Story: As the reign of Tiberius (Peter O’Toole) comes to a brutal close after his suspicious murder, the next in line is Caligula (Malcolm McDowell), someone many in Rome fear to be fully mad and impulsive enough to sink the empire. One of his first actions proves that he will indeed rule by his own design, rather than tradition, when he names his sister (and lover) Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy) to be his equal and always by his side. As time passes, the concerns about Caligula prove to be well founded, as he begins a mad reign that defies all description. While his position affords him a certain protection from the laws and those who enforce them, as he escalates his unpredictable behavior, Caligula also amasses enemies, some of whom will do whatever it takes to protect the empire. Will his outlandish antics put him in the crosshairs of his foes or can he evade punishment for his deeds?

Entertainment Value: One of the most notorious movies ever made, Caligula is a wild ride, packed with an all star cast and vivid retellings of some of Rome’s most scandalous elements, with an emphasis on the sexual mayhem Caligula is remembered for. The movie was shot by Tinto Brass with the big name stars on hand, but then producer Bob Guccione filmed additional, more graphic scenes, which were then added in with Brass’ footage. The end result is a spectacle to be certain, an epic period piece with this remarkable cast, surrounded by rampant, very graphic sexual content that while shocking, honestly doesn’t seem out of place at in this case. I mean, how else would you tell Caligula’s story without the sex and violence he would be attached to by history, right? He is shown as an intelligent, but rebellious and flat out sadistic person and many of his more infamous moments are captured here. The production design is good and features some lavish sets and costumes, so while this might be seen as mere sleaze by some, there are a lot of artistic and creative elements present. At 156 minutes, the “uncensored” cut weaves a wild tale worthy of Caligula’s monstrous reputation, so while some will dismiss this as smut, I highly recommend Caligula, it is a one of a kind epic that remains quite memorable.

The cast assembled here is impressive by any standard and the choice of Malcolm McDowell was an inspired one, as he seems almost ideal for the role of Caligula. McDowell has always been a brave, bold performer and taken on some challenging roles, so it is no surprise to see him here, bringing the mad emperor to life in vibrant fashion. He is able to give Caligula some charm and charisma, but doesn’t flinch when he is called to go darker or sadistic with the role, you can tell McDowell is enjoying the role and he dials up his effort to match Caligula’s manic energies. That’s a good way to sum up McDowell’s turn here, as he does come off as manic and unpredictable, capturing the madness of the role, but also keeping a human side evident. I can see how some might call the performance over the top, but for a role like this one, that not only makes sense, it would be out of place if McDowell had taken a reserved or even stable style approach. The cast also includes Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, John Steiner, Peter O’Toole, and Teresa Ann Savoy.

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