Duel of the Titans AKA Romolo e Remo (1961)
R2 - Germany - Koch Media
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (5th September 2007).
The Film

Many have probably at least heard the tale of the twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome in mythology. The story is also re-told in the Italian Peplum (“Sword and sandal”-film) “Duel of the Titans AKA Romolo e Remo (1961)” by director/co-writer (dialogue) Sergio Corbucci (who later did two legendary Spaghetti westerns: “Django (1966)” and “The Great Silence AKA Il Grande Silenzio (1968)”). The cast is pretty awesome, since for the parts of Romulus (Steve Reeves) and Remus (Gordon Scott) you have the “original” Hercules (Reeves in “Hercules AKA Le Fatiche di Ercole (1958)”), along with Tarzan (Scott played the character in 1955-1960). Reeves passed away in 2000 and Scott in April this year. Both men will be truly missed.

The film starts when the mother Rea Silvia (Laura Solari) puts her infant twins in a cradle and sets them adrift to the river. This is the only way to save them from the King Amulio (Franco Volpi), who wants the twins killed. Romulus and Remus are first nursed by the she-wolf, but then the local sheep wrangler Faustolo (Andrea Bosic) finds them from a cave. From this point the story fast-forwards to the year 753 BC and to the odd marriage ceremony (involving animal sacrifice and whipping). King Amulio is getting married to the blonde Princess Julia (Virna Lisi - e.g. “How to Murder Your Wife (1965)” and “Not with My Wife, You Don't! (1966)”), the daughter of King of the Sabine, Tazio (Massimo Girotti - e.g. “Last Tango in Paris AKA Ultimo tango a Parigi (1972)” and “Baron Blood AKA Gli Orrori del castello di Norimberga (1972)”). Romulus and Remus are also present and Romulus instantly has his eye for Julia. The bodyguard of King Amulio, Curzio (Jacques Sernas - e.g. “Helen of Troy (1956)”) sees Romulus flirting with Julia and ends up challenging Romulus to a big horse race that is soon taking place. Romulus of course accepts (hey, this is Peplum after all). What most people don´t know is that Romulus and Remus are part of the bigger plan, now going to full effect. The group of outlaws - led by Remus, storms into the city, creating havoc and eventually stealing the horses. Back in their secret camp, Remus discovers that his brother has stolen more than just the horses. Romulus has “kidnapped” (as we can see, she is not resisting very much) the bride Julia and is now facing the wrath of her father, King Tazio. At the same time Remus hears the truth from his “father” Faustolo - now on his deathbed; the brothers are actually the sons of the god (of “war” - in the mythology) himself. Remus realizes that he could be the new King of the city that he´s going to build and is leading his people on the long journey to the “Valley of the seven hills”. Somewhere to this undiscovered land the city of Rome will be founded. Remus first has to find his brother and all the way through the difficult journey, King Tazio with his Seipains soldiers are behind them, very eager to even the score.

“Duel of the Titans” has basically two acts; the first one leads to the journey and the other one focuses on the journey to the mystical valley. The first act is a bit more of a traditional Peplum, since it has the evil king, his partly corrupted kingdom and muscle men fighting against the soldiers and competing in the “races”. We of course have muscle men and soldiers throughout the film, but the second act takes the story a bit deeper than many Peplum-fans have used to. The film is essentially a story of two brothers and their relationship, which turns from the strong comradeship to a bitter jealousy and fight for power. Remus, the headstrong and short fused leader of his group has not always seen eye to eye with his playful brother Romulus, who is often more interested in women and enjoying life than fighting. Romulus has still always been loyal to his brother and for the “cause”, always ready to step up when his strength and wit is needed. Now Romulus` affection toward Princess Julia will eventually lead these two onto a collision course, even when the other one is not looking for a fight. The final straw is the fact that only one can be the King of the new city. Remus` “girlfriend” Tarpeja (stunning Ornella Vanoni, now famous singer in Italy) adds another dimension to the story, since Remus keeps rejecting her. This will turn also Tarpeja bitter.

“Duel of the Titans” is an excellent Peplum, since it takes the more “serious” approach to the story and doesn´t take the easiest way like many other films of this nature. Sure, Peplums are often meant to be fun and play, but you need films like this from time to time to give more credibility to the whole genre. There are some very dramatic scenes (people falling from the cliffs for instance) and the doomed relationship with the two brothers is like that icing on the cake. The fight scenes are also surprisingly violent - for the “FSK 12”-rated film I mean, since while you don´t see much blood and such, people really die in this film and in a “dramatic way”. There are also quite wild stunts and “horse falls” (this film most likely wouldn´t pass “uncut” in the UK).

Director Corbucci has always been at its best when operating in the more serious territory and “Duel of the Titans” is an example that he truly was a skillful filmmaker. While the “masterful acting” is not the main point in Peplums, it´s great to see two legendary actors Reeves (without the beard, I might add) and Scott in the same film and even somewhat “against each other” (like the US tagline says; “Fight-to-the-finish between the screen´s mightiest titans!”). These guys can be a bit campy, still putting some of the modern “action heroes” to shame. Note, that the co-writer of the dialogue is one Sergio Leone.

Video

I have been a fan of German “Koch Media” for a while now and titles like “Duel of the Titans” will warm the hearts of many “Euro cult”-fans out there. The film is presented in Anamorphic 2.35:1 and while it looks quite decent, it´s not perfect. The look of the transfer is not always consistent, so while many scenes have strong colours and black levels, some look a bit faded and pale. There´s some minor “reddish tint” in some scenes, but I can´t say if that was due to the original look of the film. Some “murkiness” is also present in some scenes. While the look is not fully pristine, the transfer is still fairly clean (some dirt and film artifacts are occasionally visible) and definitely enjoyable in the end. The bitrate seems to be around 8 Mbps, which is very positive news. In the end, I´m glad that we have another Peplum in its OAR 2.35:1. The film is using the original Italian credits. “Dual layer” disc runs 104:24 min (PAL) and is coded “R2”. There are 20 chapters.

Audio

The disc includes two Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono -tracks: English and German. There are no subtitles, but some scenes in the German-track are in English (with optional German subtitles). Minor hiss can be heard in the background, but otherwise the English track is quite satisfactory for the film of this age. Dialogue can be a bit muffled, but clear. Since the lead actors Reeves and Scott are from the US, English dub is not a bad option (I doubt that actors dubbed their own voices, though). Alternate Italian-track still would´ve been nice, for the purists at least.

Extras

-“Steve Reeves` Schattenmann” -featurette runs 7:17 minutes (cover states “15 min”) and is an interview with Reeves´ stunt double Giovanni Cianfriglia. The featurette is in Italian (with optional German subtitles only), so I´m afraid I didn´t understand much. It seems that Cianfriglia is on the old location in the forest, telling about Reeves and most likely also stunt-work. There are a few photos and he also mentions “The Pirates of Malaysia AKA I Pirati della Malesia (1964)”, another Reeves-film.

-US theatrical trailer (no subtitles) runs a whopping 5:15 minutes and basically shows almost the whole ending scene (!) at the start of the trailer. No matter what you do, don´t watch this before the film. The film was released in the US via Paramount.

-Impressive photo gallery includes over 150 photos and screens; posters, video covers, lobby cards (US and Italian), movie stills and plenty of press material and articles (in English). Hats off to Koch Media, since this is a labour of love.

-DVD credits are also included.

DVD comes in a keep case, with a cardboard slip cover. Case also houses an 8-page booklet including liner notes (in German) from Christian Kessler. Disc can be found under its German title: “Romulus + Remus”.

Overall

I can´t hide the fact that I´m a big fan of Italian Peplums, and “Duel of the Titans” is a must for all fans. Tight and focused direction by Corbucci, dramatic story and muscle-action from Reeves and Scott will guarantee that this is one enjoyable ride. Again, “Koch Media” has also included the English audio and quite decent transfer. The only minus is that the featurette is not subtitled in English.

For more info, please visit the homepage of Koch Media.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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