Friends, Romans, Pittsburgians, bad movie lovers, and Pam Grier enthusiasts (who wouldn’t be?); lend me your ears. I come to speak of the Roger Corman-produced masterpiece known as The Arena, but not to praise it. The evil some men do with cheap film equipment and mass-produced costumes in Rome should be buried, not praised. The good intentions of great directors of oft ruined by bonehead decisions. Yet, I am here to speak of what I do know: to let this film be the dressing on your Caesar salad of awful cinema viewings because the ambitious nature of this noble film will live on in history. As an honorable, honest man, I say ambitions should be made like this 1974 woman-gladiator champion, which should be brought to many captive homes for their viewing pleasure!
With a sandy landscape and cost-effective tax loops, Italy has worn a decade’s worthy kingly crown for hosting Hollyweird to make bad biblical epics and sword and sandals adventures. The likes of Steve Reeves (the OG Hercules) and Alan Steel (Hercules Against the Moon Men) oiling up their muscles and wearing thinly loin cloths created a well-oiled (no pun intended) machine for these epics in Italy and Corman was not afraid to take a risk against this formula. It would have been the same-old-same-old if he had buffed up beefcakes fighting in the pre-built arena in Cinecittà (the biggest film studio in post-World War II Italy), so having had the success of a couple of woman-in-prison flicks starring the legendary Pam Grier, Corman got the idea to do a valkyrie version of gladiators, filled with brutish beasts, bruises, blood, babes, and brawls.
The plot I would argue (o judgment) is as thin as some of the dresses worn throughout the movie. Various woman leaders worldwide are enslaved by the Roman army and sent to be sold at auction. They are bought by Timarchus, the ruler and proprietor of the local arena, where gladiators fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. When the woman brawl in the kitchen with each other in a very eye-candy appealing fight (it was the 70s, after all) Timarchus gets the idea to let his ladies fight to the death to change up the crowd’s viewership (just l;ike pay-per0view in the 90s!). Atlas, being a 70s retro violent film (and starring Pam Grier) our saintly heroines lose their reasoning of men and boy (or girl), are we not entertained as they escape the confines of their survival and send Timarchus, along with a lot of jive turkey Romans, to their graves!
Tiger-fighting your way at 83 minutes, this spaghetti ‘sandalsploitation’ masterpiece was directed by Steve Carver (who went on to direct action hits like Lone Wolf McQuade and juvenile junkies like Jocks) and was originally offered to Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese after his success with Corman’s Boxcar Bertha, but turned it down to direct Mean Streets for some reason?! You can find the film streaming on most services like Tubi and The Roku Channel, but be sure to get Shout Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classic’s Lethal Ladies Collection 2 featuring this film along with Fly Me and Cover Girl Models. So, what cause withholds you from clearing all your living room furniture, dipping your freshly plucked chicken in a bloody barrel, and letting this original gangsta’ of gladiator proportions (I feel Corman should sue Ridley Scott) fight its way to your heart? I must pause (cue curtain and applause from the crowd).