Swords and Sandals rule the day in this variation on the Kurosawa theme enhanced by the recent success of the 1960 Sturges’ western updating. The plot of seven professional killing machines is an easy fit in the gladiator arena. American actor Richard Harrison continued his overseas career of numerous Italian features in the various genres that the Italian filmmakers would work to death. Sandals and swords, westerns and spy flicks. Harrison played them all.
Perhaps a bit lost in the dubbing over the opening sequence is the fact that a group of men are in stealth mode escaping what I assume to be the city of Rome. Cut to Gladiator Harrison in the bowls of the Coliseum awaiting certain death to the cheers and jeers of the hungry crowd. Upon entering the ring, he faces down a steady slew of warriors to the delight of the crowd. He’s earned his freedom when the throng gives him the thumbs up forcing the emperor to award him his freedom. Harrison on horseback is soon seen riding to his Spartan home. Death and treachery await him.
Like most every other peplum movie I’ve ever seen, there is sure to be political plotting and evil doers looking to do harm to our leading man. Soon after rejoining his lost love, Loredana Nusciak, Harrison is to find that he has been set up for the murder of her Father. A sure way to ruin a relationship as Loredana turns her back on him and those that would seek his properties and lands are that much closer to their goal.
It seems that his own Father has been murdered and while I’m not sure, I think that may have had something to do with the film opening up with him a gladiator slave. Lost in translation or a missing reel perhaps? It also could be a cast of re-editing which was known to happen as well when Euro films were brought to North America.
When his accusers cannot hold him, Harrison makes his escape with his younger brother and goes about rounding up the five gladiators he supposedly helped to escape their chains over the opening credits. Look out Seven Samurai and The Magnificent 7, here come the Gladiators 7. As the poster points out, They Fight With The Fury of Thousands!
Once recruited, the gang goes about seeking revenge against the Roman empire and it won’t be long before Harrison’s lady love, Loredana begins to realize that the man she is now betrothed to is in fact the killer of her father as well as Harrison’s.
Filmed in the studios of Rome and the countryside of Madrid, the swordplay is plentiful down the stretch of this film that was actually released in North American theaters under the MGM banner. Directed by Pedro Lazaga, there are some well staged stunts and mountain top falls as the gang must enact a daring maneuver much like the freedom fighters in The Guns of Navarone released one year prior to this adventure. They must scale a mountain cliff in order to gain entrance to the palace where their enemy awaits.
These can be very hit and miss for me and I say that partially based on the poor quality and or condition that the prints available to us are. With so many of these produced and easily located due to the public domain releases, there seems to be very little interest in major releasing companies restoring these for any kind of decent release on blu ray or DVD. Thankfully this one is available on DVD through VCI which issued a copy in widescreen no less.
Leading man Harrison is very well suited to the peplum genre with his well constructed physique which is a must for the genre’s leading men of which Steve Reeves set the bar. He actually started off in some Hollywood productions in lesser roles. Films including South Pacific and AIP’s Master of the World before going to Italy to headline The Invincible Gladiator and staying on for plenty more Italian productions. Fans of Django, one of the most popular spaghetti westerns of the era will be sure to recognize that film’s leading lady here as Harrison’s love interest, Miss Nusciak.
When in the mood, this peplum entry should feed the hunger.