The magnificence of the titular gladiator of this film can be boiled down to his most muscular feature. No, not his pleasingly polished pecs, which of course stand out amongst all the wimpy Romans. And not even his Pompeii Pompadour which surely defeated several Roman legions with its impressive height. That which made this particular Hercules worthy of the name was his shredded smile!
It is understandable that in many of these sword and sandal epics from the 1960s that our bronzed babe of beef would probably be lacking in the smiles department. Invariably, the home village was burned, family and/or wife killed or kidnapped, lots of straining to lift, tear up and throw assorted ancient world items, and even some good old fashioned torture really don’t provide much of a “turn that frown upside down” opportunity.
This Hercules (Mark Forest actually playing a prince named Attalus, but even his pals call him Hercules so what are you going to do, right?) though is more of a glass half full sort of muscle hunk.
So it is that once the Romans have defeated his countrymen and taken him prisoner (but he surrenders only to spare the lives of his men), Herc finds himself chucked into the gladiator arena for a classic handicap match where the odds are stacked against him four against one while the Roman emperor (Gallienus) and his toadies look on!
A lot of your regular leather skirt wearing studs would knuckle down and get their game faces on, ready to battle to the death, determined not to let anyone have the pleasure of seeing anything other than a clenched jawed hero prepared to inflict as much violence as possible before the numbers inevitably overwhelm them!
The Attalus approach to insurmountable odds in a foreign land? A wide, vapid beauty queen smile! As Attalus gazed out at the assembled crowds in the arena stands, he looked like he was glad to be there! Four vicious warriors waiting to take him apart with nets, tridents and swords? No problem! Just let me put on my fetish gladiator helmet and have a go with them! Be done in a jif!
It’s not all happy times of man-on-man grappling though. In the five minutes he’s been a prisoner of the Roman Empire, he’s also managed to fall in love with the Emperor’s sexy daughter and earned the everlasting enmity of Zullo, the guy with the evil facial hair who commands the Praetorians and who also wants the Emperor’s daughter!
The Emperor is a fair and just one, so he quickly tires of Zullo’s machinations and whining about how he wants to pump his daughter (and rightly so as she appears in a succession of low cut bosom enhancing Third Century fashions!), so he sends him off to the front far from Rome. Meanwhile, in a potentially exciting development that never realizes its potential, Attalus is put in charge of training a guerilla force to go back to his homeland to fight the invading Huns.
These men would be culled from the prisons of Rome which brought to mind a Dirty Dozen-style team of ragtag misanthropes each with some particular skill that would be showcased on their adventures. Sadly, these guys would spend more time getting captured and killed in a raid than doing anything else and only end up being rescued by the unceasingly annoying comic relief character who makes out with his sheep.
The film does have one of those outlandish twists that is just too coincidental and unlikely to ever really play very well in these sorts of films. This is the “guy captured on the battlefield looks exactly like the emperor so the bad guy will kidnap the real emperor and put this guy in his place to force the girl to marry him and then he can get rid of the real and fake emperor and become emperor himself” plot device.
Everything you would expect from such a scheme occurs as Attalus sees a sudden reversal of fortune until it all unravels just as stupidly and coincidentally as it began – with the sheep loving comic relief just happening to be in the same area where the real emperor is being held prisoner (there was some lame reason why the real emperor wasn’t just killed like any real such scheme would entail to precisely avoid what happened here) so that he can warn Attalus and his warrior pals.
The Magnificent Gladiator is a rather tediously generic sword and sandal epic with its routine emphasis on the bad guy gaining the throne and forcing the daughter to marry him, while Attalus spends the movie brawling with various elements of the Roman military controlled by Zullo or plotting attacks and escapes.
That there is very little that plays to his muscle prowess (he lifts some jailhouse bars and pulls on a rope to rip bars out a window – and he does both of these things with help!) and no monsters or interesting sets (it all plays out in the countryside or in the palace and arena) only serve to make more impressive that Attalus could keep that goofy grin plastered across his face periodically during his mind-numbing adventures.
© 2013 MonsterHunter