To rise again in Rome: Malcolm McDowell & pals in ‘Caligula’


Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) is an anxious young man. He seems to have lost his moral compass. But that’s understandable. He’s seen his family murdered; then, he himself adds to the bloodshed by offing his adoptive grandfather, the mad emperor Tiberius (Peter O’Toole). He’s conducting an unsavory relationship with his fetching sister Drusilla (Theresa Ann Savoy), while opting to marry the vixen Caesonia (Helen Mirren) — who has her own ambitions. What could go wrong?

But what Caligula has lost in the ethics department, he more than makes up for in his fashion. Cast as the virile young emperor who succumbs, every time, to his baser instincts in this lurid sword-and-sandal drama, Malcolm McDowell romps through CALIGULA: THE ULTIMATE CUT in an array of jaunty togas and robes, trailing scarves and scepters, his curly mop top in crowns of twining ivy and precious stones. The best paper mâché money can buy! And he looks fantastic, even shaking a pretty leg in a bit of film choreography. McDowell did not need to further prove his abilities in rendering unsympathetic antiheroes palatable. He’s among the best in doing that. And the company he keeps!

A dream cast of marvelous British actors at their youthful peaks: Peter O’Toole unhinged, unbound; John Gielgud stately, Helen Mirren, vulnerable, cunning. Each enacting a tragic drama staged in the fantastically outre set designed by two-time Oscar winner Danilo Donati. 

This new version of a notorious stinker produced by Penthouse Magazine’s Bob Guccione has found new form following years of painstaking sifting through original material by film restoration specialist Thomas Negovan. Caligula is back with a vengeance, returned for a deserved redux with beautiful new titling and absent the stomach-churning hard-porn interpolated by Guccione into the original 1980 release. That textbook example of “money man run amok” caused a good deal of despair, if not mass defection by its cast members, who felt snookered and ashamed. Another famous Caligula dropout was screenwriter Gore Vidal.

CALIGULA: THE ULTIMATE CUT is no Mary Poppins, it’s a very wild ride with some sincerely disturbing scenes  packaged in a vastly entertaining movie. If perversion, depravity, destruction, and madness is your bag, you will not go wanting spending three hours (there’s an intermission) in what must be the ultimate cinematic treatment of the decline of the Roman Empire.

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