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Monday, November 3, 2008

The Giant of Marathon (1959) review


Steve Reeves (Phillipides), Mylene Demongeot (Andromeda), Sergio Fantoni (Theocrates), Daniela Rocca (Karis), Alberto Lupo ( Miltiades), Daniele Varga (Darius), Ivo Garrani (Creusis), Sergio Ciani/Alan Steel (Euros), Mario Adorf (wrestler), Giovanni Cianfriglia (gladiator)

Directed by Jaques Tourneur & Mario Bava (uncredited); Cinematography by Mario Bava

During a time of war between the Athenians and the Spartans, the Olympic champion and newly crowned commander of the sacred guard, Phillipides is approached to lead the fight against the invading Persians. Theocrates envisions that if he and Creusis (both members of the Athenian Council) can control the sacred guard, they can rule over Athens. After a chance meeting with Andromeda, the daughter of Creusis, Phillipides instantly falls in love with her. However, she is promised to the ambitious and villainous Theocrates.

In an effort to secure dominance of Athens, Theocrates along with the exiled Athenian Hippias, plots to align with the Persian King Darius for the surrender of the Athenians. Realizing his scheme, Phillipides refuses to join the traitors and retires from the sacred guard choosing to become a farmer. When the invasion becomes imminent, Phillipides returns to Athens. To save his people and the woman he loves, Phillipides procures an alliance with their long time enemies, the Spartans to drive out the Persian hordes.

An Italian-French co-production directed by Tourneur and distributed by MGM. Although Tourneur gets sole credit, Bava finished the film when Tourneur became ill. Despite that, the film is a high mark of the sword & sandal genre. One of the biggest peplum productions, the film is notable for some sprawling battle sequences, intricate set design (with numerous composite shots courtesy of Bava's photographic effects) and a good script peppered with some engaging cliffhanger moments.

Steve Reeves lights up the screen as the Olympic champion Phillipides whose deeds (according the opening credits) layed the groundwork for the Olympic games to come. Reeves, looking more lithe than his previous outings, plays his character as a stubborn but love sick individual. He ignores the wiles of a busty seductress whose purpose is to lure him into helping the conniving Theocrates. This love story subplot never proves detrimental to the film but instead enhances it especially during the final 30 minutes which looks to be where the bulk of the budget went.

Andromeda (played by the gorgeous Mylene Demongeot) is kidnapped by Theocrates after neary killing her father. He uses her to bring Phillipides. After securing the help of the Spartans, hope for the survival of Athens seems assured until the Spartans don't show up. Instead, the 100 sacred Athenian guard take on the Persian horde alone. They come with an ingenious plan of placing metal spiked tipped poles into the water held in place by huge rocks. when the Persian ships cross, the stakes pierce the hulls of their ships. But the Persians are not without their own weapons--the flagship has a giant spiked pincher that opens to crush the Athenian vessels in its jaws.

It's here where there is some rather shocking scenes of violence. The Athenians jump into the water and the Persians fire arrows and spears at them while submerged. Blades pierce into stomachs, eyes and necks followed by the ejection of blood. The remaining Athenians make their way to shore while the Persian army close in on them. When defeat appears imminent, the Spartans finally show and turn the tide of the battle resulting in the retreat of the Persians.

The striking beauty of French actress Mylene Demongeot is one of the most lovely female stars to appear in these films and also does not appear to be wearing anything under her skimpy attire. Daniela Rocca provides some added femininity with her voluptuous figure but Demongeot has the most appeal. THE GIANT OF MARATHON (1959) has everything that makes (good) sword & sandal movies great matinée entertainment-- larger than life heroes, feats of strength, beautiful women, insidious villains (sometimes monsters), ornate sets and big action set pieces.

Actor Fantoni is supremely villainous as the traitor Theocrates who pretends to want the greater good for Athens but in reality only wants sole power over the city and will sacrifice anyone to get it. The scene where he repeatedly slaps Karis for her failure and refusal in seducing Phillipides followed by his decree to kill her should she not follow his command is a strong scene and his demise at the end is expertly handled and imaginatively staged as opposed to the usual dispatch of the villains in these movies.

Here, Phillipides duels with Theocrates atop the Persian ships mast which also binds Andromeda. Credit to the filmmakers for some damn fine action sequences. However, this film features some painful shots of violence towards horses. ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) had an immense amount of horse falls, but here these bits appear increasingly dangerous.

Future fusto star Sergio Ciani has a small role as the Spartan leader Euros whom had a fight with Phillipides in the past; it's only spoken of and not shown. Early in the picture, Phillipides watches two men beat the hell out of one another, a fight set up for his supposed enjoyment by Karis. Phillipides sees these two men as savages and not wrestlers. The winner tries to stop Phillipides from leaving resulting in the wrestler being bested. The man playing the wrestler looks very much like Mario Adorf although he is not credited but then nor is Ciani. Reeve's stunt double Cianfriglia is seen briefly as a gladiator.

A classy effort from the director of NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957), THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964) and the loose Poe adapted WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP (1965) starring Vincent Price. Ably finished by Italian master of the fantastic Mario Bava (who would get his first major horror film off the ground due to his assist here) and he also contributes some very nice photographic effects to heighten the allure of this films production. A quality peplum all around and must see entertainment for fans of Reeves and the genre in general.

This review is representative of the Retromedia Double Feature DVD. It is paired with WAR OF THE TROJANS, the sequel to THE TROJAN HORSE, also starring Steve Reeves.

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