Wednesday, May 19, 2021

MESSALINA (1960) (Twilight Time Blu-ray Review)


Label: Twilight Time
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 94 Minutes 
Video: 1080p High Definition (2.35:1)
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Dual-Mono, Italian LPCM 2.0 Dual-Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Vittorio Cottafavi
Cast: Belinda Lee, Carlo Justini, Giulio Donnini, Arturo Dominici, Arianna Galli, Gian Carlo Sbragia, Spiros Focas

Messalina (1960) an Italian-made "peplum" melodrama directed by Vittorio Cottafavi (Hercules and the Captive Women) starring the ethereal beauty of Belinda Lee (The Goddess of Love) as historical Roman seductress Valeria Messalina. Valeria  is a gorgeous Vestal Virgin, a niece to the Augusts Caesar, who is handpicked to marry the new Emperor, Claudius (Marcello Giorda), after she conspires with an aristocrat named Sulpitius (Mino Doro, Hercules and the Captive Women), who hopes to use her beauty to usurp the power of the throne. Shortly before her wedding night she meets a handsome Roman soldier while walking in the Vestal temple garden, Lucio Maximus (Spiros Focas, Shaft In Africa), and later they meet in a forest to consummate their love, but the soldier does not realize until much later who she really is, but she makes a lasting impression on him, and he her. After her marriage to Claudius she poisons Sulpitius with a glass of poisoned wine, right after toasting to their success, no longer needing him andnot wishing to share her newfound power. 

Now an Empress, Messalina uses her stunning beauty and sexual charms to form alliances with the high-born aristocrats under the nose of her somewhat foolish husband, the Emperor. Soon after the soldier Lucius find themselves stationed abroad for a period of two years fighting in the Armenian War, while the scheming Messalina continues to consolidate her power at home, winning the citizenry over with her generosity, that is until it is discovered that this generosity comes at the expense of displacing rural farmers and selling off their land to the highest bidder. As she falls out of favor with the  aristocrats they hire an assassin to murder her while she sleeps in her bedchamber, but her appeal is so great that she seduces her would-be killer and in the morning has him decapitated, personally delivering the head of her would-be assassins to the aristocracy who hired him!

Eventually Messalina's plotting and conniving catches up to her when she hatches a scheme to have Claudius murdered and usurp the throne for herself, but a returned Lucio has comes to see her for the debauched Empress she truly is, with a nicely dramatic wrap-up at the end that was quite satisfying. Messalina (1960) is more a historical-based melodrama filled with treachery and political intrigue than a sword and sandal epic chock full of musclebound gladiators and mayhem, but the dramatic Shakespearean elements are solid and the doomed Belinda Lee is indeed an alluring lead with plenty of ginger-hair and green-eyed charms. It also benefits from the lavish Roman sets pieces with opulent period costuming, plus we get a couple of well-staged skirmishes including the typical peplum drink-house fisticuffs brawl. I am not a huge sword and sandal, peplum fan, but for me its the salacious underpinnings and beguiling beauty of star Belinda Lee that makes this such a memorable watch, and sadly she died just a year later in a horrific car accident in Southern California. 

Audio/Video: Messaline (1960) arrives on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen. There's no information about the source of the scan here,  but it is a solid shape, there's a bit of white speckling and minor scratches but overall its very clean. The Technicolor hues look solid, the reds particularly have a nice pop to them. I could only get a handful screenshots from the Blu-ray before my drive suddenly conked out on me, but they're representative of how the film looks, and you can see them at the bottom of the review. 

Audio on the disc comes by way of English LPCM 2.0 dual-mono and Italian LPCM 2.0 dual-mono with optional English subtitles, both options offer clean, uncompressed representation with clear dialogue and a perfectly fine score from Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (The Colossus of Rhodes). The subtitles are presented in white lettering on a black background, which I was not a fan of, too intrusive in my opinion. 

Sadly, there are no disc extras on this release, not even a trailer, but I would have enjoyed a commentary from someone like Tim Lucas who commentator on The Film Detective Blu-ray of Vittorio Cottafavi's Hercules and the Captive Women. What we do get is a illustrated booklet with writing on the film from Twilight Time's Mike Finnigan that gets into the various adaptations of the Messalina story, this production, and the tragic death of star Belinda Lee. I do miss having the isolated scores that TT were known for, but this new iteration of the distributor has not yet revived that formerly signature extra with their first four releases. 
The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a dual-sided, non-reversible sleeve of artwork.

Special Features: 
- 12-Page Illustrated Collector's  Booklet with essay by Mike Finnigan

Messaline (1960) is an engaging bit melodramatic peplum with intriguing Roman political intrigue and an engaging turn from Belinda Lee as the seductive Empress, who is full of greedy aspiration and murderous intention. You can purchase Messalina directly from Screen Archives HERE

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: