies reminds me that other movies aren’t quite as awful as I might otherwise think. When people cry about how ‘bad’ the latest big budget mess-ter-piece is I can just smile and say “You don’t know bad. I watched RETURN OF THE GLADIATOR. Try that one on, buddy!”

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