Creator Backlash: Hoo boy, Caligula. Gore Vidal walked away from production because he hated how director Tinto Brass wanted satire in the film. Brass was then cut loose because producer Bob Guccione wanted hardcore sex involving his Penthouse Pets. Neither Vidal or Brass are officially credited in their roles. Most of the actors (with the unsurprising exception of shame-challenged Helen Mirren and John Gielgud, who had a blast making it and saw it three times in the cinema) now look upon it as an Old Shame due to its reputation as a high-budget porno; Anneka Di Lorenzo eventually won a lawsuit claiming the film damaged her career (though the punitive damages were overturned on appeal).
Genre-Killer: The "porno chic" movement of The '70s came to a screeching halt with the film's critical failure and overwhelming controversy. Known more for its incredibly heated production, characterized by constant infighting between Gore Vidal, director Tinto Brass, and producer Bob Guccione, the film was chastised as being directionless and exploitative due to the immense Creative Differences between Vidal (who wanted to make a film that strongly focused on homosexuality in a time when mainstream LGBT acceptance was still painfully low), Brass (who wanted to make a political satire), and Guccione (who ordered rewrites to remove Vidal's homosexual elements and wanted to make a Porn with Plot film that paid homage to the campiness of 1950s historical epics). Roger Ebert infamously walked out when he saw the film— one of the only times in his career that he did so— and slammed it as "sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash." While the film was a commercial success and has started to become Vindicated by History with the help of recuts that reorient the film closer to Brass' vision, the combination of the sheer vitriol directed towards it and the emerging conservative revolution in the Anglosphere put the kibosh on the mainstream fashionability of pornographic films.
Hostility on the Set: While Malcolm McDowell got along well with director Tinto Brass, Peter O'Toole immediately disliked him, while John Gielgud and Helen Mirren were indifferent; they focused on their own performances. O'Toole did not endear himself to producer Bob Guccione when he told the producer that he planned to launch his own magazine to rival Penthouse. It was to be called Basement and would include such features as 'Rodent of the Month' and 'Toe Rag of the Year'.
Looping Lines: Because this movie was intended for release in English, and much of the dialogue was recorded in Italian, the soundtrack had to be looped. Peter O'Toole was reluctant to re-record his dialogue. He kept away from the producers until he re-recorded his dialogue in a Canadian recording studio.
Old Shame: Pretty much anyone who was involved with the production (except Helen Mirren and Bob Guccione) would like to forget all about it.
The Other Marty: Maria Schneider was originally cast as Drusilla, but became uncomfortable with appearing nude and in sexual scenes, and left the production, to be replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy, whom Tinto Brass had previously worked with on Salon Kitty. Schneider had also apparently angered Brass by sewing up the open tunics she was supposed to wear on camera.
Role-Ending Misdemeanor: Gore Vidal gave an interview for Time magazine where he described directors as "parasites" and a film's author was its screenwriter. Tinto Brass demanded Vidal's removal from the set and Bob Guccione agreed.
Most of the problems stemmed from the endless feuding between writer Gore Vidal, director Tinto Brass, and producer Bob Guccione (of Penthouse magazine fame). Vidal wanted the film to stay true to his script, to the point of claiming in a Time magazine interview that directors were "parasites" living off writers, and that the director need only follow the directions as provided by the writer of the screenplay. Brass, not amused in the slightest, threw Vidal out of the studio. Guccione, meanwhile, wanted to incorporate hardcore sex into the film in order to promote his magazine, which caused female lead Maria Schneider to withdraw from the film (she was replaced by Teresa Ann Savoy) and no shortage of disagreements with Brass.
The aggressive shooting schedule developed by the inexperienced producers Guccione and Franco Rossellini was unrealistic for a film of such scope. Art director Danilo Donati had to scrap some of his more elaborate original ideas for the sets and replace them with such surreal imagery as bizarre matte paintings, blacked-out areas, silk backdrops and curtains. This resulted in significant script changes, with Brass and the actors improvising scenes written to take place in entirely different locations, and sometimes shooting entirely new scenes (such as the frolicking scene that opens the film) in order to show progress while the incomplete or redone sets were unavailable.
As the film entered post-production, Guccione took control of the film footage and fired Brass for running up huge costs (Guccione claims Brass shot enough film to "make the original version of Ben-Hur about 50 times over"), casting actual criminals as Roman senators, and using what Guccione considered "fat, ugly, and wrinkled old women" in the sex scenes instead of his Penthouse Pets. Guccione hired his friend Giancarlo Lui to reedit the film. Lui was instructed to refashion the film into something more in keeping with what Vidal had first scripted, while delivering the sexual content demanded by Guccione; they shot and added hardcore scenes. With much footage improvised and rewritten from the original draft of the film, Lui further scrambled, re-cut, and deleted scenes altogether. Many of the disturbing sexual images shot by Brass were removed, replaced by approximately six minutes of hardcore sex shot by Guccione and Lui. In the end, the final cut of the film had strayed far afield from what Brass had intended. Ironically, perhaps, it bore little resemblance to what Vidal had scripted as well.
In the unpleasant aftermath, both Brass and Vidal launched independent tirades against the film and lawsuits against Guccione, delaying the release of Caligula. Vidal, who was paid $200,000 for his script, agreed to drop his contractual claim for 10% of the film profits in exchange for having his name removed from the title of the film (original billing was to have been Gore Vidal's Caligula). In 1981, Anneka Di Lorenzo, who played Messalina, sued Guccione, claiming that he damaged her career by using hardcore sexual scenes in the final cut of Caligula without her knowledge, thereby associating her with a pornographic film. After a protracted litigation, in 1990 a New York state court awarded her $60,000 in compensatory damages and $4,000,000 in punitive damages, but on appeal, the punitive damages were determined to be not recoverable and the court vacated the award.
Urban Legend of Zelda: Contrary to popular belief, the infamous three hour and thirty minute pre-release version of the movie never existed. The mix-up came from an erroneous movie program printed for the first public screening of this movie at the Cannes Trade Festival (not to be confused with the Cannes Film Festival that occurs around the same time of the year) that stated that the entirety of the "Caligula Screening" runs three hours and thirty minutes. What it forgot to say, however, was that the movie (in its two hour and thirty-six minute edition) and the one hour making-of featurette were shown back to back that night, thus creating the three and a half hour running time.
Wag the Director: After raping Proculus' wife, Caligula was meant to sodomize Proculus. Malcolm McDowell refused to do it, and Tinto Brass instead suggested the off-screen fisting, which is seen in the movie.