Messalina Venere imperatrice
(Messalina Imperial Beauty) (1960)
Director: Carmine Gallone.
Starring: Belinda Lee (Messaline), Spiros Focás (Lucio Massimo), Carlo Giustini (Lucius Geta), Giancarlo Sbragia (Aulo Celso), Giulio Donnini (Narcissus), Arturo Dominici (Gaius Lilius), Ida Galli (Silvia), Marcello Giorda (Nicodemus), Mino Doro (Claudius), Giuliano Gemma (Marcellus).
incredibly ambitious wife of Claudius who will do anything to get power for herself
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"After Caligula's violent death, emperors and empresses succeed each other in a cruel game of ambitions, violence and oppressions, a time when corruption and treason rule over existence and Messalina, with her hatred and her passions, is the symbol of this era."
Valeria Messalina is a Vestal Virgin at the Temple of Vesta. Her lover comes to her to tell her that Claudius will be the new emperor. He promises that he will mention her name to the new emperor when the right time comes. She will be the empress, he says. He hugs and kisses Valeria and says he will return in six days.
Coronation day. Claudius complains that not one of the nobles attended his coronation. In fact, he says, they may be conspiring against him right now. At night Claudius watches two men fighting in a boxing match. Lucius Maximus arrives and talks to some of his friends there. He sees the two men fighting and decides to get into it. He beats both of the men, who end up in the pool.
The match maker tells Claudius that he would be wise to marry Valeria Messalina. She is the niece of Augustus Caesar. The dancing girls start jumping into the pool followed by many of the guests.
A rich nobleman tries to get Valeria to marry him with no luck at all. Lucius Maximus goes over the wall of the garden of Vesta. There he sees Valeria and he starts to charm her. He asks her when can he see her again. She tells him tomorrow morning, but the next morning she is not there. Nor is she there on the following morning. On his third try Lucius Maximum sees her looking beautiful. He kisses her neck. They kiss. She kisses him.
Lucius Maximus is a soldier in the army. He is going with his unit to Armenia. Valeria says she will wait for his return. Part of the Roman army leaves for Armenia. Claudius meets Messalina. The two quickly marry. Again there are no noblemen at the wedding ceremony.
The man responsible for getting Messalina married to the Emperor now wants to control her. She hands him a glass of wine, he drinks and promptly falls dead of the poisoned wine. She then stabs the man with his sword and calls for Lucius Geta.
Some of the noblemen believe that Messalina has betrayed the nobles with the death of her mentor and think that they must get rid of her. A man named Marcellus is given the job of stabbing her to death with his sword. When, however, he stands over the beautiful Messalina, he cannot bring himself to kill her. She makes love to him instead. In the morning she has him arrested. He is killed instead by Lucius Geta.
Messalina learns that Gaius Lilius put the would-be assassin up to it. She goes to talk with the man and his compatriots. She brings with her the head of Marcellus. They are absolutely shocked when she uncovers the head.
Four years after the Armenian adventure, having accomplished their mission, the army stationed there returns to Rome. Lucius Maximus tries to see Valeria at the Temple of Vesta, but he is told that she is not there and he should forget about her. The soldier is crushed. He walks the streets and hears the people all talking about Messalina and her little gifts to them such as free wine. Lucius and his friend go to a tavern for a drink. There they get into a fight after the friend says that all Rome has gone crazy over this Messalina. Soon the whole tavern seems engaged in fighting. The friend knocks out a man and takes the woman with him.
On the street again the guards of the Empress tell everyone to make way for them. The head of the guards then sees his friend Lucius Maximus and tells him to come with the guards. As they walk around, Lucius Maximus sees people being chased from their houses. Some of the houses are being burned. Senator Aulo Celso arrives and protests at this forced evacuation. He tells the people that they do not have to abandon their homes. Aulo Celso tells Lucius Maximus that Messalina earns money by confiscating the land and then selling it to rich nobles. A pretty young woman named Sylvia rushes over to the senator and the soldier and wants to know what will happen to them now that they are forced out of their homes?
When Lucius Maximus arrives home, none other than Valeria is there waiting for him. They kiss. They make love (off camera).
The head of the praetorian guards working for the empress takes Lucius Maximum to see the empress. He is shocked to see that it is Valeria who is also Messalina. He starts to leave angry, but Messalina stops him. They kiss. Lucius Maximus tells her that the praetorian guard is slaughtering people in her name. And Aula Celso opposes her. Messalina says she knows and she knows nobleman Gaius Lilius is against her too. In fact, all the nobles and half the Senate are against her. Messalina tells her lover that she confiscated those lands from the people in order to give the land to the soldiers. She tells him: "You love Valeria and now I'll make you love Messalina too."
Aula Celso tells Gaius Lilius that Messalina has appointed Lucius Maximus as consul. Both men know they will have to be on their guard with Messalina. As consul Lucius Maximus is now in charge of the confiscation of the homes. He supervises as the houses are burned down. Aula Celso arrives and verbally attack Lucius Maximum. He scold the consul for his actions. In fact, he makes Lucius Maximus so angry that if it were not for the pretty girl Sylvia he met the last time, he would have killed the senator.
With Messalina Lucius Maximus broods over what happened. He tells her that Aula Celso is going to denounce her before the Senate. Messalina just says that the Republic is dead, killed by Caesar.
The girl from the confiscated houses, Sylvia, comes to live with Lucius Maximus. He tries to throw her out, but she won't go. She says he burned down her house, so now she lives in his house.
Aula Celso is found with his throat slit. For political expediency, the death is reported as a self-inflicted suicide. When Sylvia hears about it, she says she knows that it was his political enemies who killed him. Lucius Maximus goes to see Valeria Messalina and asks her about the death of the senator. She tells him that she promoted him to consul so that he would defend her, not criticize her. She denies that she killed the senator. Valeria tells him to go ask Lucius Geta who killed the senator. She also tells him to come back to her after she has spoken to Geta.
Lucius Maximus goes back home. He tells Sylvia that Messalina did not kill the senator. Sylvia become furious and starts a wave of accusations against him siding with Messalina. She makes him so angry with this rant that he slaps her. He immediately says he is sorry. She tells him that it is her fault, that she talks too much. Lucius tells her to go to bed.
Geta pays a visit to Messalina. He is the one who killed the senator. Messalina, as always, uses her sex appeal to keep the man entrapped. He tells her he has always loved her, but she must stop the killings while there is still time. Messalina says that she certainly won't stop now, now that she knows he loves her.
The veteran soldiers don't get the confiscated land. It is sold to rich nobles at a very good price.
Geta goes to see Lucius Maximus in his house. He confesses that it was he that ordered Aula Celso to be killed. Geta then says that Messalina destroyed him and that he has taken poison. He promptly falls dead. Lucius Maximus tries to force his way in to see Messalina, but four huge guys grab him and throw him out. He brought with him the corpse of Geta. Narcissus goes in to see Messalina. He has the corpse of Geta brought into the room for her to see.
Now Messalina wants Narcissus killed. She asks Claudius to have him killed, but he won't cooperate with her. He tells her that she must stop all her intrigues and suggests that she come with him to Capri. Messalina says no. She realizes that she herself is going to have to arrange for the death of Narcissus.
Messalina aligns herself with Gaius Lilius for the moment at least. She tells him that if they work together her gift to him will be Rome itself. Part of the cooperation is to have Claudius killed.
Sylvia talks with Lucius Maximus's tavern drinking friend, who tells her to forget about Messalina. The Christian Sylvia tries to protect Lucius from Messalina. She says he would only fall for her tricks again.
Messalina tries to get Lucius back fully on her side. She reminds him that she is still Caesar's wife. Lucius just says: "Well then, have me killed." Messalina leaves. Outside Messalina is confronted by Sylvia, who condemns the emperor's wife. She also tells Messalina that she loves Lucius Maximus. Messalina tells her guards to arrest "this stupid, little girl". Lucius comes out and knocks the guards off Sylvia. He and she then get on horses and take off. When they are in the clear, Lucius tells Sylvia that he does not love Messalinia now. Sylvia mentions that she is now 17 years old and is in love with him. She invites Lucius to come away with her and her family where they could be at peace away from Roman intrigues. She also makes it clear to Lucius that she intends to marry him. Lucius is a little shocked at all of this, but he will be staying with her. He arrives at a cabin where are staying some men that will be part of a rebellion in concert with Lucius.
Claudius is heading off for Capri. He puts everything in the hands of Narcissus. While Claudius is away, Messalina plots with the new head of her guards to kill Claudius at a waterfall by the river. Narcissus overhears the conversation. Just then a female servant arrives to deliver a note from Gaius Lilius to Messalina. Narcissus orders the guards to grab the young woman, but she is able to throw the letter into the fire before the guards catch her. The woman is tortured and she tells Narcissus all about the plot to kill Claudius.
The praetorian guard attacks Claudius's convoy at the waterfall. A big fight develops to kill/protect the emperor. Claudius seems not worried at all. The cavalry arrives and beats off the attackers. Lucius Maximus takes on the new head of the praetorian guards and is able to drown him in the river. Narcissus tells a soldier to go to Gaius Lilius and tell him that Fauntes sent him with an important message. The soldier leaves. Claudius personally thanks Lucius Maximus for his role in defeating the assassination attempt.
The soldier arrives to see Gaius Lilius. He reports falsely that their mission was a success and Claudius is dead. Gaius Lilius tells Messalina: "Rome is ours, divine Messalina." They decide to hold a big celebration of their good fortune. At the huge celebration, the real news arrives that Claudius lives! And Fauntes is dead.
The troops of Claudius arrive and fight against the praetorian guards. Messalina just sits there with men fighting and dying all around her. Gaius Lilius is stabbed. Lucius Maximus does not know this and gives the dying man a weapon and tells him to defend himself. Gaius Lilius says he already stabbed and falls dead.
Claudius and Narcissus arrive after the praetorian guards have all been killed. Narcissus goes over to Messalina and she tells him to kill her. He gives her a sword to use to kill herself, but she refuses to do this. Lucius Maximus tries to save her, but Narcissus stabs her before the soldier can get to her. Messalina tells Lucius that he was the only one that she really loved. Narcissus says: "She had to die, because Rome must live." Lucius says that at this price it would be better to let Rome die.
A Christian ceremony is being held. Sylvia is there. Lucius comes on horseback looking for her. He sees her, gets off his horse and runs over to her. She runs toward him. They hug and then walk along with the Christians. Sylvia says: "My prayers have all been answered. Now I have nothing else to ask for."
Pretty good movie. But this is a B movie without any really good acting. About the actors, I can only say that Belinda Lee made for a very pretty Messalina. He acting was alright. The movie has the basic idea right. Messalina was a wife of Claudius, was extremely ambitious, much too lascivious and willing to kill or have killed anyone that threatened her or her children's futures. It's also clear that she did plot to have Claudius killed. But after all that is said, there isn't much more positive to say. It's better to see I, Claudius.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)