Director: Pietro Francisci
Starring: Anthony Quinn (Attila), Sophia Loren (Honoria), Henri Vidal (Aetius), Claude Laydu (Valentiniano Caesar), Irene Papas (Grune), Colette Régis (Galla Placidia), Ettore Manni (Bleda, brother of Attila), Eduardo Ciannelli (Onegesius, counselor to Attilai), Georges Bréhat (Prisco), Christian Marquand (Hun Leader).
Country: Italian-French film
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The Huns from distant deserts of Asia rape and pillage villages. The year is 450 A.D. On the eastern border on the Danube River a Roman legion is advancing. The Roman leader is Ezio, who knows the Hun leader Attila from childhood. His right hand man is Prisco. They arrive at the start of the Hun's territory. The Romans travel to the Hun encampment bringing a message from the Roman Emperor to Rua, the king of the Huns. Brothers Bleda and Attila inform the the Romans that they are behind the times. Their uncle has been dead for over two months. The two brother are now sharing the throne. Their counselor is Onegesio.
The impetuous Attila wants the Hun hostages and deserters back from the Romans. And he wants the Romans to pay tribute to the Huns equal to double the tribute the Huns had been paying the Romans. Bleda is a more reasonable leader. He wants to give the Roman and his brother time to think about the demands. But Attila wants a simple yes or no answer from the Romans right away. Atila's woman Grune is somewhat of a soothsayer. She warns Attila to be afraid of he who will fight without weapons. In the end, Ezio has to agree to the terms established by the Huns.
Ravenna is now the seat of the western Roman empire. The Roman leader Valentiniano is a cowardly and hysterical young man, who is somewhat of a momma's boy. The mother's name is Galla Placidia. The emperor's beautiful sister Honoria is very resentful and jealous of her brother. The irresponsible Valentiniano lets his pet leopard go and the people in attendance run for their lives. He thinks that is very funny.
The Roman emperor is angry that Ezio signed a peace treaty with the Huns. He says that Ezio has betrayed him. Ezio is arrested. Honoria goes to see Ezio and tells him that her mother hates him. She wants Ezio to help her with her own scheme, but the Roman general refuses to help her in her ambitious schemes. She believes that only she and Ezio can save Rome. Ezio, however, is not worried about his personal fate at the hands of a vengeful Galla Placidia. He says her mother will not get rid of him because she knows that she is going to need him to fight the Huns. He is certain that Galla will call him back. Ezio tells Honoria that it is not his fault that destiny has assigned him and her to opposing factions. An angry Honoria leaves.
Attila preaches that now is the time to strike the Romans. The Avari people have aligned with them along with many other tribes. He argues that the Huns have braver men and better weapons than the Romans. He is opposed by Bleda who does not want to fight the Romans. He reminds his brother of what happened to Alarico when he tried to conquer the Romans -- the God of the Christians killed him. Bleda urges that the Huns live in peace. He refers to his brother as a savage. Many of the tribal leaders agree with Bleda. Other tribes support Attila. Bleda decides to talk with Attila alone. Attila blames his brother for having divided the people and says he will never forgive him for this.
News comes from Ravenna. Honoria has written a letter to Attila to come to Ravenna and free her from the slavery of a corrupt court and take her as his wife. She explains that she is entitled to half of the Roman empire and that marriage will give the couple half of the empire. Attila is a bit suspicious of Honoria. He says that he does not want to be involved in the intrigues of women.
Attila, Bleda and their staffs go hunting. Suddenly Attila and his group split off from the main hunt. Bleda wonders where his brother went. He and his crew go to look for Attila. They hear the dogs barking and ride in the direction of the sounds. Bleda runs into an ambush set up by Attilla. Bleda himself is hit in the side by an arrow. He shouts out to Attila that he won't conquer by spilling of the blood of innocents. Attila orders another arrow to be shot into Bleda. Bleda is hit again and dies.
At the funeral some of the people shout "assassin" at Attila. Unmoved, Attila talks to the entire crowd. He openly admits that he killed his brother. But, he claims, he killed Bleda for the benefit of all the people for Bleda would have destroyed the unity of the Huns.
Attila goes on the attack. His soldiers rape and pillage Roman controlled areas. They crucify a Christian priest. Nailed to the cross, the priest tells Attila he cannot win by killing.
Galla scolds her daughter Honoria for working to undermine her brother and help Attila. She says that Honoria is the very embodiment of betrayal. Honoria boasts to her mother that one day she will have to kneel before her daughter and beg for her life.
Galla turns to Ezio to save them from the Huns. She makes him commander of all Roman troops. Honoria starts out on her journey to the Hun encampment.
The Huns advance. They cross over the Alps and travel down into a valley headed ultimately for Rome. Onegesio fears the power of the Christian God. Honoria arrives to see Attila. She enters Attila's tent. Grune tells Attila to send her away immediately, but Attila wants to talk with the Roman royal. He sends Grune out. He then asks Honoria: "You'd marry me?" He says that he is still the barbarian that she once rejected as beneath her. She had thrown wine in his face at a previous meeting for his just touching her garment. He adds: "According to the gods, you can ruin me." But Attila finds her somewhat irresistible. He grabs her and kisses her hard, saying: "How I have longed for your lips."
Attila is on the move again. A Hun returns with a Roman spear in his back. Now Attila knows that the Romans are near. He advances close to the Roman defensive positions and makes his encampment. The next morning he gets ready for the attack. He tells Honoria to go back to her cart and leave. She gets very upset and shouts: "You can't humiliate me like this!" It has no effect on the Hun leader.
Ezio also prepares for the attack. He tells Giustino and Valerio that they will command the two wings of the defensive formation. Ezio then speaks to his troops. He tells the soldiers that now everything depends on them. It is victory or slavery, plain and simple.
Attila tells his commanders that they will feign an attack on the wings, but the main force will attack the center. Ezio figures that Attila will attack the center and he prepares a strong defense there. His assessment of the situation proves correct and the Romans are able to repel the Hun frontal attack. The Hun retreat leads Ezio to send his soldiers after the Huns. But the Huns are ready for this Roman onrush. The two enemies runs forward and ram into each other in an open field. Ezio is hit by an arrow. He falls from his horse which drags him for quite a ways. Honoria is killed by a Roman soldier when a group of Romans attacks her caravan.
Attila wins the battle. Now his way is open to Ravenna and Rome. He takes his little son Bleda (named after his brother) and tours the battlefield. Bleda does not like seeing all the blood and the dead bodies and wants his father to take him off the battlefield. Attila scolds him saying that he has to get used to seeing blood and death. A mortally wounded Roman soldier sees Attila with his son on the battlefield. He grabs a bow and arrow and shoots the arrow at Attila. The son, however, is the one who is hit by the arrow. The dying Roman shouts to Attila that he had meant to kill him, not his son. He adds: "May God forgive me."
A saddened Attila moves farther into the Roman empire. Attila hears a far-off child-like lament. His soldiers do not hear it, but he certainly does. He rides toward the sound.
Valentiniano is very afraid of the oncoming Huns. He whines to his mother that everyone is leaving for Rome. His dying mother tells him that he should also go to Rome. Valentiniano rushes off to prepare for his escape. His mother is shocked at how quickly he left her side without saying good-bye. Even though she told him to go, she shouts out to him: "I don't want to die alone like a beast!"
Searching for the source of the lament, Attila rides to the top of a hill. On the other side he sees a holy man approaching on horseback. Behind him follows a huge chorus of young boys singing. They carry Christian crosses as they sing. Attila goes to speak with the Pope who is bedecked in a beautiful white and gold gown and hat. He remembers the warning to be wary of a man who will face him without a weapon. Pope Leo speaks with Attila. He implores Attila not to kill innocent and now defenseless men, women and children. And the Pope says something that his own brother told him: the blood of innocents won't be washed away. Attila thinks for awhile and then yells to his troops: "Back!" He and his troops turn their horses around and head back up the hill. Attila looks back at the pope and his choir and then leaves.
The movie is o.k. I have a couple of complaints though. One is that the beautiful Sophia Loren was hardly used in the film. And they dubbed her and Anthony Quinn's voices in this Italian production. Another complaint is that at around 1 hour and 19 minutes, the movie is a bit short. And the character of Attila was one of just a completely angered man who wanted revenge on the Romans. He is completely one-dimensional. But if he is so one-dimensional, why would he have such a change of heart toward the end?
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See Attila (2001).
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