A Battle of Wills – The Rebel Gladiators (1962)

The Rebel Gladiators
is the story of two men – Ursus, a newfound Christian who wishes to leave behind the ways of war to live in peace with his woman and Commodus, a man recently come into power and one who lives for the thrill of the fight. Commodus also happens to have heard of Ursus and his strength and he has plans that will not be denied. Ursus of course, Christian or not, does not intended to sit back and let Commodus run rampant all over him and those he loves.

Known by other names like Ursus, the Rebel Gladiator or Ursus il gladiatore ribelle in its original Italian, The Rebel Gladiators is a fairly down to earth peplum featuring no outlandish concepts or creatures other than the incredible strength of Ursus himself. That being said, as strong as he is, he is no Samson or Hercules, just a man stronger than most and thus a worthy opponent in the eyes of Commodus. In lieu of the fantastical, director Domenico Paolella relies on good old fashioned human interaction and gladiatorial combat to keep things moving along. It works, as the picture managed to be somewhat interesting, though there are a few parts which tend to slow things down a little. In contrast, there are those scenes that feature Dan Vadis and Alan Steel together, battling it out and they more than make up for any faults the film might have. The fights are well-staged and exciting, with Steel’s Commodus being the perfect foil for Vadis’ Ursus. Steel is cunning and conniving, ruthless and smarmy and he gives the role enough arrogance to be a great villain. Vadis on the other hand, not being an actor’s actor as they say, does a fairly decent job as the musclebound hero and he has an earnestness about him that lends a little credence to his performance.

The one glaring mistake that the filmmakers made came at the conclusion to the picture and the ending they gave it. Instead of letting the hero win out and have Ursus defeat Commodus in battle, Commodus is struck down by someone else, one of the supporting characters with a spear in the back and it is all a little anticlimactic. One expects Ursus to be the one to defeat Commodus as the movie was built up to be as such and it is the one real letdown out of the entire affair. It does make sense in a way, watching the movie will give the viewer greater clarity as to why, but it would have been nice to see Ursus come out on top by his own hand.

3 out of 5

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