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RETRO STUD by David Chapman Not a video or DVD, but a handy picturebook that pays homage to the delirious heyday of the Italian sword & sandal epics, when musclemen like Steve Reeves resurrected the cult worship of demigods like Hercules. High camp!

GLADIATOR When Marcus Aurelius dies, the mad Commodus becomes emperor and a renegade general becomes a gladiator. Steven didn’t think much of this Oscar-winning movie (you can read his review), but millions flocked to see it.

I, CLAUDIUS The landmark BBC TV series (11 hours of gripping drama) on seven tapes, based on the classic novels by Robert Graves about the mad excesses of Rome’s first imperial family. Derek Jacobi heads an unforgettable cast.

CLEOPATRA (1963) The legendary epic film directed and written by Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve) with Rex Harrison as Caesar, Richard Burton as Mark Antony, and Elizabeth Taylor as the proud, doomed Queen of the Nile.

CLEOPATRA (1934) The Hollywood master of the hammy epic, Cecil B. DeMille, directed this hifalutin tale that’s heavy on art deco with tongue in cheek. Claudette Colbert has a lark playing the sultry, wise-cracking Queen of the Nile.

CLEOPATRA (1999) Ravishing Leonor Varela is the Queen of the Nile, Billy Zane is Antony and Timothy Dalton is Caesar in this mini-series based on the novel Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George.

SPARTACUS The “thinking man’s epic” proved that a director like Stanley Kubrick and actors like Laurence Olivier could “do” ancient Rome without falling into tired cliches. Based on the brilliant novel by Howard Fast.

BEN-HUR (1959)
• widescreen or regular format •
The chariot race is still one of the most amazing episodes in movie history. Before computer images, this is what they meant by “a cast of thousands.” Based on the novel by Lew Wallace.

BEN-HUR (1926)
This silent version of the world-famous novel by Lew Wallace was one of the most memorable productions of its era and is still an impressive spectacle. Ramon Navarro exemplifies the art of silent screen acting.

JULIUS CAESAR (1953) Shakespeare’s play as adapted by Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Cleopatra), with James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius, and a controversial star turn by Marlon Brando as Mark Antony.

JULIUS CAESAR (1970) A step down from the 1953 version, but still an interesting take on Shakespeare’s play thanks to a cast including Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, Diana Rigg, Christopher Lee and John Gielgud.

CAESAR & CLEOPATRA Vivien Leigh as a petulant but bewitching Cleopatra and Claude Rains as a wise but stolid Caesar bring George Bernard Shaw’s droll and delightful comedy vividly to the screen.

ANTONY & CLEOPATRA Trevor Nunn directed the Royal Shakespeare Company in the Bard’s paean to love against all odds, featuring Janet Suzman, Patrick Stewart, Richard Johnson and Corin Redgrave.

ANDROCLES & THE LION George Bernard Shaw’s satire about starry-eyed Christians and hungry lions is witty and thought-provoking. Victor Mature, Allan Young and Jean Simmons deliver memorable performances.

CLASH OF THE TITANS Laurence Olivier is Zeus in this fantasy based on the adventures of Perseus (a very buff Harry Hamlin). With stop-motion animation effects by Ray Harryhausen, the monsters steal the show.

MASADA A magnificent performance by Peter O’Toole as Roman commander Flavius Silva highlights this 1981 mini-series about Jews resisting Roman oppression atop the craggy fortress of Masada in 66 A.D.

TITUS Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange deliver towering performances in this stunning screen version of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Titus Andronicus,” based on the tribulations of the great Roman general.

SIGN OF THE CROSS Cecil B. DeMille’s early epic (restored to its uncut version) is heavy on sex and sadism, with terrific performances by Charles Laughton as Nero and Claudette Colbert as the wicked Poppaea.

THE VIKING QUEEN When the Romans invade Britain, the Druids fight back — led by their magnificent warrior queen. This is the tale of Queen Boudicca as seen through the lurid lens of Hammer Studios.

ATTILA Epic, brooding mini-series stars Gerard Butler as the leader of the Huns, Powers Booth as the Roman general Aetius, and Tim Curry as the Emperor Theodosius, locked in a struggle for the fate of the Western World.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT Between his Oscar nomination for The Robe and his fateful meeting with Liz in Cleopatra, Richard Burton delivered this memorable performance as the precocious world conquereor.

FELLINI SATYRICON The great Federico Fellini was at the peak of his genius when he made this over-the-top, hallucinatory film version of the wickedly erotic novel by Nero’s arbiter of taste, Petronius.

SEBASTIANE Derek Jarman’s directorial debut was this beautifully photographed, overtly homoerotic account of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, with dialogue in Latin and a music score by Brian Eno.


A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM Stephen Sondheim’s bawdy musical perfectly captured the spirit of the ancient comedies by Plautus. As the conniving slave Pseudolus, Zero Mostel delivered his most memorable performance.

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE You may experience reverse deja vu watching this epic. Isn’t the story just like Gladiator? Doesn’t Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius look just like Obi-Wan Kenobi? Also starring Christopher Plummer and Sophia Loren.

THE ROBE They don’t make ’em like this anymore! A powerhouse cast (Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Michael Rennie, Victor Mature) search for spiritual redemption in the Kingdom of the Wicked — Caligula’s Rome.

DEMETRIUS & THE GLADIATORS This sequel to The Robe is terrific Hollywood hokum, thanks to scenery-chewing turns by Susan Hayward as Messalina and Jay Robinson as Caligula.

QUO VADIS The world-famous novel by Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz gets the full 1950s Hollywood treatment, including Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr. Peter Ustinov steals the show as the emperor Nero.

THE SILVER CHALICE You’ll gasp at the surreal set designs and the horrible fate of Jack Palance’s incredibly wicked villain. Paul Newman is said to blush at the mere mention of his movie debut — but he looks terrific!

JASON & THE ARGONAUTS (1963) Ray Harryhausen’s stop-action animation at its delirious best and a superb musical score by Bernard Herrmann bring the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece vividly to life.


JASON & THE ARGONAUTS (2000) Spectacular production design and special effects, and a stellar cast including Derek Jacobi, Frank Langella and Dennis Hopper highlight this retelling of the quest for the Golden Fleece.

ULYSSES This 1954 Italian production stars Kirk Douglas as the long-wandering Ulysses, with a cast that also includes Anthony Quinn, Silvana Mangano, and Rosanna Podesta.

THE ODYSSEY Andrei Konchalovsky directed an international cast headed by Armand Assante as Odysseus in this mini-series shot on Mediterranean locations with dazzling special effects.

HELEN OF TROY Robert Wise directed this epic which subverts Homer, making Greeks the villains and Trojans the heroes. A worldwide talent search led to the casting of Rosanna Podesta as Helen.

CARRY ON CLEO Back in the ’60s the Brits produced a series of spoofs with “Carry On” in the title. This is their take on Cleopatra, filmed on sets abandoned when Liz Taylor and the Cleopatra crew left rainy England for sunny Rome. Carry on laughing!

HERCULES (Disney) The more you know about Greek myth, the more you’ll appreciate this Disney version — Hercules as a wise-cracking teen, Pluto (James Woods) as his nasty nemesis, and ancient Greece in acid-trip colors.

HERCULES (1959) This movie made “bodybuilder” a household word and launched the Italian sword-&-sandal genre. Whether viewed as camp, nostalgia or juvenalia, it creates a world of its own and constantly delights the eye.

LAST DAYS OF POMPEII Silent epic based on Bulwer-Lytton’s famous novel and produced in Italy in 1913. Romantic intrigues, political schemes, and gladiatorial combats come to an abrupt halt when Mount Vesuvius unleashes its molten fury!

CABIRIA This 1914 Italian silent still impresses with its spectacular visions of the ancient world, as the hapless heroine Cabiria endures captivity amid the monumental splendors of Rome and Carthage.

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