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Romulus and the Sabines

Year: 1961

Country: Italy/France

Listed DVD Run Time: 98 minutes

Actual DVD Run Time: 85 minutes

Cast: Mylène Demongeot, Roger Moore, Giorgia Moll, Scilla Gabel, Claude Conty, Luisa Mattioli, Francis Blanche, Marino Masé, Nietta Zocchi, Walter Barnes, Rosanna Schiaffino, Jean Marais.

Director: Richard Pottier.

AKA: Il Ratto delle sabine/ Der Raub der Sabinerinnen/ L'Enlèvement des sabines (Not to be confused with El Rapto De Las Sabinas AKA The Shame of the Sabine Women, a Mexican production from circa 1962.)

Shady

(shā'dē) - As pertains to video a product of questionable or suspect authenticity; a video transfer of unknown or uncertain provenance.

THE MOVIE

As part of a grand scheme to soften Rome's image as a den of run away slaves, horse thieves, and cutthroats the King, Romulus (Roger Moore), decides it's high time to import some women into the city. Problem is no women want to emigrate to Rome, and with good reason. Rome is little more than a backwater with a self-anointed King ruling over what are essentially brigands. It also doesn't help that Rome is an city populated solely by men. But Romulus has hatched a scheme to change all that, which begins with the taking of the Sabine women. And so begins this treacherous tale of the infamous founding of Rome.

THE DVD

While all bootleg merchandize is shady not all shady merchandize are bootlegs. Then there is East West's DVD of Romulus and the Sabines, which is not just shady it's an eclipse. I can't put my finger on what it is about the transfer that's wrong but it takes wrong to a new low, kills it, then mutilates it's carcass. The color is washed out to the point of appearing grayscale. .

The tinting and shading look unnatural for normal video playback. Even worse the contrast and darkness levels are totally out of whack. .

Is this what camcorder footage of video shot off a big screen rear projection TV would look like? If so it didn't hide the glitches, which this had in abundance, be it from print damage in the original film source. .

Or artifacts of the poor quality source print. .

Not wanting to cast aspersions on the label my speculations must therefore remain just that; speculation. Too, though I may wonder how any DVD company could release such horrible looking video there's only one pertinent question to ask: Is this release worth adding to anyone's video library?

I feel like saying NO! and just leaving it at that. But there's much more that needs to be considered. .

A BRUTAL EXAMINATION

The DVDs, and movies found thereon, released by budget labels are something of a mystery. Reviewers and critics oft times wag their fingers while calling them "shady" since they are PD "wink wink nudge nudge" yet, the video quality is often so abysmal that one wonders why anyone would waste a DVD on them. It is a shameful fact that no one would bother to archive many of these titles on DVDr if they were given the source video, for free, yet these companies somehow manage to not only be allowed to continue their shady business practices but they fool honest consumers into buying their crappy wares. To be fair East-West's video isn't the worst I have seen, but it's still scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Sadly the reason why is simple: These companies know a sucker is born every minute and the lure of a bargain is often too strong to pass up. We all say the same thing, "But I only spent a dollar or two!" Right?

Ah, but how many of us poor deceived 'fools' have parted with a couple of dollars? It doesn't matter if we only paid a dollar or two because a few dollars here and a few dollars there can quickly add up to several thousand dollars, all of it profit lining the pockets of scam artists. Or, at the very least, shady labels straddling the fence between the dark domain of thieving piracy and lawful legitimacy.

For instance there is the cover art. .

Where did East West get the cover art for their DVD? My guess is someone input the movie title in Google image search and created a quickie college from found images, applied a bit of blurring, adjusted the hue and contrast levels, and woila instant cover art! In fact I'm fairly confident the images came from here and here. Why? Well. .

The artwork on the DVD is composed of four elements, two character stills, one photo (the background pick of the Colosseum ruin), and one thumbnail element from what appears to be poster art I've as yet to identify. If you look at the two stills and compare them with the stills found on the linked pages the similarities, right down to how the characters are posed, position of the Colosseum, and color are astounding. If you look at the blurring effect applied to the face of Romulus (Roger Moore) and notice how that would cover up the imperfections from the low resolution source I think we can safely say that we have identified the sources of the two character elements and the background.

As for the actual video itself, let's just say it'd be no exaggeration to suggest anyone could produce a better looking archival DVDr using off-the-shelf consumer grade AV equipment and a previously viewed ex-rental VHS as their video master. Why East-West couldn't produce a DVD with, at the very least, the sort of video quality that any consumer using off-the-shelf consumer grade AV equipment could is a mystery. Those who care about video quality may want to put the East-West label onto their DO NOT buy from list. However, to be fair, their product can often be found for a buck or .99 cents and if you can live with supporting a company that's obviously out to rip you off by using whatever video source they can get their hands on, that's your prerogative. Just don't complain about the shoddy presentation or video quality of these vintage movies because no legitimate labels step up to release proper versions of them. You get what you pay for.

APPRAISAL

Romulus and the Sabines isn't your usual mindless sword-and-sandal action flick. There are elements of romance and comedy here. Sadly the class of comedy it relies on is very visual, thus the poor quality video presentation ruins most of it. For instance the main running gag that threads it's way throughout the picture involves one character, the clichéd funny fat man, who is as nearsighted as Mr. Magoo and gets into nearly as many humorous predicaments when he's onscreen. Or at least the predicaments would be funny if you could see him or what's going on. .

The quality, or rather lack thereof, of this release, as you can see, is very poor. The contrast levels are too dark and, since the aforementioned comedy relief is a sidekick character, he's often squeezed either to the side of frame or (as you see) almost out of it. There's sparse information on the cover, which is inexcusable in our Internet age. That the movie is supposed to have a runtime of 98 minutes is easily confirmable by both print and online means, however so is popping a DVD into a player to see what the actual video run time is. In the case of the East-West DVD the feature runs an appalling 85 minutes. In other words this presentation is short some 13 minutes of footage!

However my displeasure with the label and it’s barely watchable product should not be taken as disaffection for the movie itself. Given a proper presentation this quaint gem could be quite fun, so long as you don't over think it. For instance the premise presented here of a pre-city state Rome inhabited solely by men who have to perform convoluted subterfuge in order to secure wives sounds preposterous, if only because the oldest profession known to man is entirely left out of the story. I find it hard to believe a city of brigands, with all that loot, couldn't find willing women to associate with them.

Could it be some aspect of the story has been omitted? To answer that we'd need to examine the Roman myths in detail, and that's just beyond the scope of this review. Besides this is an adaptation of the mythologized founding of Rome, not a movie based on hard historical fact. Thus it's on par with the typical fairy tale movie adaptation.

While I've had limited experience with the East-West label nearly every title of theirs I have viewed were monstrous eyesores. There is no excuse for releasing this kind of shoddy product which, to be devastatingly blunt, is suitable only to be described as garbage. If that sounds unkind take a good long look at the screen caps in this review and ask yourself one simple question:

Is this the sort of video quality you've come to expect of DVD releases:

Or is this what you've come to expect of DVD video:

If you find no fault with the first screen cap then, please, by all means seek out East-West's product. Don't let my ire deter you from buying these titles and judging them for yourself, if that is what you want to do. The DVDs are out there and they are cheap. But, sadly, this is one too-good-to-be-true label that's not for me.

UPDATE MARCH 15, 2008: With thanks to High Plains Drifter from the European Film Review forums.

(This is) a film that was simultaneously shot in two versions, one for the Italians, and one for the French. The Italian version is the one that was dubbed into English for International release. The French version was presumably only seen by the French. The Italian version is available on German DVD as DER RAUB DER SABINERINNEN.

It is 1.85:1 widescreen (cropped from 2.35:1) and German Language only, DVD running time 86 minutes. The French version is available as a "Kiosk" DVD (i.e it was released as part of a Peplum collection that could only be bought in French Newspaper Kiosks). It is called L'ENLEVEMENT DES SABINES and is 2.35:1 letterbox, French Language only, DVD running time 90 minutes.

This picture of Luisa Mattioli and Dada Gallotti is from the German version:

Click for full sized image.

Now compare it with the exact same moment in the French version, and you'll see that a completely different take is being used:

Click for full sized image.

Note how Ms Gallotti's right hand is now by her side, and her stance more upright. Note how differently her skirt now hangs: Curved around the belly here, but raised on her right hip in the German version. Okay, so now that we've established that it's a film shot-twice, let's examine a few major differences. .

The first clear difference is in the position of the title sequence. In the Italian version, the title sequence starts the movie, whereas in the French version, the title sequence comes after Folco Lulli makes his threat that the Romans shall not be allowed to have women, and before we go to Rome and meet the citizens. The next major difference is of a type that I've not seen before. Here's the Italian/German version of the scene where the Sabine maiden lists all the qualities she expects in a man:

Click for full sized image.

Now here's the French version:

Click for full sized image.

Note the subtle difference. The girl in the Italian version is Mariangela Giordano, and she has clearly been replaced in the French version by a different actress; Presumably a young French starlet of the same stature in France that MS Giordano enjoyed in Italy.

More information and screen caps from the original post can be found here.

Availability

While a number of VHS editions have been released in various formats there is only one proper DVD edition of this title, a R2 German release. However there's also a "collector's" version available from Sinister Cinema. But it's the R2 Cinema Colossal DVD that appears to have the best video quality. You can see screenshots of thee R2 EMS DVD here.

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Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan

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