Genre: Drama    Year: 1980    Country:
IMDB Rating: 3.5 (287 votes)
Director: Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione, Giancarlo Lui    Studio: Analysis Film Releasing Corporation
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Toole, Helen Mirren, Teresa Ann Savoy, Guido Mannari
Summary: Remember the dumbstruck, jaw-dropped expressions on "Springtime for Hitler's" shocked opening-night audience in Mel Brooks's original film of "The Producers"? That will no doubt be your face through much of the two-and-a-half-hour running time of this infamous 1979 pornographic epic that was a ("Penthouse") pet project of publisher Bob Guccione. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But don't take our word for it. Listen to Helen Mirren--yes, the Oscar-winning "Queen" herself--who stars as Caesonia, Caligula's third wife and "the most promiscuous woman in Rome" (and in this film's salacious vision of Pagan Rome, that is saying something). In her very gracious, thoughtful and candid audio commentary that alone is worth the price of this set, she remarks, "I think it's a movie that is unlike any other, which is difficult to achieve." And for those of a more prurient bent, she adds, "It has an awful lot of bottoms." Malcolm McDowell ("A Clockwork Orange") gives a brave and fearless performance as Caligula, the hated and feared emperor corrupted by absolute power and no doubt voted Most Likely to Be Assassinated. The film unflinchingly charts his plummet into madness and the brutality of his reign in scenes of hardcore sex and violence that cannot be described here ("I can't watch," Mirren cries to her interviewers over one scene in which unfortunate characters are beheaded by a blade-spinning combine. "I can't even listen to it").
"Caligula" is also a career curiosity for author Gore Vidal, who wrote the original screenplay, but later demanded his name be removed from the credits, and venerable actors Peter O'Toole, appearing briefly as the syphilitic Emperor Tiberius Caesar, and John Gielgud as Nerva, a Senator who'd rather take his own life than "live with this reptile." This controversial film's tortured history is untangled in a very helpful booklet that is packaged along with this set's three discs. One is hard-pressed to think of a more reviled film graced with such a gala presentation, but "Caligula"'s defenders and the curious will be amply rewarded with both the original uncut theatrical version of the film and a re-edited alternate version. Supplementary material includes an hour of deleted footage, a pretentious "making of" documentary made during the film's production and a new interview with director Tinto Brass, whose softcore tendencies clashed with Guccioni's more extreme vision (Brass did not have final cut, allowing Guccione to insert more explicit footage into the film). McDowell contributes his own lively audio commentary. "God help us," he groans as the film begins, but by its bloody conclusion, he proclaims he has "no regrets at all" about making the film. "Caligula", Mirren maintains, is "an irresistible mix of art and genitals." And you've got to hand it to Guccione. Especially in these politically correct times, it is still strong and scandalous stuff. "--Donald Liebenson"