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I was gratified by the public response to this Hollywood blockbuster tale from the days of the Roman Empire, with Russell Crowe as the dedicated soldier Maximus, who refuses to transfer his loyalty to the new emperor, Commodus (Joachin Phoenix) and suffers the consequences, winding up a gladiator in the Roman Colosseum. Crowe is so good-and his character so compelling that I forgave most of the gaffes in historical accuracy (most evident in the early battle scenes and some of the costuming. This was one of my favourite actors, Oliver Reed's, last films, as he died during the filming.

I, Claudius


I feel very put-apon if I cannot watch this superbly acted, mordantly funny romp through the early Imperial days of Rome. First seen in the latter half of the previous century, it ranks as one of the best-loved miniseries ever made.

Derek Jacobi plays Emperor Claudius, who reflects in old age on his life and his remarkable family, giving us a history lesson that's unlike anything you learned in school.

The story, fictionalized from the accounts of the emperors by Suetonius by author Robert Graves, begins in 24 B.C. during the reign of Augustus Caesar, Rome's first emperor, and ends in A.D. 54 with Nero on the throne.

In between, I, Claudius details the scheming, murder, madness, and lust that passed for politics in the early years of the Pax Romana. The biggest worm in the Roman apple is Augustus's wife, Livia (the superb Siān Phillips), whose single-minded pursuit of power shapes the destiny of the Empire. With a carefully planted rumor here and a poisoned fig there, she gradually maneuvers her son, Tiberius, toward the throne, creating an atmosphere of suspicion and treachery that starts Rome on its helter-skelter slide into bloody chaos.

Further acting honors go to George Baker as Tiberius, who resists but eventually succumbs to the destiny forced upon him by his mother, and to John Hurt as a hilarious and absolutely terrifying Caligula.

Jacobi is the perfect Claudius, hiding his intelligence behind a crippling stammer and shuffling around the edges of events--until he finds himself pulled to the very center. His wry comments give shape to the tangled story of his family and help the audience make sense of a dauntingly complex cast of characters.

Something familiar,
Something peculiar,
Something for everyone: a comedy tonight!"

Thus does the overture of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, set the ancient Roman scene for afrantic, farcical adaptation of the stage musical by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove.

We follow the fortunes of slave Pseudolus (Zero Mostel) as he tries to extricate himself from an increasingly farcical situation; Mostel and a bevy of inspired clowns, including Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford, and Buster Keaton, keep the slapstick and the patter perking. The cast also includes the young Michael Crawford as a love-struck innocent.

The set and costumes aptly paint a grungy, earthy Rome that seems closer to the real thing than countless respectable historical films on the subject. Well worth watching for both the laughs and the costumery.

Those who have heard only those few bars of Carl Orff's powerful opening and closing themes, O Fortuna Imperiatrix Mundi from such films as Excalibur will be swept away by the quality of this recording. Since I cannot have the outstanding Deutches Grammofon recording from my youth, I have searched far and wide for a quality recording to take its place. This rendition fills that much-needed place in my CD collection, as I hope it will in yours.