The Arena (1974)

Ever wonder what a sword-and-sandal reboot of Black Mama White Mama would look like if it were a pseudo-sequel to Spartacus? No? Well, too bad, because now we’re gonna talk about The Arena, a film where Americans and Italians show an incredibly attractive black woman from Africa and an incredibly attractive white woman from France being brought in as slaves and eventually killing Romans. Or in short: hot women kill Italians! Yeah, I think that must have been the log line.

Seriously though, in The Arena, a group of women are brought in as slaves to an arena for gladiator combat in Brundusium. Unfortunately, the arena’s not as popular as it used to be because the Romans are all sick and tired of men killing each other for their pleasure, because mindless violence can actually get boring after a while. After witnessing the ladies fight in the kitchen and with no better showcases presenting themselves, arena-owner Timarchus gets the bright idea that women should totally fight to the death! He tests the theory, and the bloodthirsty crowd loves it. Unfortunately, the ladies don’t, so they start an uprising and escape.

This movie is most notable for pairing up the always spectacular Pam Grier with the wonderful Margaret Markov for the second time in their careers, a year after the two women had worked together in the women in prison exploitation classic Black Mama White Mama. This time as the two main characters forced into gladiatorial combat, they seem destined to be set against one another…and then boom, the women show they’re strong, tough, and still have the hope that the male gladiators have lost, and the uprising begins.

They’re also wearing skimpy outfits or naked for much of the movie, which is where the exploitation part comes in… Yep, expect to see the usual rape, misogyny, sex, and violence. This ain’t high art, folks. There’s also some nasty back hair to further the gross factor, though at least in the end you’re gonna see the bad guys get theirs. But not the crowd, no; Rome ain’t falling over this, not at all. So don’t go thinking there is a big message here.

What is nice is that, in an era where the Italian B-market had shifted from the sword-and-sandal epics of the 1950s and early 1960s to the spaghetti westerns and eurospy movies, and were again shifting into the poliziotteschi and giallos that would dominate through the 1970s, you get a nice throwback here. The Arena combines all of the ancient epicness of Steve Reeves as Hercules while also tossing in the sexuality you would find in something like the Black Emmanuelle series, all through the lens of Steve Carer and Joe D’Amato. Hell, the US cut was also edited by Joe Dante and distributed by Roger Corman’s own New World Pictures, so there is a lot of talent from the 1950s through today found behind the camera here. Of course, all of this is secondary to the talent on display on the screen, which is Pam Grier as her usual bad ass and incredibly awesome self. If you don’t love Pam Grier, well, maybe you should be doing something else with your life.

On a weirdly entertaining note, this movie was remade in Russia in 2001 with a couple of Playboy Playmates as the female leads. Huh, that’s…something.

Also, the copy for this trailer was definitely written by a pervert.

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