Before launching into the various battle scenes fit for the discerning wargamer, it is worth explaining that many battles are done by Second Unit Directors, Yakima Canutt being the most outstanding of these. Many of these go on to be First directors in their own right. These are the guys who huddle miserably on the battlefields of the cinema, struggling to control masses of extras who refuse to take the business seriously. Their business is to produce convincing fights for the director to tag onto his film. Bless them all.
SPARTACUS - 1960
Famous for a superb (to my mind never bettered ) Gladiatorial duel and the famous final battle. Marching on Rome after being cut off in Italy, The slave Army of Spartacus is cornered by the army of Dictator Crassus and must fight. Unknown to them, the army of Lucullus and Pompey is behind them and much closer than Spartacus thinks.
First we see the massed ranks of slaves (in designer sack-cloth) on a steep hill, then we are given a real treat. A legion of 6,000 Roman legionaries marches across a lower hill in chequer board formation. (There really were 6,000 men of the Spanish army in this shot too). The shot is spoiled because a piece of unnecessary cheap cinematic trickery is used to show the same legion marching over the hill behind itself, in the hope we will believe 12,000 Romans are present.
Once in the valley the chequer board formation is converted to a massive square to disconcert Spartacus [sic] and two lines of legionaries start up the hill to battle the slaves. As they approach the moment of combat, Spartacus has a series of tree trunks wrapped in imflammable material rolled down the hill. Each controlled by a slave with rope at each end, that none of the Romans think to kill. The lines are broken and the fire rollers crash into the Roman square in sheets of flame, followed by the massed slaves a few seconds later. A terrible, grinding melee begins, then with the slaves fully committed the other roman army arrives, Spartacus, still has his cavalry in reserve and on seeing this he immediately takes them off to slow the onrushing Roman reinforcements Errr! No he doesn't. Then he goes to the rear of Crassu's army. NOPE! He hurls his cavalry frontally into the raging fight where all of them are unhorsed almost instantly. The Roman reinforcements roll into the slave flank and rear and the massacre of the slaves begins. Great battle though.
Anyone who wonders why the Romans wear trousers in some of the scenes has never had flame catch a bare leg.
The film as a whole was a worthy affair, albeit with lots of hidden social and political messages and is almost two films in one. The first segment has Kirk Douglas, Woody Strode, Tony Curtis and John Ireland and buddys rushing about in designer slave sack cloth in an adventure movie, while the other half of the cast including Sir Laurence Oliver, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, have a much more up market storyline. It works, except for the ending. Are we really expected to think that the slaves have beaten Crassus the villian because at the loss of 50,000 slaves and countless Romans, one slave woman and her baby get away to freedom?
Rodrigo De Vivar known as El Seid has his legend retold in a film which moves too slowly in places, but has various rousing little fights dotted through it to keep the wargamer awake. In particular, Thirteen Knights, were Rodrigo rescues his prince from 13 soldiers using a lance, ball and chain and a little help from the prince.
Set in 11th century Spain it recounts the story of the knight who fatally compromised the invasion of Spain by the Fanatic Moorish Berbers known as Almoravides Ignore some heavy handed comparison with the story of Christ and follow a story that is good enough in its own right. Charlton Heston struggles with real family problems when his fiancees father calls his Dad a coward and in trying to get the father-in-law to apologise he kills him (as you do!). He still pursues the gal though. And why not? He only killed her father. A girl ought to understand that a mans gotta do, what a man's gotta do. He wins her back when she realises he did what he did because he is an honourable man[sic]
I can imagine the arguments if they had spent much time together.
"YOU KILLED MY FATHER BASTARDO!"
"YOU TRIED TO HAVE ME KILLED! WHAT ABOUT THAT?
"Ordonez could never do anything right."
The climactic battle on the sea shore beside Valencia is good, but would have been better if director Anthony Mann had not got the itch to do a big battle scene and dimissed his second unit director Yakima Canutt. If you watch the film closely you can see parts where some of the actors are in real danger of being unhorsed and loads of extras are stalled in a kind of battle traffic jam with nothing to do. The more enterprising at least have the sense to wave their swords. The opening charge is also stretched out far too long, so you begin to wonder if the Berbers started their attack way down in Morocco. Still the battle is worth watching.
The Cid keeps his men under tight control and has them hurl torches at the Moorish cavalry to disorder it. The Moors had developed a knight killing 'buddy' system and some sources have credited the Cid with telling his men to hold together and cut throught the enemy in columns. This is shown in the battle, although not as well as it should have been, The infantry on both sides move in on the cavalry trapped in the middle, archers fire over the top of the shields, then the spearmen charge in. The battle rages and at its height the Cid is struck in the chest by an arrow. Their icon wounded the Spanish/Andalusian followers of the Cid break and pour back into Valencia in confusion.
This film is always good to watch, the production values are good. Some effort was put into researching the Almoravides gear, albeit with some colourful additions and the Spanish armour is very good, if we ignore the fact this is gear that would have been worn during the Almohade invasions a hundred years later. Its easy to forgive this mistake though because the outfits of the later period were much more colourful
Next: Gladiator and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Armati Second Edition copyright 2003 'The Strength Trainer'
Direct inquiries about this domain to the CampIdiot.