An oddity—and a fairly minor one—from the great Abel Gance, Lucrezia Borgia (1935) is really nothing more than a “boddice ripper” (lots get ripped and a surprising amount of breasts get displayed). The film treats the Borgia clan with scant regard for history, but a great deal of very agreeable melodrama. Originally banned in several countries (mostly for its nudity, including a quick, nearly full-frontal view of star Edwige Feuillère in the title role), the film was largely unseen in the U.S. till its DVD incarnation (taken from what looks like a battered 16mm print). It’s certainly worth a look—perhaps as much for its silliness as its cinematic quality, though the latter shouldn’t be sold short.
According to the film, the only real villain of the piece is Césare Borgia (Gabriel Gabrio), a power-mad barbarian, who may or may not have a thing for his sister (he kills off every one of her lovers), but thinks nothing of using her for marital alliances. The father, Pope Alexander VI (Roger Karl), is viewed as an ineffectual character at the mercy of this wayward son—despite what history tells us. Jean Borgia (Maurice Escande) is presented as a pretty good guy with a penchant for the arts (code for gay in this instance), who happens to stand in Césare’s way. And Lucrezia? Well, she’s just a friendly, misunderstood girl with bad luck and a worse family. It’s all a bit clunky and old-fashioned (despite all the skin and sexual undertones), but it’s also a lot of fun with occasional flourishes worthy of Gance.