The historical record of the assassination of the Emperor Domitian being a combination of mundane palace intrigue and anti-Domitian bias clearly wasn’t the stuff of a sword and sandal fetish film starring tanned hunk Richard Harrison so it was left to first time director Alfonso Brescia to make the story much more well hung with action, all in the patented Italian style of the era. So it is then that Domitian finds himself being beset by a commando raid of jugglers lead by a midget!
It is a testament to the greatness of both the film and Brescia (Cross Mission, Beast in Space) that such an event not only didn’t seem silly, but entirely necessary! After all, those jugglers carried clubs which could be used to clout unfriendly Roman guards to unconsciousness while storming the secret passage that ran underneath the palace!
It isn’t just little dudes pulling little dude stunts like squeezing through iron bars, riding around in a basket on a guy’s back, and hiding in the bushes tripping up Praetorians that makes the film required viewing for those of us who need lots of brawny bare man legs pistoning back and forth from the thrusting of their swords and daggers into other men. It’s also because the juicy jock at the center of all this, Velerio Rufo (Harrison), struts around during revolutionary activities in a mask made of a wolf’s head and is called the Red Wolf!
Red Wolf constantly confounds Domitian with his actions which include breaking free a lovely lass who was just about have her virginity sacrificed to Domination as well as freeing various enemies of the state the Emperor was going to have executed.
Red Wolf has such big balls that he doesn’t mind busting in on Domitian in his own palace when he’s surrounded by his elite Praetorian Guards and single-handedly beats them all up before escaping! Domitian is incensed and therefore intent on neutering this mutt and puts his best man on the case!
It’s an excellent plan since the Praetorian he puts on the case is smart, powerful, and his commitment to finding Red Wolf can’t be questioned since he’s always gone for long periods of time searching for the dastardly dog! The only real hitch in Domitian’s scheme is that the Praetorian he picked to do this is Velerio Rufo!
Everyone is fooled for the first hour of the film until they start to realize that Clark Kent and Superman, I mean Velerio Rufo and Red Wolf, are never together at the same time!
Rufo does attempt to throw Domitian off the scent by dumping the mask on a dead guy, but since Rufo suffered from a busted up arm and the body had no such injury, it is immediately recognized as a fake.
The midget tries to patch Rufo up, but the lame way Rufo has to tuck his cloak over his arm is a dead giveaway. Rufo is forced to flee and to leave his girlfriend in the Emperor’s clutches.
One botched rescue attempt later and Rufo and his girlfriend are scheduled for execution! And what an execution it promises to be! In order to double the awesome terribleness of Red Wolf’s execution, Domitian is first going have the girlfriend killed so that Red Wolf can watch before being killed himself! In a giant vat of molten lead! (Domitian is like the Red Skull in a tunic.)
Surrounded by guards, his hands tied, his old lady moments away from a scalding death, there is no chance for survival. For the Emperor! You don’t get a kick ass nickname like Red Wolf for pissing on the carpet when the chips are down! You get a kick ass nickname by kicking ass!
Red Wolf becomes a one man phalanx of death and destruction as he breaks free, pushes over the vat of molten lead, swings on a rope, kicks guys, catches a sword in the air and wades into all the bad guys with everything he’s got! All while his hands are still tied!
By the time the cavalry arrive, led by the midget and his juggling dirty dozen, Red Wolf is already sprinting after Domitian! And their title fight to close out the film does not disappoint with both guys going at it with sword and spear while Red Wolf’s fans look on anxiously!
Harrison (Killers Are Challenged) is perfect as Red Wolf as he is convincingly athletic in his action scenes and during his talking scenes, his hair is spectacular. Domitian makes a fine villain as he constantly ridicules the midget’s assertions that the midget has a love life (the joke’s on Domitian though since the midget is just using his “dates” as an excuse to help the rebels!) and he doesn’t even stop getting his regular rubdown just because Red Wolf is still out and about trying to ruin his empire!
Fast paced and with plenty of action, Revolt of the Praetorians, is a textbook example of how peplum movies focusing on palace intrigue should be handled – with midgets, underground passages, virgins being threatened, a rock throwing fight at a quarry, and a stud in a costume!
© 2013 MonsterHunter