1 9 8 1 (USA)
4 x 120 minute episodes
Masada (the word means “fortress” in Hebrew) was an epic eight-hour miniseries from ABC that told the story of 960 Judeans who resisted the Roman army from the top of a rock 1,300 feet high, overlooking the Dead Sea, in 70 AD.
Peter O’Toole portrays Roman General Flavius Silva, commander of the 15,000-man army stymied at the foot of Mount Masada. Peter Strauss plays Eleazar ben Yair, the Jewish rebel leader whose initial guerilla tactics turn to psychological warfare with Silva.
As the confrontation is prolonged, their respect for each other grows.
Desert heat and windstorms take their toll on Silva’s troops as mutiny and treachery sweep through his camp. Discord also flares when Silva falls in love with the alluring Jewish slave, Sheva (Barbara Carrera).
Silva’s chief military engineer Gallus (Anthony Quayle) constructs an elaborate assault ramp to be used as a huge battering ram that will breach Masada’s walls. But with the end fast approaching, the hopelessly outnumbered Jewish defenders choose to exact an act of bizarre and bloody revenge on the invaders. They commit suicide, depriving Rome of a Jewish surrender.
The scene in which Eleazar slays his wife Miriam (Giulia Pagano) and his young son Reuben (David A. Block) is extremely chilling, as is the terror-stricken expression on Silva’s face when he witnesses the massacre.
The huge cast features David Warner, Anthony Valentine, Michael Elphick and Norman Rossington.
Filmed on location in the desert of Israel at a cost of $25 million, Masada was a stunning if bloated spectacle (the siege itself seemed to last every minute of the six months it was supposed to have consumed in reality).
General Cornelius Flavius Silva
Eleazar ben Yair
Paul L. Smith
Senator Pomponius Falco
Head Tribune Attius
Jerahmeel, Head Essene
David A. Block
General Marcus Quadratus
Head Tribune Merovius