‘Leave that woman alone, you swine!’
After his hometown is sacked by Barbarians and his father killed, a young warrior vows vengeance and forms a small band of rebels to defend his homeland. When the Barbarians establish a fort in the area, the fight escalates, but things get complicated when he falls in love with the daughter of the fort’s commander and both the lovers struggle with divided loyalties…
More sword and sandal action from Italy with U.S. actor Steve Reeves following up his star-making turn in ‘Hercules’ (1958) and ‘Hercules Unchained’ (1959). Writer and producer Emimmo Salvi teams up with director Carlo Campogalliani to deliver the usual mixture of feats of strength, combat and adventure in a film that never strays too far from the ‘Hercules’ template, although there’s not a whiff of magic or mythology.
The Barbarian hordes led by King Alboino (Bruce Cabot) have swept across the land, looting and plundering without check for generations. Their latest target proves to be the hometown of woodcutter Emiliano (Reeves), who is off in the forest when the hordes descend. By the time he gets back, his father is dead, skewered by shaven-headed, pony-tailed Igor (Livio Lorenzon). Reeves bands the survivors into a guerilla group, who hide out in the hills, although he prefers to hassle the Barbarian troops solo, wearing an animal mask. These successful skirmishes earn him the name ‘Goliath’ and prompt the return of Lorenzon from Cabot’s court and the building of a stockade, commanded by Delfo (Andrea Checchi).
Out in the woods one day, Reeves helps a beautiful woman who has fallen from her horse. The two fall in love, of course, even though he’d probably rather be fighting and chopping wood. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that this dark-eyed beauty is Landa (Chelo Alonso), Checchi’s wild and spirited daughter. Worse is to follow when it’s revealed that Lorenzon plans to kill Checchi and grab both his command and Alonso for himself. So it’s time for Reeves to flex his muscles and ride to the rescue.
This is a very standard Peplum adventure that hits the expected beats and targets with predictable results. The plot is such a formulaic assembly of tried and trusted adventure tropes that nothing is ever in doubt, and each event and plot development is entirely predictable. There’s even a hopelessly contrived sequence where Reeves has to perform some feats of strength (labours, if you will) to avoid execution at Barbarian hands and go free.
Of course, the success or failure of such an enterprise falls heavily on the shoulders of the combat and action choreography and, here, it’s hardly inspirational. Some of the climactic battle footage is even speeded up in a desperate effort to infuse it with some level of excitement and, although there is a pleasing scale lend by the good number of extras, it still comes off as a little flat and under-rehearsed. The film did have budgetary issues, running out of funds entirely at one point. It was only the purchase of the U.S. distribution rights by American International Pictures that allowed production to continue.
The film does have some good points, though, principally thanks to some of the main cast. Alonso was a Cuban actress whose striking, exotic looks saw her take the title role in ‘Queen of the Tartars’ (1960) and play opposite Mark Forest in ‘Son of Samson/Maciste nella valle dei Re’ (1960), again for director Campogalliani. She also had a small role in Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ (1966). Her performance here as the untamed warrior princess is the best thing about the film. It’s particularly welcome in her scenes with Reeves, who fails to bring a great deal of personal charisma to the screen.
She also performs a couple of sexy dance routines, one around upturned swords, that both help to establish her character and most probably provided some enticing clips for the film’s trailer. Unfortunately for Checchi, her fierce performance was not just a good acting job. In one scene, he slaps her, and, unable to contain herself, the actress slapped him right back. Apparently, she blew several takes that way and had to have her hands tied together! When the cameras stopped rolling, the first thing she did was go over to him and return his latest favour.
Similarly, Lorenzon is an imposing figure and scowls and snarls his way through his villainous role with some relish. He’s ably supported in his black-hearted schemes by Svevo (Arturo Dominici), more familiar now from his work with director Mario Bava in ‘Caltiki, The Immortal Monster’ (1959) and ‘La maschera del demonio/Black Sunday’ (1960). He also appeared in several other muscleman pictures, including another run-in with ‘Goliath at the Conquest of Damascus/Golia alla conquista di Bagdad’ (1965).
It’s also good to see Cabot, who is best remembered these days as Fay Wray’s non-hairy boyfriend in the classic ‘King Kong’ (1933) and graduated to a long list of character parts in the later phase of his career. A supporting gig with John Wayne in ‘Angel and the Badman’ (1946) led to a life-long friendship and roles in many of the Duke’s later pictures, including ‘The War Wagon’ (1967), ‘The Green Berets’ (1968), ‘Chisum’ (1970) and ‘Big Jake’ (1971). His final role was as casino manager Albert R Saxby in the James Bond adventure ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971).
A mildly entertaining slice of muscle man heroics, enlivened by a stronger than usual supporting cast, but there’s little to make it stand out from the crowd.