1 of 5 | Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren star in “Caligula.” Photo courtesy of Vitagraph Films
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 30 (UPI) — Caligula: The Ultimate Cut, which screened at Beyond Fest in Los Angeles, is unlikely to win over critics of the original film. But, fans of the notorious Penthouse production will be treated even more debauchery in a more focused narrative.
The film charts the rise and fall of Roman Emperor Caligula (Malcolm McDowell). The empire’s excesses involve the carnal delights that Penthouse magazine specialized in.
However, producer Bob Guccione took the film away from director Tinto Brass and added hardcore sex to the film’s orgy scenes. The Ultimate Cut is comprised entirely of alternate takes of scenes or footage that has never appeared, and none of Guccione’s additions.
It remains the story of Caligula, though. Caligula’s predecessor, Cesar Tiberius (Peter O’Toole) already had a harem of sex slaves performing for him or fulfilling his needs.
So any take chosen is still full of background actors naked, writhing and simulating sex. Some sex acts are even suggested in shadow.
Once Caligula becomes Cesar, he enjoys the abuse of power. He makes light of the actual duties of the position.
Some absurdity remains in the nature of the material and is not necessarily out of place in an epic of decadence.
Caligula dances and prances around. In the rain his palace becomes a Slip N Slide. With his short kilt, McDowell inadvertently moons the camera every time he turns around.
The most memorable scenes from the film are still in this cut. Those would be the execution by decapitation machine, and the assault on newlyweds Proculus (Donato Placido) and Livia (Mirella D’Angelo).
Much of the film’s last hour is restored for the first time, which gives Caligula an actual arc. It explores Caligula’s insatiable madness to its inevitable conclusion.
McDowell plays the megalomania of speaking in dramatic declarations like, “If only all Rome had just one neck” and declaring himself a god.
The third hour also restores much of Helen Mirren’s role as Caligula’s wife, Caesonia. Considering the softcore sex scenes she shares with McDowell in this section, it’s surprising Guccione would have ever omitted erotic material with his lead actors.
Caligula is never boring. It can be exhausting, so at three hours plus an intermission, one might have taken the opportunity to hone the cut down to a more manageable running time. Perhaps Caligula is destined to be excessive by its very nature.
The only excess that feels out of place is the decision to open the film with more than five title cards explaining the circumstances of the original production. That is too much information to read at the beginning of a film.
This version of the film should just be presented either for people to discover afresh, or for fans to explore further before or after the film.
At that, even without Guccione’s interference, there are plenty of orgies and taboos in this edition of Caligula. Even without the hardcore sex scenes Guccione added, Caligula will never be tame.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.