The Giant of Marathon (1959)

The Giant of Marathon (1959)‘Strong arms don’t win a fight if the other parts of the body are not working with them.’

Steve Reeves wins every event at the Olympics but doesn’t get any gold medals, just a laurel wreath and a new job as head of the Athenian guard. Inevitably, it gets involved with court intrigue, a designing woman, a forbidden romance and cracking some Persian skulls when they decide to invade…

Vintage peplum from Italy’s Galatea Studios with Mr Universe taking a break from his Herculean labours to focus on more Earthly matters such as tongue wrestling with the beautiful Mylene Demongeot and saving Greek civilisation almost single handed.

‘Hercules’ (1958) had been a surprising international success so it made sense to grab a Hollywood director for another Reeves vehicle. The choice was Jacques Tourneur, who had helmed classic spooky horrors like ‘Cat People’ (1942) for producer Val Lewton’s RKO b-unit and film noir masterpiece ‘Out of the Past’ (1947). Recently he had returned to horror with the unsettling ‘Night of the Demon’ (1957) so this was a director with a serious pedigree, if not in the ‘sword and sandal’ arena. And that shows in the finished film. It’s tiresomely formulaic; based on history but saddled with silly romance and cardboard characters. Tourneur walked during filming when his contract was up and director of photography Mario Bava picked up the reins. As a reward for taking it on, the studio allowed Bava to develop his own project. Somewhat ironically, this turned out to be the genuinely creepy ‘The Mask of Satan’ (1960) and Bava was off on his own career of spooky horror films.

The Giant of Marathon (1959)

..and representing the U.S. in the javelin…

Sadly, the change of director is by far the most interesting thing about the film. The climactic battle scenes are quite violent and well staged but this does only go to highlight the lifeless buildup, which plays almost like an afterthought. It is nice to see big scenes with hundreds of extras rather than tame CGI but, in the end, this is very standard peplum, playing exactly according to the rules of the genre.

Buy ‘The Giant of Marathon’ here

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