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Caligula (1979, Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy)

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Caligula must be one of the most talked-about but least seen movies of all time. It’s also one of the most disowned. For starters director Tinto Brass removed his name from the credits; writer Gore Vidal demanded that the term ‘Based on an original screenplay by Gore Vidal’ be used and most of the actors subsequently forgot to include it on their CVs. Yet the final product, with additional scenes by Penthouse chief Bob Guccione, is a fascinating contrast to the sandals and toga epics of Cecil B De Mille et al. As its star Malcolm McDowell explained at the time, ‘We’re not making The Robe or Quo Vadis. This isn’t a blue movie, but it is sexually orientated.’

The biopic tells the story of Roman emperor Caligula (whose real name was Gaius Caesar), who reigned for four chaotic years between 37 and 41AD. McDowell plays the infamous emperor, first seen enjoying an amorous encounter with his sister Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy). This game of happy families is interrupted by a summons to his grandfather, Emperor Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), with Caligula accompanied on the journey to Capri by the commander of the Praetorian Guard, Macro (Guido Mannari).

Surviving an assassination attempt by his grandfather, Caligula ascends to the throne when he has Tiberius killed by Macro. His sister then counsels him to have Macro killed and, in order for their affair to continue, to marry the promiscuous Caesonia (Helen Mirren). With court intrigue now led by a new commander, Chaerea (Paolo Bonacelli), and Caligula descending into madness (he proclaims his horse a senator), how long can his reign survive?

Helen Mirren, who went from the RSC to the debauched Roman epic, said recently she was grateful to land a role in Caligula, noting, ‘It bought my first house. It was a terrible experience, but it was terrible on a very grand, excessive, and interesting scale.’ Which is an apt description of the film itself.

production details
cast
Malcolm McDowell as Caligula
Teresa Ann Savoy as Drusilla
Helen Mirren as Caesonia
Peter O’Toole as Tiberius
John Gielgud as Nerva
Paolo Bonacelli as Chaerea
Guido Mannari as Macro
Giancarlo Badessi as Claudius
John Steiner as Longinus
Bruno Brive as Gemellus
Anneka Di Lorenzo as Messalina
Adriana Asti as Ennia
Mirella D’Angelo as Livia
Leopoldo Trieste as Charicles
Rick Parets as Mnester
Paula Mitchell as Subura Singer
Osiride Pevarello as Giant
Donato Placido as Proculus
Lori Wagner as Agrippina

crew
Director: Tinto Brass (with additional scenes directed by Bob Guccione)
Writer: Gore Vidal

Italy – USA | 156 minutes | 1979

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