The Terror of Rome Vs. the Son of Hercules

Maciste, gladiator di Sparta

The Terror of Rome Vs. the Son of Hercules (Aka Maciste, gladiator di Sparta). Released March 26, 1964. Directed by Mario Caiano

In Mario Caiano's The Terror of Rome Vs. the Son of Hercules, it's tough in Rome for the Christians. Caesar thinks they're only good for feeding to the lions in the arena, and speaking of feeding, Caesar is always complaining that he's hungry again, and loses track of what he was originally intending to do (round up the Christians).

But the Christians have a secret friend in Rome, and that's Caesar's favorite strong-man and gladiator, Maciste of Sparta, (Mark Forest) undefeated champion fighter from the Coliseum (in this film, it is not a very large Coliseum, and the cheering throng is rather small, so director Caiano keeps the camera primarily on Caesar, the center of attention in the stadium bleachers, usually asking for more food from his entourage).

Maciste is not a Christian, but when he came across the beautiful Livia (Elisabetta Fanti) fleeing from a pair of Roman soldiers in the countryside, he immediately comes to her defense, and when she turns out to be an outlaw Christian, he couldn't care less (she's gentle, outnumbered, and Maciste cannot resist unequal odds in a fight. Also, did we mention, she's beautiful?) Soon Maciste is smitten with her, and before long he's maneuvering events so that a whole group of Christians can get out of the pagan city before they get sacrificed in the arena.

Marilu Tolo is court courtesan Olympia, and too bad for her, she's smitten with the uninterested Maciste, and even when she learns he's in love with a detested Christian girl, Olympia still does her best to protect her muscle headed would-be boyfriend. However, this is getting tricky because Caesar's chief advisor Zefatius (Robert Hundar) is set on making Maciste dead as soon as possible because the bronzed gladiator is his main competitor for Olympia's affection and Caesar's favor.

Director Mario Caiano doesn't have a lot of budget to work with, but the stunt work for the gladiatory fights are pretty well done, and since the film is lifting large pieces from DeMille's 1951 Quo Vadis, Caiano and his writers instead spend time on sneaking humor into the script. This allows the actors to carry it along and add small touches of goofiness between themesleves, that is, when there's not too much dialogue being jammed into a scene (in the dubbed English version, this is often the case, with breathless reams of text being fitted into the moving lips of the Italian actors).

The Terror of Rome Vs. the Son of Hercules isn't going to win any awards for dramatic excellence, but it's a charming piece of Italian "peplum," the genre of muscle bound heroes and their exploits. What starts off as cardboard imitation of better films (Quo Vadis, Spartacus, etc.) develops it's own strange rythmn, and even the otherwise murderous Caesar becomes sort of a friendly and genial fellow. Mark Forest as Maciste is so earnest and resolute to do the right thing that the whole Roman army simply doesn't stand a chance.

Original Page January 12, 2015 | Updated March 2017

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