A welcome breath of not-so-fresh sweaty centurion air, Mario Costa’s Conqueror of Corinth is pure peplum propaganda intent for some reason on making modern audiences believe that when Rome went and obliterated the Greek city state of Corinth 2100 years ago, that the Romans were actually the good guys we should be rooting for!
Deep down I knew that people wanting to defend their homeland and culture from foreign invaders were surely on the side of the angels, but the Romans had the blonde and brooding hunk Caius Vinicius who only wanted to be with the blonde and bosomy Hebe, daughter of Corinthian leader Critolaus.
The Romans also literally brought the big guns to Corinth in the form of the bronzed masculine statue whose mortal name was Gordon Mitchell. Despite all the moral reasons to support the Greeks, the bicep-loving stud worshipping part of me that actually matters had to go with the Romans!
A Roman delegation has come to Corinth to demand that they willingly join up with Rome. Critolaus refuses and despite Rome’s threat to forge an alliance by force if necessary, the Roman delegation is attacked on their way out of town, thus ensuring that there will be military conflict between the two. Little does anyone suspect that Caius, the rather awkward and unconvincing Roman soldier played by Jacques Sernas, who was wounded and hidden by treasonous Corinthians will lead to Corinth’s downfall.
True to his obviously wimpy ways, Caius spends much of the movie alternately lusting after Hebe and talking about going back to Rome to convince his fellow Romans to come to a peaceful solution to the brewing conflict.
Thankfully, he’s an utter failure at this, but that’s chiefly due to the Terminator-like single-mindedness of Mitchell’s General Metellus who pushes Caius to quit being a pussy about waiting on Rome-friendly Corinthians to overthrow their government and to just get on with showing him the secret tunnel that can be used to invade the city, kill all the men, sell all the woman and children into slavery, and burn the city until it’s only fine Corinthian ash.
Despite this being only a 74 minute movie (the original Italian version apparently ran some 20 minutes longer which surely accounts for the rather abrupt editing in spots), it all doesn’t go down nearly that fast.
There’s also the love quadrangle mucking things up. Caius and Hebe love each other, but the evil Corinthian general Diaeus (Drew Barrymore’s father John Drew Barrymore) wants Hebe for himself! And Artemide, who is married to the leader of the Corinthians who favor the Romans (and was married in real life to director Riccardo Freda) lusts after Caius!
And even better is that Diaeus has a snake pit that he likes to throw people into! So not only is Rome going to burn the whole freaking thing to the ground, but somebody is surely going into the snake pit to be slithered to death!
I’ll confess that I was less than impressed with Conqueror of Corinth when it began. There was a lot of talk, votes were taken, and edicts issued about conscripting this and that.
And if you are a fan of soldiers maneuvering around, you had your choice of scenes where guys are leaving the city, coming back to the city, marching in big square formations, and riding around on horses.
Certainly serviceable for a sword and sandal devotees, but other than the welcome torture device of the snake pit, would there be anything to really make us feel good about watching an overpowering military force crush some puffed-up-past-its-prime city state?
Some no doubt will rightfully point to the one-on-one catfight between Hebe and Artemide. Artemide rats out Caius when it becomes clear he won’t love her and Caius is captured and is to be executed. He escapes and Hebe gleefully tells Artemide the news, not realizing this would infuriate Artemide.
It not only infuriates her, but causes her go after Hebe with a knife! Here’s the thing about the Ancient World – if you’re not a bad ass, you’re a dead ass! Hebe grabs a bullwhip and proceeds to whip this broad until she falls on her knife! If the Romans were smart, they’d recruit her to head up a legion!
As solidly over the top and spectacular as that sequence was, there was a scene in the movie that really totally encapsulated everything all of us love about these types of film. It’s not the costumes or the history or the action. It’s the quiet moments before the big battle when a man is able to reflect on what it is to go to war and perhaps die for a cause bigger than himself.
More specifically, it’s the moment when your male attendant is massaging your exploding muscles while you discuss battle plans with your superior! It’s a bit jarring to see Metellus sitting there holding his massive arms out to be rubbed, but you’ve got to take care of something that special just like you’d rub oil on your favorite catcher’s mitt or wax that cherry SS Charger you’ve got out in the garage.
A movie that appreciates the importance of glamorizing middle-aged guys’ muscles as well as having tied up blonde chicks menaced by snakes, Conqueror of Corinth rewrites history in a way that allows you to enjoy the destruction of a society and its people.
Sure, in real life Rome outnumbered the Corinthians and there was no mention of a spurned lover being chucked into a hole full of serpents by a general taking a lunch break from fighting the Roman Empire in his own front yard, but there’s a reason why history is written by the winners. And this movie with its whip-wielding blondes, snakes, and muscles is precisely that reason.
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