Director: Steve Carver
Starring: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Daniel Vargas and Lucretia Love
Writers: John and Joyce Corrington
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: January 1974
THE ARENA (1974) begins nice and peaceful by showing us what appears to be a pagan wedding ceremony. There’s a small crowd of men, women and children in the woods peacefully going about their business. Minutes later, the ceremony is broken up by Roman soldiers on horseback killing all but the women. Elsewhere, we see a dance ceremony of the same nature where the women are dancing with men in what appears to be a tribal ceremony. Again, soldiers on horseback rush in killing all but the women.
Once the women are rounded up, they’re taken to the small Roman town of Brundisium. It’s here the women are sold as slaves to a man called Timarchus (Daniele Vargas). Timarchus force the women to strip in order to clean them up. Once cleaned and dressed, the women are offered to the gladiators who fought in the arena. The women also serve as slaves to the men of Brundisium.
One evening while preparing a dinner feast, both Bodicia (Margaret Markov) and Mamawi (Pam Grier) start a fight among the other slave girls. It’s during this fight that Timarchus gets the idea of putting women into the arena as female gladiators, fighting to their deaths. Both Bodicia and Mamawi realize this could be a way to their freedom as promised by Timarchus.
Those of you who have seen both THE ARENA and Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR (2000) know that the plots are similar. The idea of rounding-up men, and in the case of THE ARENA, women, isn’t new as THE ARENA did it years before Scott’s bigger budgeted adventure. The idea however is nearly identical in every way, shape and form to that of GLADIATOR. That being said, knowing that Roger Corman played executive producer to this low budget adventure film, THE ARENA turns out to be an above average sword and sandal film.
From a filmmaking standpoint, direction, cinematography, editing and story are on the same scale as other Corman productions. As the story goes, there are corrupt Roman politicians, gay flamboyant characters, rough and gritty gladiators, and topping this off are the lovely lady gladiators whom are often naked throughout the film. Truth be told, I only own this film because of the beautiful Pam Grier and the fact that she gets completely naked more than once. Yes, I’m a pervert; however, the film is a fun watch despite my perviness and I rather enjoyed seeing the women rise up to fight for their freedom.
THE ARENA was directed by Steve Carver, written by John and Joyce Corrington, edited by Piera Bruni and shot by Joe D’Amato. The film was distributed by New World Pictures and was released in January of 1974. Joe D’Amato went on to much success in the film industry as both a cinematographer and director. He directed films such as EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (1977), EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (1977), BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1980) and ANTHROPOPHAGUS (1980).
The real star of THE ARENA is Pam Grier. Grier’s career has spanned 40+ years now and she’s certainly become an iconic figure in film starring in roles as early 1970 when she appeared in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970). She would become famous for her roles in the ‘women in prison’ films such as THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971), WOMEN IN CAGES (1971) and THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972). She would also appear in many Blaxploitation films in the 70’s such as BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1973), COFFY (1973) and FOXY BROWN (1974) just to name just a few.
I really enjoy THE ARENA for several different reasons. When it comes down to it, it’s basically a women in prison film set in a different era. With great action set pieces and the addition of Pam Grier you’ll be hard pressed not to like it as well.
Contributed by: Mike Murphy