13 April 2007 | Bunuel1976
THE LAST ROMAN (Robert Siodmak, 1968-9) **1/2
In view of its imposing credentials, I had been looking forward to watching this one for some time; though I only managed to catch the condensed version of the two-part epic - shown on Italian TV as part of an Orson Welles marathon on Easter Sunday - it's still a worthwhile and enjoyable film of its type: choppily edited and disjointed in narrative, to be sure, but hardly incoherent. Incidentally, Welles participated in two other butchered spectacles around this time - THE BATTLE OF NERETVA (1969) and WATERLOO (1970); thanks to his larger-than-life persona, the heavy-set thespian was a regular feature of historical epics during the genre's heyday.
THE LAST ROMAN proved to be celebrated director Siodmak's final film: perhaps not the ideal swan-song for him as, apart from Honor Blackman's nasty bath-tub murder, there's little evidence of (or opportunity for) his trademark stylistics. In fact, I'd say that the film bears more the imprint of its producer Arthur Brauner - an expert in exotic exploitation (witness the very discreet, but entirely gratuitous, use of nudity) who had also been the force behind Fritz Lang's last films and would soon collaborate on a number of Jess Franco pictures. Nevertheless, this particular effort abounds in battle sequences that are moderately well-staged - and the plot is so replete with double-crosses, murders and switched allegiances that the viewer's full attention is required throughout; another typical asset of such films is the score and Riz Ortolani provides a serviceable one here.
Apart from the aforementioned Orson Welles and Honor Blackman, the cast is an eccentric mix of international and "Euro-Cult" stars - Laurence Harvey, Sylva Koscina, Michael Dunn, Harriet Andersson, Robert Hoffmann, Ingrid Boulting, Ewa Stroemberg, Lang Jeffries and Friedrich Ledebur; though mostly working below-par, none are especially demeaned by their role in the film (excepting Harvey's embarrassing hairstyle).
In the end, I'd love to check out the full-length version of STRUGGLE FOR ROME (as the original title of this German/Italian/Romanian co-production translates to) someday - but the possibility seems very remote at this stage...