5 April 2011 | Bunuel1976
THE BARBARIANS aka REVAK THE REBEL (Rudolph Mate', 1960) **
Jack Palance was one of the Hollywood stars to work most prolifically in Europe and, since the 1950s and 1960s were the cinema's Epic heyday, he was often asked to appear in this type of fare. The film under review, in fact, was the first of 3 he made in quick succession (and increasing merit) – with the others being SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR (1961; which shortly followed this viewing) and THE MONGOLS, dating from the same year.
Incidentally, since REVAK THE REBEL was better-known as THE BARBARIANS, I decided to watch a triptych of films by that name (one made prior to it, in 1953, and the other much later i.e. 1987, but all emanating from Italy)!; that said, REVAK itself has a fair number of significant credits allotted to Hollywood veterans – apart from director Mate' (who would later make the superior THE 300 SPARTANS ), we have cinematographer Carl Guthrie and even scriptwriters John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin! Unfortunately, the copy I acquired was far from optimal as the color of the print was so washed-out that the visuals came off almost as black-and-white: the only previous time I recall such a drastic deterioration was while watching DESERT LEGION (1953) – curiously enough, another spectacle from this era.
Anyway, as for the film itself, it proved rather a disappointment – a pale (read: low-brow) mix of perhaps the cycle's two most accomplished examples, namely BEN-HUR (1959) and SPARTACUS (1960). In fact, heir to the throne (of the Celts!) Palance is taken hostage by the invading Carthaginians (led by Guy Rolfe) but soon reduced to a mere slave – after his sister had already committed suicide on facing the prospect of being defiled! The rest sees him gaining allies, all similarly disgraced, within the court (a Roman noblewoman and an officer-turned-gladiator-trainer, as well as a Spartan mercenary) in order to turn the tables on his captors; in the meantime, his rebellious spirit also catches the eye of his nemesis' own sister. Still, the film ends up supplying far more talk than action (mainly relegated to the climactic bloodthirsty bout, which also has the leading lady marked for death, spared and ultimately dumped by the hero) and, as I said, basically hinges exclusively upon Palance's trademark intensity for the mild interest the picture elicits from its intended audience.