Release Year: 1979
Director: Tinto Brass (principal photography), Bob Guccione (uncredited), Giancarlo Lui (uncredited)
Writers: Gore Vidal (original screenplay), Bob Guccione (uncredited), Giancarlo Lui (uncredited), Franco Rossellini (1984 version, uncredited)
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Guido Mannari, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, Adriana Asti, Giancarlo Badessi, Bruno Brive, Mirella D’Angelo
The story of the rise and fall of Roman emperor Caligula (Malcolm McDowell)
This 1979 Italian- American historical drama is one of the more controversial films in movie history due to its explicit and graphic depictions of sex (including incest, rape, and necrofilia), torture, and sadism. The film was notoriously changed by first director Tinto Brass, which lead to screenwriter Gore Vidal refusing credit for the film, and then by its producers, Guccione and Lui, who edited the film and added hardcore sexscenes which then lead to the director disavowing the film. The film’s main appeal is its cast, consisting mainly of great British actors: Gielgud (The Elephant Man, 1980), O’Toole (The Lion in Winter, 1968), Mirren (Gosford Park, 2002), and of course the star McDowell (Vamps, 2012), several of whom also disavowed the film afterwards. So, in short, noone really want anything to do with this film, which is understandable as the finished result is not only a rather bad film, but also tasteless and vile. Vidal’s original screenplay revolved around the notion of the corruptive nature of power, which would have given the film a poignant message had it been maintained, but one of the changes director Tinto Brass made was to make Caligula corrupt from before he became emperor. McDowell and Mirren in particular do give dedicated performance, but whenever they are not on screen (and sometimes when they are) the film descends into a pointless mess of sex and violence, the boundary between them often blurred. The film does give a rather accurate picture of the rule of emperor Caligula, but changes some factual details and complete ignores any political and military aspects of his rule, focusing solely on his personal debauchery. A film that has gathered a certain cult following over the years and might be interesting to watch due to its notoriety but otherwise not recommendable at all.
Contrary to his reputation of acting in mediocre film for the sake of the money, Orson Welles claimed to have turned down a part in Caligula for moral reasons.
Picture copyright: On Air