Sins of Rome (1953)

a.k.a. - Spartaco (ITA), Spartacus the Gladiator (UK)

Riccardo Freda directs an old fashioned pre-Peplum take on the classic Spartacus legend. VCI US R0 DVD.

The Film

74 B.C. in the province of Thrace, a local mercenary working for the Roman army prevents his commanding officer from killing a woman and they are both taken as slaves back to Rome. Spartacus is trained as a gladiator and has caught the eye of Sabina Crassus who offers to release him - but he refuses while others are still in chains. Along with his fellow gladiators he leads a revolt and takes thousands of slaves out of Rome towards Naples. The Roman army lead by Marcus Crassus moves to seize Spartacus but he eludes them and hides in the house of Sabina who bewitches him. He eventually escapes her grasp and returns to his group, but finding themselves outnumbered he meets with Crassus to negotiate a peace...

The script for Spartaco takes the classic Roman era legend of Spartacus, but manages to turn this exciting adventure into a rather tame, dialogue heavy romance that never goes anywhere for much of its short runtime. While the opening provides a brief but effective explanation for Spartacus' bondage, the eschewing of action scenes becomes obvious when the arena sequence (usually a genre highlight) presents not a gladiatoral duel, but a bizarre interprative dancing sequence. The entirety of the lengthy Third Servile War is all but brushed over with a couple of brief action scenes, including the rushed climactic battle - instead we are treated to a rather insipid and poorly developed love triangle between Spartacus, slave-girl Amitys and the plotting Sabina that never garners any interest, for the simple reason that it is far too predictable. The English language script (with no credited writer) under the Sins of Rome title does suffer somewhat from the attempts to lip-sync the quick-fire Italian dialogue, with the opening scenes in particular having almost comically quick conversations and trimmed sentences.

Visually the film appears to be more a product of the 1920s than the epic boom of the early 1950s. Dialogue scenes are filmed in a very arcane soft-focus close-up while the battle scenes are poorly executed. An attack on the Roman camp takes place at night so we cannot see anything, while the big final battle is very primitive with a crude mix of exteriors and stage shots, excessive use of sped-up footage, combined with limply thrown spears and obviously fake weapons (one soldier is clearly waving a wooden sword that has split in two) that gives the whole production an amateurish look despite the impressively big crowds of extras being used. The early sequences in Rome do at least look good, using real locations (although with very tight angles, presumably to hide modern developments) and the criminally underused arena sequence looks very impressive (marking the first collaboration of Freda with future director Mario Bava).

Hansome leading man Massimo Girotti is solid as Spartacus, although the script allows him little chance to emote. His love interest is played by French actress Ludmilla Tchérina who would go on to appear in the American sword and sandal production Sign of the Pagan (1954).

Obviously intended as a romantic historical drama more than an adventure film, Sins of Rome is a real disappointment, with the action scenes seeming over-rushed and incredibly old fashioned (they would look sub-par in many 1920s epics), the script does not even provide on the storyline side with the romance being a cliché and uninvolving affair. A curio and perhaps of interest to fans of the Italian epics and director Riccardo Freda, but not recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Massimo Girotti - an Italian actor with a long career, including Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema (1968)
Directed by anyone interesting? Riccardo Freda - an Italian director who worked on films in most genres, but is best known for his horror films including Lo Spettro (1963) and L'iguana dalla lingua di fuoco (1971)
Who else was involved? Mario Bava - future director, he trained as a cinematographer and shot the arena sequences here.
Any gore or violence ? None
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? Of interest to fans of the old fashioned epics, but a rather poor example.

Visuals Original aspect ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and white
The print is watchable but has a general lack of detail and is quite dark.
Audio English mono - some hiss and cracking throughout but dialogue is clear.
Subtitles None
Extras This disc includes:
  • Photo gallery - a gallery of still images from the film, presented as a video file with music backing.
  • VCI Peplum trailer reel.
Availability Available only as a double-disc release, with Freda's later generic Peplum Giants of Thessaly.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Other regions? No known releases elsewhere.
Cuts? Cut status unknown - this is the American RKO print which may well have been edited from the original Italian.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 11th January 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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