Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

Currently Showing at Cinema Steve

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bringing ancient history to life (sort of)

Caesar the Conqueror (1962)
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Rik Battagalia, Raffaella Carra, Ivo Payer, and Dominique Wilms
Director: Tanio Boccia
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In 54 BC, Julius Caesar defied the will of the Roman Senate and led his army against Gallic rebels in a winner-takes-all approach to once and for all solidify Roman power over Europe. Standing in his way are forces led by Vercingetorix (Battagalia), a barbarian chieftain Caesar once showed mercy to, and Queen Astrid (Carra) of the Gauls... and if he fails, it will mean more than just the lives of him and his soldiers.

The opening credits of this film proclaim that it is based on Caesar's writings (specifically Book VII of "The Gallic War"), but it is based loosely on them. History is dominant at the film's beginning and kinda-sorta makes a reappearance during its third act, and the characters are mostly based upon historical figures, but the bulk of the story, with its evil queen and her lusty barbarian warriors, has more in common with your run-of-the-mill Maciste or Sword and Sandals film than the history of Caeasar's campaigns against the Gauls.

That said, "Caesar the Conqueror" is actually more entertaining than most Maciste/Sword and Sandal "epics." The director at the helm spent his entire career making movies like this, and this is perhaps one of his better efforts. The presence of historical figures also helps the film along, because I'm not certain it is even possible to make a boring movie that has Caesar as a major figure, as his coldblooded politicking married with his warrior's honor makes him both a hero and a villain in the story, all depending on what he is trying to accomplish at that time.

That's not to say this film is perfect. There are some absolutely miserable stretches where we have to sit through under-rehearsed and under-budgeted battle scenes and performances so bland by some of the supporting cast that we desperately wish for Mitchell's Caesar to  come strutting back onto the screen, evenif just to tell us what he had for lunch that day. Another misstep that the filmmakers made was to have Caesar refer to himself in the third person whenever he is speaking of himself, retaining the stylistic flourish that the general used when he wrote his accounts of his battles. It makes Caesar seem a little comical at times when he shouldn't be... and I don't know that there's any historical evidence to support that Caesar actually did that constantly... Asterix and Obelix adventures aside.

"Caesar the Conqueror" is included in several DVD multi-packs, and I think it's a worthy addition to them all if you like the genre. I just don't think you'd be doing yourself any favors if you tried to watch it instead of reading actual books if you're doing a paper for school.

(If this sort of fictionalized history is something you enjoy, you might also be interested in "Oriental Stories, Vol. 1", a collection of novelettes by Robert E. Howard that I have edited. Click here for details.)

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