The Last Days of Pompeii (1959)

Article #1706 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2005
Posting Date: 4-14-2006
Directed by Mario Bonnard
Featuring Steve Reeves, Christine Kaufmann, Fernando Rey

A centurion returns to Pompeii to find that his family has been killed and robbed by a band of hooded murderers who leave crosses painted on the homes of their victims. He vows to find out who was responsible.

This movie opens with the slaughter of the centurion’s family. Once I saw the cross painted on the wall, I was able to figure out the moral arc of the story in just a couple of minutes. You can, too, with the help of this simple set of questions to ponder.

1) Given that the event at the end of this movie can be rightly called and Act of God, just what sort of behavior would have inspired God to perform such an act? (And if you don’t know how the movie is going to end, look at the title one more time and use your knowledge of history.)

2) What do you think the odds are that this movie would actually have a Christian sect be responsible for the sadistic murders of the family when there are paganistic worshippers of Isis also in the story?

3) Irrespective of who the real murderers are, who do you think will be blamed for the murders by the Roman government in charge of Pompeii?

4) What do you think the Roman government will do to the people who they believe are guilty of the murders? (Hint: The answer to this question is the same as that of the one to question one.)

That should keep you busy for a couple minutes.

However, there’s still the question of the movie’s fantastic content to deal with. This movie is listed as Fantasy by the multi-volume THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE from the eighties, but I seriously question this classification. Granted, many of the sword-and-sandal movies of the time did indeed have fantastic content, but this isn’t one of them. Steve Reeves is the hero, but he’s not super-strong here; I’d say his acts do fall within the bounds of that of a really strong man. There are also no monsters here, unless one crocodile counts. It is, in some ways, a better than average example of the genre; the story is easy to follow, the dubbing is much better than usual, and Fernando Rey makes an excellent villain. Still, the fight scenes seem poorly paced and rather stiff, and even the spectacular eruption sequence falls very short of what it would be like in real life. This one is a mixed bag.

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