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Sicily, the 3rd century BC: During an eruption of Mount Etna, a big
one, too, little Cabiria (Carolina Catena) gets seperated from her
parents, and while on the run to safety, she and her nanny Croessa (Gina
Marangoni) are picked up by Phoenician pirates who take them to Carthage.
There, Cabiria is handpicked by high priest Karthalo (Dante Testa) to be
sacrificed to the local god Moloch ... but Croessa escapes, runs into
Roman spy Fulvius Axilla (Umberto Mozzato) and his slave Maciste
(Bartolomeo Pagano), and urges them to save the child. They do, too, but
soon find themselves on the run from the Phoenicians, and while Maciste is
eventually captured, Fulvius hands the child to an unknown woman in his
desperation before managing to make an escape. Interestingly, his escape
route takes him to Sicily, where he bumps into Cabiria's worried-sick
parents. He promises them to do everything in his power to return Cabiria
to them. Not an easy task though, because in the following years the Punic
Wars break out between Rome and Carthage, and Hannibal (Emilio Vardannes)
almost overruns Rome, then Archimedes (Enrico Gemelli) manages to destroy
the Roman fleet by creating a primitive heatray out of mirrors reflecting
sunlight. But Fulvius perseveres ...
10 years later: The Roman army has
put Carthage under siege, and it's up to Fulvius to spy out the city. He
soon bumps into Maciste and frees him, then the two discover that Cabiria
(now played by Lidia Quaranta) has become the favourite slave of queen
Sophonisba (Italia Almirante-Manzini). They try to free her but somehow
get cornered in some storage basement where Sophonisba's soldiers put them
under siege. Learning that Cabiria is of enemy descent, she hands her over
to Karthalo the high priest, who now gets to sacrifice her after all. But
judging by his lustful eyes, he wants more than just that ...
Carthage falls into the hands of the Romans and their ally, the Nubian
king Massassina (Vitale Di Stefano). But Sophonisba is not one to
surrender easily, and in no time at all, she has made Massassina fall in
love with her and tries to play him against the Romans under Scipio (Luigi
Chellini) - but Scipio, also thanks to Fulvius' advice (who has since been
freed from his basement hideout of course), claims Sophonisba for himself
as spoils of war, mainly to make it impossible for her to form an alliance
with Massassina. When Massassina learns this, he has Maciste bring her his
"weddding gift", a phiol of poison, which Sophonisba, finding
herself at the end of the road, promptly drinks. With her dying breath
though, she reveals the whereabouts of Cabiria, and Fulvius and Maciste
rush to her rescue and manage to save her from being sacrificed to Moloch
a second time, this time for good ...
Cabiria is, quite
simply said, an impressive film, even nowadays, almost 100 years after it
was made: It features amazing full scale sets, remarkable mass scenes,
great special effects, is directed in a very comprehensive way (not always
the case with early silents), shows an understanding for depth, and
features many an exciting setpiece. And what's more, it seems to have all
the elements of a period epic movie, a genre that was only in early stages
of development, firmly in place. Sure, while the movie is high spectacle,
it's not so great on story, which is simplistic and over-convoluted at the
same time, occasionally loses track, and should not exactly be watched for
historical accuracy. But this movie is mainly spectacle, was intended as
such and should be enjoyed as such ...
By the way, Cabiria
was the first film featuring Maciste, the secondary hero
here who should soon get his own series of movies in the 1910's and 20's
in which he was played by Bartolomeo Pagano, before being revived in the
1960's. Interestingly, Maciste is portrayed as a man of
colour in this film (even if Bartolomeo Pagano was not).