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Cabiria

Italy 1914
produced by
Giovanni Pastrone for Itala Film
directed by Giovanni Pastrone
starring Carolina Catena, Lidia Quaranta, Umberto Mozzato, Bartolomeo Pagano, Italia Almirante-Manzini, Vitale Di Stefano, Dante Testa, Gina Marangoni, Luigi Chellini, Raffaele di Napoli, Edoardo Davesnes, Emilio Vardannes, Alessandro Bernard, Enrico Gemelli, Ignazio Lupi, Francesca Bertini, Giuseppe Ferrari, Soava Gallone, Domenico Gambino, Pina Menichelli, Felice Minotti, Amedeo Mustacchi, Fido Schirru
written by Giovanni Pastrone, Gabriele D'Annunzio, special effects by Segundo de Chomón, Eugenio Bava

silent
Maciste, Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano), Hannibal

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Sicily, the 3rd century BC: During an eruption of Mount Etna, a big one, too, little Cabiria (Carolina Catena) gets seperated from her parents, and while on the run to safety, she and her nanny Croessa (Gina Marangoni) are picked up by Phoenician pirates who take them to Carthage. There, Cabiria is handpicked by high priest Karthalo (Dante Testa) to be sacrificed to the local god Moloch ... but Croessa escapes, runs into Roman spy Fulvius Axilla (Umberto Mozzato) and his slave Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano), and urges them to save the child. They do, too, but soon find themselves on the run from the Phoenicians, and while Maciste is eventually captured, Fulvius hands the child to an unknown woman in his desperation before managing to make an escape. Interestingly, his escape route takes him to Sicily, where he bumps into Cabiria's worried-sick parents. He promises them to do everything in his power to return Cabiria to them. Not an easy task though, because in the following years the Punic Wars break out between Rome and Carthage, and Hannibal (Emilio Vardannes) almost overruns Rome, then Archimedes (Enrico Gemelli) manages to destroy the Roman fleet by creating a primitive heatray out of mirrors reflecting sunlight. But Fulvius perseveres ...

10 years later: The Roman army has put Carthage under siege, and it's up to Fulvius to spy out the city. He soon bumps into Maciste and frees him, then the two discover that Cabiria (now played by Lidia Quaranta) has become the favourite slave of queen Sophonisba (Italia Almirante-Manzini). They try to free her but somehow get cornered in some storage basement where Sophonisba's soldiers put them under siege. Learning that Cabiria is of enemy descent, she hands her over to Karthalo the high priest, who now gets to sacrifice her after all. But judging by his lustful eyes, he wants more than just that ...

Finally, Carthage falls into the hands of the Romans and their ally, the Nubian king Massassina (Vitale Di Stefano). But Sophonisba is not one to surrender easily, and in no time at all, she has made Massassina fall in love with her and tries to play him against the Romans under Scipio (Luigi Chellini) - but Scipio, also thanks to Fulvius' advice (who has since been freed from his basement hideout of course), claims Sophonisba for himself as spoils of war, mainly to make it impossible for her to form an alliance with Massassina. When Massassina learns this, he has Maciste bring her his "weddding gift", a phiol of poison, which Sophonisba, finding herself at the end of the road, promptly drinks. With her dying breath though, she reveals the whereabouts of Cabiria, and Fulvius and Maciste rush to her rescue and manage to save her from being sacrificed to Moloch a second time, this time for good ...

 

Cabiria is, quite simply said, an impressive film, even nowadays, almost 100 years after it was made: It features amazing full scale sets, remarkable mass scenes, great special effects, is directed in a very comprehensive way (not always the case with early silents), shows an understanding for depth, and features many an exciting setpiece. And what's more, it seems to have all the elements of a period epic movie, a genre that was only in early stages of development, firmly in place. Sure, while the movie is high spectacle, it's not so great on story, which is simplistic and over-convoluted at the same time, occasionally loses track, and should not exactly be watched for historical accuracy. But this movie is mainly spectacle, was intended as such and should be enjoyed as such ...

 

By the way, Cabiria was the first film featuring Maciste, the secondary hero here who should soon get his own series of movies in the 1910's and 20's in which he was played by Bartolomeo Pagano, before being revived in the 1960's. Interestingly, Maciste is portrayed as a man of colour in this film (even if Bartolomeo Pagano was not).

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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On the same day
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produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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out now on DVD