Sunday, September 2, 2012

151. THE SLAVE (IL FIGLIO DE SPARTACUS, 1962)


This Steve Reeves adventure dates from what Derek Elley, in his essential book THE EPIC FILM, aptly described as the "covered chest" phase of his career, but it at least finds him in good hands. Sergio Corbucci had previously directed Reeves in DUEL OF THE TITANS (1961), which memorably pitted him against his muscled screen rival Gordon Scott, and he would go on to prove himself one of the top contenders -- maybe the top contender -- among the sub-Sergio Leone directors of Italian westerns, being responsible for such later titles as MINNESOTA CLAY (1964), DJANGO (1966), NAVAJO JOE (1966) and THE GREAT SILENCE (1968). This, a sequel of convenience to SPARTACUS (which, after all, had first been filmed by Riccardo Freda as SPARTACO/THE SINS OF ROME in 1953) -- in which an orphaned Roman centurion is exposed by his medallion as the offspring of the great rebel leader and destined to free the slaves of Rome as his father dared -- is not quite as steady an achievement as those others but it benefits enormously from Egyptian location shooting and some top-notch support, namely BLACK SUNDAY's Ivo Garrani as Julius Caesar, Claudio Gora as Crassus (who meets a superbly grisly end), and the Cleopatra of Italian pepla and the original figurehead of Italian horror, Gianna Maria Canale as Claudia, the covetous wife of Crassus, a character whose fate gives Canale perhaps the finest and most haunting closure of her screen career.

Reeves, dubbed as usual by George Gonnaud (who voices most of the male characters), is clean-shaven and, though not at his competition figure, still impressively built; his performance, however, seems lazier than usual and, once Randus accepts his destiny as the son of Spartacus to don a helmet in the manner of a superhero secret identity and lead the attacks against Crassus and Caesar by night, his downsized physique allows him to be easily doubled in numerous action sequences, likely by Sergio Ciani.

Warner Archive's disc-on-demand is offered without extras in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it runs nearly 103 minutes, slightly longer than the official US release length of 100m. Though it doesn't have the glassy clarity of a digital remaster, it captures the flavor of 35mm matinee very well -- so expect some healthy grain, dark contrasts (making the day-for-night shots actually convincing) and colors varied and full of juice.

Viewed on Warner Archive DVD-R.

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