Tag Archives: Peter O’Toole



DIRECTED BY: Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione

FEATURING: , , , Teresa Ann Savoy,

PLOT: Caligula becomes the Emperor of Rome and lots of depravity happens; any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is entirely accidental.

Still from Caligula (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: On paper, Caligula sounds like a sure bet. There are many bad movies that get honored here, and we even have a tag called “.” Caligula could theoretically qualify for the List of the Weirdest Movies Ever Made by that standard. Except that “bad” doesn’t describe Caligula so much as stupid. Nothing more need be said about this movie but “stupid.” Rocks are too smart to watch Caligula.

COMMENTS: There is at least a hefty essay and maybe a book to be written about the story of how Caligula got made, although perhaps it would be more correct to say it got “executed.” The drama involved in the production is a thousand times more entertaining than anything that ended up on film. Pretty much everybody involved locked horns and stormed off the set to sue each other. Various creative forces within the production struggled to make it a historic Shakespearian opera, a cheap exploitation flick, a softcore porn epic, and a hardcore snuff porn transgression; the result was best summed up when one reviewer called it “a boondoggle of landmark proportions.”

Some cultural context is helpful: the 1970s were an era when movies like Deep Throat had brought big-screen porn into a relatively acceptable light, and filmmakers were getting more daring in testing the boundaries of taste. Caligula pisses on the very idea of taste, and if you dare to abuse your intellect by watching it, you will encounter several scenes where it literally does just that. Welcome to the Horny Roman Empire, with Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) romping with Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), which seems to be harmless enough erotica until you learn they’re brother and sister. His uncle Emperor Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), summons him to discuss politics and witness his depraved orgies. Caligula assassinates Tiberius and assumes the throne, breaking all hell loose as he sinks into depravity. Caligula promotes Drusilla as his equal, convicts Marco (Guido Mannari) of treason in a kangaroo court and offs him, and marries Caesonia (Helen Mirren) because he can’t legally marry his sister. Drusilla dies, Caesonia gets pregnant, Caligula wars with the Roman senate and declares himself a god, Caligula shows off his horse, the new senator Chaerea plots to assassinate Caligula and succeeds, and the movie ends, merciful heavens be praised.

In the midst, background, foreground, and everyground of these shenanigans, naked people cavort in every depiction of hedonistic excess possible. It kind of plays out like a film with a bigger budget but fewer ideas and not a trace of a sense of humor. In fact, Malcolm McDowell’s presence in this film invites you to compare it to a signature scene of A Clockwork Orange; it’s exactly the kind of “ultraviolence” film the character Alex would be forced to watch during his brainwashing sessions. There’s rape, torture, bestiality, necrophilia, mutant people with four legs and butts on their bellies, silly over-the-top executions and mutilations, urination, defecation, and basically every perversion you could search for on the Internet. Most of this just flies by with no context or reason to exist. Sometimes the camera just gets bored and focuses on somebody’s crotch, while irrelevant actors screech their dialog in hopes of getting it’s attention. Nobody in this movie even gave a thin damn about historical accuracy. The sets are festooned with anachronisms such as a styrofoam hat shaped like a penis, worn by an extra just casually passing through the set while apparently waiting for a taxi.

When it comes to erotic arthouse films, Caligula fails by every definition. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover does a superior job of being a weird epic with erotic scenes, for just one example. There’s a dozen or so artsploitation films already in line on this site ahead of Caligula, and there’s only so many we need. In terms of history, just take into account that even the writings we have of the real life of Caligula (mostly Suetonius, writing 80 years after the emperor’s death) are suspected of fudging the facts in the interest of political propaganda. In terms of pure kinky titillation, go watch The Story of O or Secretary or Belle De Jour instead. Don’t look for steamy thrills in Caligula, because nobody, not even serial killers apprehended with a freezer full of body parts, is this depraved.


“… as with a lot of bad would-be art, this cinematic oddity holds a truly bizarre fascination…”–Michale Dequina, The Movie Report (1999 revival)

189. THE RULING CLASS (1972)

The Ruling Class is a rather… unusual film.”–original trailer to The Ruling Class


DIRECTED BY: Peter Medak 

FEATURING: , William Mervyn, Carolyn Seymour, , Coral Brown, Alistair Sim, James Villiers

PLOT: The 13th Earl of Gurney dies, leaving Jack, a madman who believes he is God, as his direct heir to inherit his seat in the House of Lords. His relatives scheme to trick Jack into marriage so that he will produce an heir to carry the Gurney line, and then seek to have him declared incompetent and have him committed. Unexpectedly, however, his psychiatrist’s drastic treatment cures Jack, and now that he no longer believes himself to be God, his disposition is not nearly as gentle.

Still from The Ruling Class (1972)

  • Peter Barnes adapted the script from his own play. (The play is till occasionally performed; at the time of this writing, was starring in a performance at Trafalgar Studios). Peter O’Toole bought the rights from Barnes, and director Medak convinced O’Toole to exercise his option after a night of hard drinking (naturally).
  • O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar for his performance here, losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
  • The original U.S.theatrical release omitted Carolyn Seymour’s striptease scene so that the film could be released with a PG rating.
  • The Ruling Class‘ VHS release was cut by 13 minutes so that it would fit on a single tape. Some TV broadcasts used the same shortened version.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Some would say it’s Peter O’Toole as J.C. taking a flying leap off his cross on his wedding day, an image the director liked so much he highlighted it in a freeze frame. We prefer the penultimate hallucination, where the House of Lords is seen as a gallery of cheering corpses and clapping skeletons draped in cobwebs.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Peter O’Toole’s literally insane performance (“bless the pygmy hippos!”), accompanied by frequent hallucinations and left-field musical numbers, turn this literate upper-crust satire from a pointed class parable into something eccentric enough to deserve the designation “weird.”

Original trailer for The Ruling Class

COMMENTS: Although only making it onto film in 1972, the Continue reading 189. THE RULING CLASS (1972)