Goliath Against The Giants/Goliath contro i giganti (1961)

‘It’s more difficult to understand a woman than to defeat an army.’

After a long campaign, Goliath and his army are looking forward to some peace, but instead they find out that their king has been muderered back home and a usurper is on the throne. A message concerning their return has already been despatched, so Goliath decides to try and outrun the courier by returning across the sea…

More muscleman adventures from Italy as US actor Brad Harris takes up the gauntlet from Steve Reeves, who had previously played the part in ‘Goliath and the Barbarians/Il terrore dei barbari’ (1959). This adventure was directed by Guido Malatesta and scripted by Arpad DeRiso, Cesare Seccia and Gianfranco Parolini, who was soon to become a prolific director of genre cinema and, according to some sources, worked uncredited in that capacity here.

After a bloody five-year campaign, victorious general Goliath (Harris) heads back to his homeland Beyruth, but the fighting isn’t over yet. Bad news came hard on the heels of the fruits of conquest;
good King Augustes lays dead back home, and usurper Bokan (Fernando Rey) has seized the throne. This intelligence comes too late; Harris has already despatched a messenge back with news of their victory and imminent return. Realising this courier must be intercepted, he commandeers a ship, selects a crew and sets out via the swifter ocean route.

Unfortunately, nothing goes according to plan. First, the ship is becalmed, and then Harris has to deal with young stowaway Antheus (Franco Gasparri). Stopping in for freshwater supplies at a deserted island, they find Princess Elea (Gloria Milland) staked out on the ground. Harris takes her aboard, but is she friend or foe? She does try to kill him with a snake but soon finds the big man’s noble character and his muscles to be an irresistible combination. Later on, it turns out that she had been duped into the role of assassin by Rey and his scheming mistress Diamira (Carmen de Lirio), convinced that Harris was responsible for her father’s death.

The voyage gets progressively more perilous as they are battered by a typhoon and attacked by a giant sea lizard. Harris defeats the monster, but the ship, and nearly all the crew, are lost. Washed up on the shores of Beyruth, our heroes escape in the nick of time from a tribe of Amazon warriors and finally reach their destination. But there’s still plenty of work to be done. Harris’ fight card fills up with Rey’s royal guard, a gorliia in the dungeon, some unfriendly lions and an extra couple of giant lizards. What about the giants? After all, they are in the movie’s title. Well, they do turn up eventually, about six minutes from the end of the film. Unfrotunately, they are not exactly impressive, being played by half a dozen burly blokes in beards and animal skins. When Harris briefly fights with a few of them, it’s obvious they’re no taller than him.

As you may have gathered, the story here is nothing special, simply being the usual ragbag of Peplum cliches. However, there are so many of them that they give Malatesta’s film its most significant advantage: pace. There’s little let up in the action right from the get-go when the audience is thrown straihght into the final stages of the five-year war. The sword play may not be the best, but it’s enthusiastic and the battle scenes have a good sense of scale, thanks to the impressive sets and the sheer number of participants. Coming at the beginning of the muscleman cycle, the production values are still relatively high and this does grant the film a stamp of quality lacking in some of the later examples of the genre.

It also helps that Fernando Ray is terrific value as the despicable Bolkan, although he’s so flaky its hard to believe that he could hold onto a throne, let alone steal one in the first place. Of course, he’s stuffing the treasury by levying exorbitant taxes on an increasingly rebellious population and holding games in the arena where even the winner gets an arrow through the neck. Why did he order one of his flunkeys to kill this nameless gladiator? No reason, just a bit of fun. When will all these usurpers, Grand Viziers and dark princes learn to employ a sensible tax policy anyway? Stop at a level just before the populace gets angry enough to do something about it, and give them reasons to blame each other for their collective poverty. Race and colour are usually reliable ones. It’s Government 101, really.

Some of the more familar elements of the genre are all present and correct too. Slaves are turning a big wheel (although it is attached to somethiing for once!) The Lost Kingdom Dancing Girls continue their never-ending tour with an appearance at the royal court. Guards on the steps of the palace uncross their spears when someone approaches and then cross them again once the visitor has gone through. Harris just wanders up behind Rey on his throne at the arena and puts a blade to his throat.

One of the film’s greatest strengths lies in its location work. There’s a beautiful sequence where our heroes walk across a desert and the valley of Janopah where the giants live is an impressive mixture of bleak crags and volcanic ash. The scenery is often spectacular, and the cinematography of Alejandro Ulloa helps evoke an ancient world, assisted by a stirring score from Carlo Innocenzi. Some of the monsters are somewhat immobile and don’t bear too close scrurtiny but director Malatesta sensibly doesn’t let his camera linger on them for more than a few seconds at a time.

Harris sports a short, blonde beard and a haircut with just a suggestion of an Elvis quiff. He is not very charasmatic here but still won the title roles in similar offerings ‘Samson’ (1961) and ‘Fury of Hercules’ (1962). Later on, he often starred for Parolini, once the latter became a full-time director. The two collaborated most famously on the ‘Kommissar X’ Eurospy films, and, by that point, he was more assured in front of the camera. He was also a martial arts expert who often choreographed fight sequences and toted a six-gun as Spaghetti Western heroes Django and Sabata. None of these skills was probably required for his occasional appearances in the 1980s on US super soap ‘Dallas.’

Malatesta was a writer and a director who worked in various genres before latching onto the Peplum craze with this film. ‘Maciste contro i mostri/Colossus of the Stone Age’ (1962), ‘Maciste contro i cacciatori di teste/Colossus and the Headhunters’ (1963) followed in short order. He also worked as a writer on ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963), which was inexplicably re-titled Slave Queen’ for the American market. Ventures into Eurospy territory came next with scripts for ‘Spies Strike Silently/Le spie uccidono in silenzio’ (1966) and ‘Operation Apocalyspe/Missione apocalisse’ (1966), and he returned to the director’s chair to deliver dreary, slow-burn caper ‘Mission Phantom/Come rubare un quintale di diamanti in Russia’ (1967). Two jungle adventures closed out the decade: ‘Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla’ (1968) and ‘Tarzana, the Wild Woman/Tarzana, sesso selvaggio’ (1969), both featuring the up and coming Femi Benussi in the title role.

A somewhat formulaic and familiar outing enlivened by a swift pace and a budget that allows for a solid level of spectacle.

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