‘Greetings from the mountain of black fire!’
A dispossessed Sultan plans to wed his daughter to a neighbouring Prince. The couple are not only in love; the prospective bridegroom also has an army that can restore his kingdom. The Sultan sends word to his old friend, Goliath, to help escort her to the wedding, but the big man arrives too late to prevent her from being kidnapped…
The fifth and final of the brief series of Peplum films casting the biblical giant as a rival to Steve Reeves’ ‘Hercules’ (1957). After being portrayed in turn by Reeves himself, Brad Harris, Gordon Scott and Alan Steel (real name Sergio Ciani), the baton passed to Rock Stevens. He was barely pausing for breath after starring in ‘Hercules Against the Tyrants of Babylon/Ercole contro i tiranni di Babilonia’ (1964).
The film begins with Princess Miriam (Anna Maria Polani) being escorted through the desert in a sedan chair by the armed guards of her father, ex-Sultan of Baghdad, Selim (Mino Doro). In the world of Peplum, this is an open invitation to be attacked, and a group of notorious bandits, led by Bhalek (Andrea Aureli), duly oblige. However, in a shocking twist, muscleman Goliath (Stevens) turns up too late to the party to save Polani and for the two to fall instantly in love. Instead, he can only despatch a few of the brigands and save the life of troop leader Fedele Gentile. Polani has been carried off, and her kidnappers have disappeared.
These fiendish machinations are the work of the devious Thor (Piero Lulli), who now occupies Doro’s throne in Baghdad. By taking Polani off the board, he has scuppered Doro’s attempt to join forces with the army of King Saud (Daniele Vargas), who isn’t that concerned with developments. After all, it’s only his son, Prince Phir (Marino Masé), who has a thing for Polani. Seeing all his careful plans threatened with ruin, Doro asks Stevens to infiltrate the bandit gang and rescue his daughter, and the big man is only too willing to oblige. Prime Minister Kaitchev (Arturo Dominici) opposes this and has no time for Stevens. He is not a spy, of course, perish the thought. Lulli and Aureli are just amazingly good at guessing what our heroes are going to do next.
By the time of this film’s production, the Italian muscleman craze was in its’ death throes. It had been seven years since Steve Reeves had burst onto international screens, and domestic producers had flooded the market with over 60 features starring various legendary heroes since. So, it’s hardly surprising that the genre was showing a lot of wear and tear, with familiar storylines leaning heavily into well-established tropes and little effort made to put a new spin on the material. So the outcome of Steven’s mission is never in doubt and all the steps along his journey and well-signposted in advance.
Showing extraordinary stealth abilities by following one of the group across the desert unseen, Stevens rocks up at bandit HQ and makes a bid for membership by beating up a few of Aureli’s goons. This subtle plan is a surefire hit with the bandit leader, and he’s immediately trusted with carrying a vital message to Lulli in far-off Baghdad. Reaching the city, he meets up with Doro’s undercover forces in the town, led by the wealthy Yssour (Mario Petri) and his woman, Fatma (Helga Liné). His loyalty to the cause is tested by a half-hearted attempt at seduction by the lady of the house, but it’s fair to say the beautiful Liné wouldn’t need to make much of an effort to snare most men on the planet. After passing that test, he returns to Aureli’s camp to break Polani and her paramour Masé out of jail. Any potential difficulties are then cleaned up by a large number of invading soldiers, appearing courtesy of another movie.
Co-writer and director Domenico Paolella probably jumped into this project directly after wrapping ‘Hercules Against the Tyrants of Babylon/Ercole contro i tiranni di Babilonia’ (1964). Both films starred not only Stevens but also Petri, Liné, Polani and Dominici. Paolella was joined again on scriptwriting duties by Luciano Martino, with the uncredited addition of Ernesto Gastaldi for this film. These collaborators became significant players later on in the Giallo sub-genre, with Gastaldi in particular authoring screenplays for some of its’ best and most famous examples. Paolella, however, slipped a little under the radar in subsequent years with his most notable following credits being unwieldy Eurospy ‘Agente S 03: Operazione Atlantide’ (1965) and a couple of the more sober entries in the short-lived nunsploitation craze, most notably ‘Story of a Cloistered Nun’ (1973).
Most will recognise Rock Stevens from more than 150 episodes of the smash-hit TV show ‘Mission: Impossible’, where he appeared under his more familiar name of Peter Lupus. Although he struggled to maintain that level of visibility, he also appeared as Nor(d)berg in the cult comedy ‘Police Squad!’ with Leslie Nielsen, being replaced in the ‘Naked Gun’ movie series by O.J. Simpson. Liné was most probably the hardest working actress in European cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. She assembled a fearsome list of credits in genre cinema, although she was often wasted in minor roles far beneath her abilities. Her prodigious work ethic was prompted by a far more critical job: being a real-life single mother.
When the film was released in America, the title switched the location of the action from Baghdad to Damascus. Although this would be an understandable decision if it were made now, given the former’s place in world events over the last few decades, it seems a curious decision for the early 1960s. Just as puzzling was why Goliath didn’t get the almost obligatory name-change to Hercules.
A weak and predictable effort from the last days of a popular craze that had run its course.