Sunday, 29 June 2008

Messalina, Messalina / Caligula II: Messalina, Messalina

This is one of those films whose production history is perhaps more interesting than what is on screen.

Telling the story of the infamous, sexually insatiable Roman empress in the form of a comedy, replete with nudity, vulgar humour and much softcore romping, before culminating with a played for laughs bloodbath in which limbs and heads are lopped off, it's reminiscent of a Decamerotic made several years after that filone had peaked commercially – not the sort of thing you would expect of a canny professional like Bruno Corbucci.

The explanation lies in the title and an opening credit about the source of the impressive Roman sets. For the film was made in the hope of cashing in on the success of the Bob Guiccone bankrolled Caligula, only to be released in advance of its much-troubled model in a case of what critic Kim Newman calls “premature emulation”: second guessing the market in the hope of being there first amongst a successful productions sullo stesso filone imitators, only to back the wrong film.

In addition to borrowing Caligula's sets, female leads Anneke di Lorenzo and Lori Wagner also reprise their roles as Messalina and Agrippina. Given that both were Penthouse Pets, its fairly clear where their talents do and do not lie, but also that the nature of the piece means a paucity of thespian abilities doesn't matter too much.

Tomas Milian and Bombolo seem to have stepped out of one of their poliziotto for Corbucci, with Milian wearing the same Monnezza wig and delivering the same kind of exaggerated, gesture-driven performance as Baba, a low-life vox populi, thief and conman who has the (mise en scène)fortune to come to the attention of Messalina and her emperor husband, while Bombolo plays a dim-witted career soldier charged at one point with finding men who measure up to Messalina's exacting criteria. Giovanni Cianfriglia also has a small action / stunt role.

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