Crazy Leader: Caligula
John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, Malcolm McDowell — titans of the stage and screen who, collectively, have given some of the most powerful performances in some of the most celebrated cinematic works of the past seven decades. And then there’s Caligula. Directed (for the most part) by Tinto Brass, written (largely) by Gore Vidal, the 1979 history-porn debacle combined sleaze, brutality and pretension to a degree rarely seen this side of a Steven Segal production. Outlining the myriad reasons why Caligula has become the standard by which all artistically-minded movie failures are measured would require volumes — starting with the fact that most of the cast and crew thought they were making one movie, while producer Bob Guccione (yes, of Penthouse magazine fame) was determined to make another, porn-ier film.
In the meantime, suffice to say that Malcolm McDowell, in the eponymous role as the demented 1st-century Roman ruler, manages to invest a hateful, murderous Caesar with a kind of pitiful grandeur. There’s no reason to see this movie more than once — but all serious moviegoers should try and sit through one viewing, if only to watch the talent on display valiantly struggling against Guccione’s “vision” for the film, which can perhaps best be described as sado-puerile.