Last Days of Pompeii
Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.
Sturdy Steve plays a legionnaire named Glaucus who arrives back home in Pompeii after an adventure on some frontier or another. He arrives on the edge of town just in time to see beautiful Ione (Christine Kaufmann) lose control of her chariot. Those lady drivers will never learn, huh? Glaucus saves Ione's life, then heads into town to see his father. On the way, Glaucus saves a thief named Antonius (Angel Aranda) from the gentle ministrations of a Praetorian Guard named Gallinus. Then he goes on his way.
In order to convince the Emperor that the mass murders are not a sign of trouble, the Consul of Pompeii orders a festival. (Natch!) In the streets, Antonius rolls a drunken soldier and steals his pouch. The pouch contains a ring that belonged to Glaucus' father and a black hood. Antonius brings the ring to Glaucus' friend Marcus, who follows the suspicious soldier to Pompeii's Temple of Isis. But before Marcus can tell anybody what he has discovered, he is killed by the High Priest of Isis, and his body is left to be found with a Christian cross carved into it.
While we're on lessons of Italian filmmaking, here's one to keep in mind. In most cases the true nature of the women in these kinds of films can be divined by their hairstyles. If a woman wears her hair down, she's good. But if she wears her hair up or pulled away from her face, watch out! Julia always wears her hair in a bun, so even though she didn't do anything overtly suspicious the first couple of times she appeared, we watched her like a hawk, waiting for her to do something evil.
At Askinius' party, the disreputable Praetorian Guard Gallinus tries to rape Nydia, much to the amusement of the crowd. Glaucus puts a stop to Gallinus' carousing, which causes Gallinus to challenge Glaucus to a fight. This is a really stupid move on Gallinus' part, because as played by Reeves, Glaucus is about four inches taller and about a foot wider across the shoulders than the other man, not to mention the washboard abs and the rippling muscles placed here and there. Perhaps Gallinus is near-sighted. And as you might expect, Glaucus takes Gallinus out with a cursory punch, and then humiliates him further.
Glaucus sees the wholesale torture of the Christians, and he decides that they aren't guilty. He makes to ride for Rome to plead for their freedom, but is waylaid by the black hood gang, led by Gallinus, that rat! Though Glaucus only takes one minor arrow wound to the shoulder, Gallinus decides that Glaucus must be dead. If only that guy would get glasses!
Glaucus recovers, and learns from Antonius of the shenanigans at the Temple of Isis. He informs the Consul of his plan to get proof at the temple, then heads out with butt kicking on his mind. And then it happens: Julia shows her true colors! She's behind the black hood gang, she's building an army to drive Rome from Egypt, the whole nine yards. Then, after explaining her whole plan to the consul, she kills him. Wow, these Italians really have something against women!
And then it's gladiator time! Everybody into the ring to be eaten by lions! Can Studly Steve fight off lions and legionnaires and save the lives of the Christians? Does it really matter, since the volcano is going to blow any time now?
As the previous thousand words indicate, The Last Days of Pompeii is one of the most plot-heavy sword-and-sandal epics in existence. Precious time that could be used to ride chariots, drink heavily, or engage in death-match wrestling bouts is wasted on dialogue vital to a plot so boring that we were begging the on-screen ghost of Steve Reeves to start bashing heads. Even the mildly exciting alligator fight and the climactic battle with a lion (which was stolen in toto for the later Sybil Danning vehicle Warrior Queen) were such a relief that we were praising Reeves' name: our hero! He rescued us from the rest of the film!
Our biggest beef would have to be with the special effects: given that most folks will tune in for the chance to see the volcano explode or watch as Reeves conquers the alligator, the bargain-basement tricks these filmmakers employ are almost sure to disappoint. The eruption is particularly fake, what with all the fireworks and pink smoke (What is this? A Godzilla movie?) -- even Warrior Queen, which also took place on Pompeii's final day, had the good sense to use stock footage. The only redeeming sequence is the lion fight, which is well staged with a real lion (mostly) -- which is probably why the makers of Warrior Queen saw fit to steal it.
On a final note, it should be mentioned Steve Reeves injured his shoulder while making this movie. Biographies state that he was injured when he drove a chariot into a wall, though no such scene made it into the body of the movie. Reeves would go on to make movies for another decade before the shoulder forced him to retire after A Long Ride from Hell. Even if Last Days of Pompeii is a rather unspectacular example of Reeves craft, it's still nice to see him knocking black hoods around and flexing his pecs. Eat your heart out, Kevin Sorbo.
* Okay, Steve actually shoves a hot brazier into Gallinus' face. Go back!
** There's a scene where Antonius lays his hand on Glaucus' shoulder (as is the fashion in Roman times) and Glaucus flinches. This causes Antonius to exclaim, "You are injured!" Maybe Steve wasn't acting. Go back!