Full page view
HISTORY

A written prologue to the film reads: “Pagan Rome 37 A. D. – 41 A. D.,” and “What shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul. Mark 8:36.”
       End credits state: “Filmed at Dear Studios, Rome, Italy.”
       In a May 1980 Penthouse article, Penthouse publisher and producer Bob Guccione stated that film director Roberto Rossellini had written the original treatment about Caligula’s life. Producer Franco Rossellini, Roberto’s nephew, then showed the material to playwright-author Gore Vidal to interest him in working on a screenplay. A 11 Feb 1976 Var article stated that Vidal used translations by Robert Graves of the second-century historical writings of Tacitus and Seutonius as research for his script. As reported in Penthouse, Guccione claimed that he worked closely with Vidal on concepts and numerous revisions to shape the story. In the early stages, Vidal’s script called for too many sets and scenes that would have cost between $30 and $40 million to film.
       A 4 Oct 1976 Time article reported that actress Maria Schneider, hired for the role of “Drusilla,” walked off the set after the first day of filming, calling the project “a grotesque pornographic movie.” Actress Teresa Ann Savoy, who had worked with director Tinto Brass on Salon Kitty (1975), was quickly hired as Schneider’s replacement.
       According to a Sep 1999 Detour article, Guccione’s intent was to make a film that would break boundaries by creating a hybrid genre that combined hardcore sexuality and art cinema. He said he had conversations with director Federico Fellini about the ... More Less

A written prologue to the film reads: “Pagan Rome 37 A. D. – 41 A. D.,” and “What shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul. Mark 8:36.”
       End credits state: “Filmed at Dear Studios, Rome, Italy.”
       In a May 1980 Penthouse article, Penthouse publisher and producer Bob Guccione stated that film director Roberto Rossellini had written the original treatment about Caligula’s life. Producer Franco Rossellini, Roberto’s nephew, then showed the material to playwright-author Gore Vidal to interest him in working on a screenplay. A 11 Feb 1976 Var article stated that Vidal used translations by Robert Graves of the second-century historical writings of Tacitus and Seutonius as research for his script. As reported in Penthouse, Guccione claimed that he worked closely with Vidal on concepts and numerous revisions to shape the story. In the early stages, Vidal’s script called for too many sets and scenes that would have cost between $30 and $40 million to film.
       A 4 Oct 1976 Time article reported that actress Maria Schneider, hired for the role of “Drusilla,” walked off the set after the first day of filming, calling the project “a grotesque pornographic movie.” Actress Teresa Ann Savoy, who had worked with director Tinto Brass on Salon Kitty (1975), was quickly hired as Schneider’s replacement.
       According to a Sep 1999 Detour article, Guccione’s intent was to make a film that would break boundaries by creating a hybrid genre that combined hardcore sexuality and art cinema. He said he had conversations with director Federico Fellini about the project, but the movie’s explicit sexuality turned out to be a deal breaker. Penthouse stated that Guccione also considered hiring director John Huston, but negotiations broke down with Huston’s agent. Director Lina Wertmuller was interested in the picture, but wanted actor Jack Nicholson to play “Caligula” and wanted to retitle the film Lina Wertmuller’s Caligula. According to Detour, Guccione hired Brass because of his work on Salon Kitty, and his desire to use the film to make a political statement about capitalists and wealthy entrepreneurs. By including this perspective, the filmmakers hoped to avoid potential obscenity charges since a 1973 court case in California, known subsequently as the “Miller test,” ruled that if a commercial entertainment contained redeeming artistic or social value, it was not necessarily obscene, although it might be sexually graphic.
       A news item in the 15 Dec 1975 NYT announced that principal photography would begin in Rome, Italy, in Apr 1976. The 11 Feb 1976 Var reported that that start date was pushed to Jun 1976 with a fourteen-week shooting schedule. Locations included Romania, and Italy, while Yugoslavia was also considered. A 16 Aug 1976 Box article stated that principal photography began 26 Jul 1976. However, principal photography was again delayed to 2 Aug 1976, according to production charts in the 1 Sep 1976 Var.        As stated in the May 1980 Penthouse, the film’s budget was $17.5 million, but when factoring interest on the financing, the cost increased to around $22 million.
       Articles in the 15 Sep 1976 LAT and 4 Oct 1976 Time reported that Brass was angered by Vidal’s derogatory comments about directors being “parasites,” and banned him from the set. Penthouse stated that during filming, Guccione discovered that Brass shot footage using obese, ugly, wrinkled elderly women to create a satire that contradicted everything Guccione desired. Art director Danilo Donati was responsible for constructing 3,592 costumes and sixty-four sets, but Brass only shot half the props and sets built. Guccione contended that Brass could have saved the production thousands of dollars if he had done a better job of planning. All of Dear Studios was used to recreate portions of ancient Rome with public buildings, dwellings and shops. A 31 Dec 1976 press release stated that examples of the sumptuous sets included Caligula’s private stadium, which was the size of three football fields, containing an elaborate “killing machine” that Caligula used to destroy his enemies, and an imperial brothel in the shape of a permanently moored, gold-leafed ship, thirty feet high and 160 feet long, outfitted with 120 oars, and decorated with more than one hundred statues. In addition, a Hungarian sculptor created reproductions of thousands of urns, plates, goblets and statues, while prop master, Gianpiero Grassi, supplied 20,000 eggs, a quarter ton of rotten tomatoes, and 450 gallons of blood for just one scene.
       According to Penthouse, makeup artist, Guiseppe Banchelli, was in charge of sorting and matching one thousand pounds of human hair imported from Sicily to make wigs representing ancient Roman hairstyles, based on historical prints and drawings. Filmmakers also insisted on closed sets for exterior shots done at various locations on the outskirts of Rome with armed guards posted continuously to discourage curiosity seekers.
       Other locations included the ancient bath ruins of Caracalla in Rome, Lake Vico in central Italy, and an outdoor lot off the Via Salaria, used to build two massive sets.
       Penthouse reported that after principal photography was completed on 25 Dec 1976, Guccione and director of post production, Giancarlo Lui, returned to Rome within a few weeks to do reshoots at Dear Studios. They cobbled together sets and props including the boat, hired back craftsman and technicians from the original production, and about thirty background actors, and about a dozen “Penthouse Pets.” Guccione had not planned to become a director, but felt that he had to take control to get the film back on track with its original concept. New footage was ready after five days. Due in part to Roman laws regarding director’s rights, the negative was snuck out of the country to England, where it was stored in cans marked My Son, My Son, or the The Pecos Kid, and hidden in vaults. There, as Technicolor began making prints, its owners stopped working when it was discovered that the film was considered “illegal” under British law. Soon, British unions throughout the country spread word to boycott any work on the film, so Guccione was again forced to sneak the negative out of the country. This time, he had several prints struck in Paris, France, which were then shipped to New York City.
       Penthouse reported that Guccione insisted on a “complete press blackout.” He thought that would pique the curiosity of film critics, and force them to buy $7.50 tickets, which was considered a premium price at the time, in order to write about the movie.
       The film was released in late 1979 in Italy, but was temporarily shut down by authorities after six days for its “morally offensive” content. A 19 May 1980 Box article stated that despite the film’s violence and sexually graphic content, Guccione marketed it as an art house movie, following the example of Last Tango in Paris. However, he admitted that the film would have received an “X” rating had it been submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The film’s release plan included “four-wall deals,” which involved renting a first-run theater for several weekends at a flat fee. The company received all the ticket sale revenue while the theater kept concession money.
       The film made headlines across the country after its release. As stated in a 28 May 1980 HR article, the [City of] Los Angeles District Attorney’s office considered whether to slap the film with an obscenity charge, but no prints were confiscated while the investigation was ongoing. Meanwhile, about twenty anti-pornography protesters succeeded in shutting down the movie’s run early in Kansas City, MO, after owner-manager, Marvin Finkelstein, of the Fairyland Drive-In Theatre, acquiesced to their pressure, according to a 2 Jul 1980 Var news item. A 25 Jun 1980 Var article reported that Boston, MA, police confiscated the film on 17 Jun 1980 from the Saxon Theatre. Its representatives were ordered to appear in Municipal Court on 27 Jun 1980 for arraignment on obscenity charges. The court date was postponed until 4 Jul 1980, according to a brief in a 3 Jul 1980 DV. The 25 Jun 1980 Var stated that the arraignment would determine whether charges remained misdemeanors or were reclassified as felonies. Another matter to be decided was whether the trial would remain a local, non-jury event or take place before a grand jury. A 3 Aug 1980 NYT news item reported that the Boston Municipal Courtroom of Judge Harry Elam ruled that Caligula was not obscene. The judge came to his decision after listening to two Harvard faculty department chairmen among fourteen expert witnesses that debated the picture’s social, artistic and historic worth. Given that the prosecution could not prove the film lacked “serious political value,” Elam ruled that it was not a crime to watch the movie despite the element of prurient sexual content.
       News items in the 30 Jul 1980 HR and Var reported that a 35-mm print of the movie that had been playing at the Holly Theatre since 18 Apr 1980 in Los Angeles, CA, was stolen between the hours of 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. on 26 Jul 1980. Guccione said he had received earlier threats “to take some form of action” from vigilante groups if the L. A. district attorney’s office refused to act. An additional notice appeared in the 30 Jul 1980 Var to offer a reward for any information about the theft leading to an arrest, and to warn the public that that the illegal sale of the picture would lead to legal action and penalties. Briefs in the 20 Aug 1980 Var and 6 Sep 1980 Screen International stated that police, acting on a tip, found the film in shrubbery behind a restaurant on Vine Street in Hollywood, CA, after it had been missing for nineteen days.
       A 17-23 Sep 1980 Village Voice “Rules Of The Game” column stated that the film was a “hit” and had earned a profit of $89 million. As reported in a 12 Nov 1980 HR news item, the film earned $147,226 in its first week at the Prince Charles Cinema, a 630-seater, in London, England’s, West End. House records were broken based on $12 ticket sales for the week, a twenty-four hour period, and a given showing, despite warnings to the public by star Malcolm McDowell on BBC-TV to avoid the picture.
       A 24 Jun 1981 Var stated that although Rossellini had filed a lawsuit in the U. S. to recover thirty-five percent of the film’s profits, proceedings were moved to Rome, and a civil trial was scheduled to begin 30 Sep 1981. Penthouse Films International argued that Rossellini was entitled to more than ten percent of the profits. The outcome of the dispute has not been determined.
       A 15 Oct 1981 DV article reported that Penthouse Productions would release an MPAA “R” rated version of its film that cut thirty-three minutes from its original 150-minute running time. Elements of violence, nudity, and explicit sexuality were removed to conform to the new rating. The new version was scheduled to run in 170 theaters, beginning 16 Oct 1981.
       The AFI catalog gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Gore Vidal biographer and researcher, Ranjit Sandhu, who generously shared his research, and contributed to the in-depth information contained in this production note. Ranjit is currently writing a book about the making of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, titled 200 Degrees of Failure: The Unmaking of Caligula.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Aug 1976
p. 17.
Box Office
19 May 1980
p. 8.
Daily Variety
3 Jul 1980.
---
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1981.
---
Detour
Sep 1999
p. 81-82.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Apr 1980
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
28 May 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jul 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1980.
---
Jennings Daily News
17 Dec 1976
p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
21 Aug 1976
p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
15 Sep 1976
p. E9.
Los Angeles Times
13 Jan 1980
Calendar, p. 32.
Los Angeles Times
18 Apr 1980
p. 1.
New York Times
15 Dec 1975.
---
New York Times
2 Feb 1980
p. 9.
New York Times
3 Aug 1980.
---
Penthouse
May 1980.
p.110-124, p. 136-142.
Screen International
6 Sep 1980
p. 6.
Time
4 Oct 1976
p. 64.
Variety
11 Feb 1976.
---
Variety
1 Sep 1976
p. 32.
Variety
21 Nov 1979
p. 24.
Variety
25 Jun 1980
p. 3, 39.
Variety
2 Jul 1980.
---
Variety
30 Jul 1980.
---
Variety
20 Aug 1980
p. 5.
Variety
24 Jun 1981.
---
Village Voice
17-23 Sep 1980
p. 48.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Bob Guccione and Penthouse Films International Present
A Bob Guccione Franco Rossellini Production
A Penthouse Films International And Felix Cinematografica S.R.L. Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Addl scenes dir
Addl scenes dir
Unit mgr
1st asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
Adpt from an orig scr by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Principal photog by
Unit photog
Spec photog
Spec photog
Spec photog
Spec photog
Spec photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Editing by
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Architect
Architect
Set dresser
Master of props
COSTUMES
Ward mistress
Ward master
Cost rental
MUSIC
Orig mus by
Mus excerpts from works by
Mus excerpts from works by
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Dubbing mixer
Dubbing mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
Choreog
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Dir of post prod
Dial dir
Scr cont
Casting dir
Casting dir
Tech equip
Accounting
Unit pub
Unit pub
Asst to the prods
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Caligola
Gore Vidal's Caligula
Caligula, My Son
Release Date:
2 February 1980
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 2 February 1980
Los Angeles opening: 18 April 1980
Production Date:
August 2--25 December 1976 in Rome, Italy
Copyright Claimant:
Penthouse Films International, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
7 November 1980
Copyright Number:
PA83587
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
156
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Italy, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 37 A. D. – 41 A. D. Pagan Rome, Italy, Prince Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, known as “Caligula,” and his sister, Drusilla, enjoy a lusty frolic in the forest. Their lovemaking continues in Caligula’s chambers until Macro, commander of the imperial guard, interrupts them and delivers a message, summoning Caligula to see his grandfather, Emperor Tiberius, at his palace on Capri. There, Tiberius demands his grandson perform a dance from his youth when he was a mascot in his father’s army. At first, Caligula claims to have forgotten, but Tiberius insists. After a few minutes, Tiberius interrupts, and confronts Caligula about gossiping and praying for his grandfather’s death. Caligula denies the accusations. Soon, Tiberius warns a Roman senator, Nerva, to be wary of Macro after his death. Tiberius embraces Caligula, who is his adopted grandson and only remaining heir, and cautions that it is a myth that emperors are gods. As they stroll, the court engages in casual sex and acts of masturbation. Tiberius is curious to know if he is missed in Rome, and Caligula assures him that he is loved. Tiberius believes he is not loved but feared. He cautions Caligula that every senator aspires to be emperor, and therefore is a traitor. Caligula denies being intimate with Drusilla, but Tiberius warns him that he knows everything that goes on in the kingdom. Soon, Tiberius greets a biological grandson, Gemellus, with affection. He offers Caligula a cup of wine, but Caligula passes the cup to Gemellus. However, Tiberius stops Gemellus from drinking, and warns him that Caligula will kill him once Tiberius is dead. A servant drinks the poisonous cup of wine and expires. Later, ... +


In 37 A. D. – 41 A. D. Pagan Rome, Italy, Prince Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, known as “Caligula,” and his sister, Drusilla, enjoy a lusty frolic in the forest. Their lovemaking continues in Caligula’s chambers until Macro, commander of the imperial guard, interrupts them and delivers a message, summoning Caligula to see his grandfather, Emperor Tiberius, at his palace on Capri. There, Tiberius demands his grandson perform a dance from his youth when he was a mascot in his father’s army. At first, Caligula claims to have forgotten, but Tiberius insists. After a few minutes, Tiberius interrupts, and confronts Caligula about gossiping and praying for his grandfather’s death. Caligula denies the accusations. Soon, Tiberius warns a Roman senator, Nerva, to be wary of Macro after his death. Tiberius embraces Caligula, who is his adopted grandson and only remaining heir, and cautions that it is a myth that emperors are gods. As they stroll, the court engages in casual sex and acts of masturbation. Tiberius is curious to know if he is missed in Rome, and Caligula assures him that he is loved. Tiberius believes he is not loved but feared. He cautions Caligula that every senator aspires to be emperor, and therefore is a traitor. Caligula denies being intimate with Drusilla, but Tiberius warns him that he knows everything that goes on in the kingdom. Soon, Tiberius greets a biological grandson, Gemellus, with affection. He offers Caligula a cup of wine, but Caligula passes the cup to Gemellus. However, Tiberius stops Gemellus from drinking, and warns him that Caligula will kill him once Tiberius is dead. A servant drinks the poisonous cup of wine and expires. Later, Caligula wakes from a nightmare, and tells Drusilla that Tiberius plots to kill him, but she reassures him he is the only one who can be emperor because Gemellus is too young to rule and Uncle Claudius is not mentally fit. Caligula wants Drusilla to be his empress, but she reminds him that he has been promised to Macro’s wife, Ennia. Even Macro agrees with the arrangement. Elsewhere, Tiberius discovers Nerva in the midst of suicide. As Tiberius orders his wounds bound, Nerva admits that he hates his life. Tiberius says he cannot live without Nerva at his side, and promises to kill Macro, but even with Macro gone, Nerva does not want to be ruled by “the reptile” Caligula. Nerva begs to be allowed to die, and Tiberius leaves. Meanwhile, Caligula wants to know what dying is like, and asks Nerva if he can see the goddess Isis. When he cannot, Caligula believes he is lying, pushes him down in the tub, and hastens his death. Roman citizens gossip about how Tiberius is shaken by Nerva’s passing, growing weaker every day. Later, when Caligula asks Macro to swear allegiance to him, Macro holds his arm in a burning flame without blinking. Still later, Caligula steals Tiberius’ ring thinking he is already dead. When Tiberius demands his ring back, Caligula refuses, and Macro strangles Tiberius to death. Gemellus witnesses the crime, and bends down to kiss Caligula’s ring. At Tiberius’ funeral, Caligula accepts the position of emperor. He promises a new era, and adopts Gemellus as his son and heir. When he acknowledges Drusilla as his empress, he delights over shocking his countrymen. Later, when Drusilla wonders if he is being wise, he fondles her breasts and tells her that he can do whatever he likes. Drusilla suggests that he destroy Macro before he manipulates Caligula in the same manner he controlled Tiberius. At the emperor’s stadium, Caligula orders Gemellus to select the man responsible for Tiberius’ death. When Gemellus identifies Macro, Caligula orders his arrest, but guards ignore him. Only when Caligula promises gold pieces as a reward is Macro taken away. One of Caligula’s first duties is to settle a land dispute between two senators. Instead of listening to arguments, he makes an arbitrary decision based on the size of the legal documents. Soon, Caligula visits Ennia, who informs him that her divorce will be granted in a few days, and then they can marry. Caligula suggests a move to Alexandria, Egypt, but Ennia does not want to leave Rome. An advisor named Chaerea tells Caligula that the Senate has sentenced Macro to death. When Caligula appoints Chaerea the new commander of the imperial guard, Ennia protests and defends Macro. However, Caligula banishes her to Gaul. Caligula returns to Drusilla with the news, and his plans for their marriage. Drusilla warns him that he cannot move the government to Egypt for their personal gain, and soon, Caligula agrees to marry an Isis priestess of his choosing to bear his children. Later, he surveys a group of women as they fondle each other, and chooses the priestess Caesonia to be his bride. Drusilla warns him that Caesonia is the most promiscuous woman in Rome, and always in debt. She is against the union, but Caligula insists. As he promises to marry Caesonia if she bears him a son, Drusilla wonders how Caligula will know if the child is really his. Caligula also has his eye on Livia, a virgin priestess, and interrupts her wedding to Proculus, an imperial officer, to bless the union by raping her in front of her husband. As Livia whimpers, Caligula coats his fist with lard, and violates Proculus so that he is no longer a virgin. One rainy night, shutters blow open and Caligula runs outside in search of Gemellus, calling for him in the rain. As Drusilla is summoned, Caligula discards his bedclothes and does his army dance in the nude. He tells Drusilla that he knows Gemellus plots to kill him. She kisses away his fears, and soon, Caligula is making love to both Drusilla and Caesonia. The women also engage in lesbian sex. Later, at a palace party, Caligula discovers that Gemellus has swallowed an antidote before Caligula feeds him poisoned food. Gemellus denies the charge, but Caligula has him arrested for treason. Drusilla is upset by the arrest, and tells him that Gemellus is not a threat because Caesonia is pregnant with his child. Caligula claims that Gemellus saw Tiberius’ murder, and must die. Drusilla calls him an amateur and he slaps her. When she leaves, Caesonia insists that Drusilla should be punished for her treasonous outburst. Instead, he orders Caesonia to dance for him. Later, Caligula develops a fever and Drusilla comforts him until his fever breaks. He goes back to running the empire but is quickly bored and seeks out Proculus. Livia is pregnant and Caligula has his men torture and kill Proculus. He orders Proculus’ private parts sent to Livia as a souvenir. Soon, Caesonia gives birth to a girl but Caligula insists it is a son. Suddenly, Drusilla falls ill. Although the doctor does everything to save her, she dies. Caligula is bereft, and declares a month of public mourning for his sister. Caligula imitates a sheep when announcing the mourning period is over, and members of his court declare him insane. Later, Caligula builds a stationary ship inside the palace to be an imperial brothel. Senators’ wives are the pleasure providers, and he tells Caesonia that he will demand a special rate for her services. The revenue fills Rome’s coiffures. Later, Caligula orders his officers to attack papyrus growing in the water so he can claim to have conquered Britain. In court, he announces his victory while servants parade the captured papyrus. During a celebration, Caligula orders his advisor, Longinus, to recite a list of citizens who have failed the empire, and they are arrested. Caligula and Caesonia have a laugh when Caligula mentions that Chaerea plans to kill him, but when a black bird appears in their bedchamber, it is seen as an omen, and Caesonia screams. The next day, after a walk in the palace, Caligula gives Chaerea the secret password “scrotum.” Chaerea answers, “So be it,” draws his knife and murders Caligula, Caesonia, and their child. Then, advisors crown Uncle Claudius the new emperor of Rome. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.