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Romulus and the Sabines

Original title: Il ratto delle sabine

aka The Rape of the Sabines

D: Richard Pottier / 98m

Cast: Roger Moore, Mylène Demongeot, Folco Lulli, Georgia Moll, Scilla Gabel, Luisa Mattioli, Marino Masé, Claude Conty, Nietta Zocchi, Francis Blanche, Walter Barnes, Rosanna Schiaffino, Jean Marais

Following on from the same year’s Romolo e RemoRomulus and the Sabines is a roughly faithful retelling of the rape of the Sabine women, when the men of Rome, under their king Romulus (Moore), kidnapped the women of neighbouring Sabine in order that they could have wives and so ensure Rome’s future growth and prosperity.  (The term “rape” should really read “abduction” as that is the literal translation of the original Latin.)

As the movie begins the men of Rome are bewailing their lack of women.  Looking at the motley band of extras the Italian filmmakers have come up with for the movie, you’d be forgiven for thinking, pity the poor women who have to deal with that lot.  After a few examples of King David-like problem solving, Romulus is informed that intruders to Rome have landed nearby.  During the skirmish that follows, a woman, Dusia (Gabel) is discovered.  She makes her escape, only to be found by Romulus later on.  Within moments they have fallen in love and Romulus is helping her hide in a cave.  Romulus sends ambassadors to the Sabine king Titus (Lulli) asking for the Sabine women to be given over to Rome.  Titus refuses, leading Romulus to plot their abduction at a festival held by the Sabines.  Distracted by wine provided by the Romans, the Sabines have little chance to stop the abduction of their women, including Titus’s daughter Rea (Demongeot).

Romulus, upon seeing Rea, promptly forgets all about Dusia, and falls head over heels in love (again).  The Sabine women are given their pick of the Roman men, and the future of Rome is secured.  While all this is going on however, Dusia, who has found a secret entrance into Rome and seen Romulus making googly-eyes at Rea, frees Rea and then helps the Sabines to enter Rome and mount an attack.

Romulus and the Sabines - scene

There are anomalies here, of course.  The character of Dusia never existed (she’s a stand-in for Tarpeia, the daughter of the governor of the citadel on the Capitoline hill). When the Sabines attacked Rome it was after two other tribes had already failed in the same endeavour.  And it was the new brides of Rome who stopped the battle by coming between the opposing sides and reconciling them (here the battle is stopped in a different way but the outcome is the same).  If you know your early Roman history, then I’m sure there are even more things that are anachronistic or just plain wrong, but as the movie is intended primarily as entertainment rather than as a faithful recreation of events, the filmmakers can probably be excused their remissions and embellishments.

What is harder to forgive is the sight of Moore with one of the silliest hairstyles seen in any peplum movie.  Amazingly, Moore was thirty-four when he made Romulus and the Sabines, but he looks ten years younger and has the curly hair of a teenager just learning to use a comb.  Whenever he’s on screen – and that’s approximately sixty per cent of the time – it’s all you can focus on.  Even Gabel’s heaving bosom doesn’t attract the eye as much… well, okay, maybe it does.  There are early examples of the raised eyebrow school of acting, as well as completely unconvincing attempts to act tough or angry.  It’s actually difficult to properly gauge Moore’s performance as he alternates between entering into the spirit of things, and looking as uncomfortable in a short skirt as only a grown man can.  (This was Moore’s first Italian movie, and he would make only one more, Un branco di vigliacchi (aka No Man’s Land), the following year.

As for the rest of the cast, Demongeot pouts a lot and provides a one-note performance, while Gabel smoulders as much as is humanly possible without spontaneously combusting.  Comic relief is provided by the near-sighted Blanche, and gravitas comes courtesy of Lulli.  Pottier’s direction is merely average (this was his only peplum movie), and the photography meets the standards required for this type of movie with this type of budget.  The art direction depicts a Rome that is both rich and pastoral – often in the same shot – and the outdoor sequences are filmed with an eye for the beauty of the surrounding countryside.  All in all, Romulus and the Sabines is no better and no worse than all the other historical epics being made at the time in Italy.  It has its humorous moments, mostly unintentional, but it does a fair job of telling its (mostly) true story.

Rating: 5/10 – despite Moore’s uneasiness in the title role, Romulus and the Sabines isn’t as daft as it might have been; perfect for passing the time on a rainy afternoon when there’s nothing else on.

Originally posted on thedullwoodexperiment website.

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