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Monday, November 3, 2008

Goliath & the Sins of Babylon (1963) review


Mark Forest (Goliath/Maciste), Guiliano Gemma (Xandros), Mimmo Palmara (Alceas), Susan Paget (Rezzia), Erno Crisa (Morakeb), Piero Lulli (Pergasos), Livio Lorenzon (Evandro), Arnaldo Fabrizio (Ninetto), Paul Muller (King Calphus) Nello Pazzafini

Directed by Michele Lupo; Music by Les Baxter (US version)

After the city of Nephir is conquered by the might of Babylon, a heavy tribute must be paid once a year in order to maintain the truce; thirty of their most beautiful virgins must be handed over to the Babylonian guard for delivery to the evil King Calphus where they are to be sacrificed for the amusement of the Babylonians. However, Princess Rezzia, the daughter of the dead King of Nephir cannot assume the throne of her land unless she first takes a husband. A group of conspirators, anxious for action, plot to overthrow King Calphus and rescue the virgins. They meet up with Goliath and convince him to help in their cause to free Nephir from the clutches of Babylon and bring an end to the cruel sacrificial tributes forever.

Lupo directs one of the best peplums ever armed with an obviously bigger budget than usual. An ambitious, lavish production with several major set pieces including an impressive ship battle at sea as the rebels ambush the heavily armed Babylonian vessel, the sacred Tryhrim, at least that's what the characters proclaim it as. Many critics who enjoy badmouthing these movies with such remarks as 'low budget' and 'shoddy' would do well to pay attention to this sequence as it rivals anything seen in any US swashbuckler. But then, that's the attitude generally given to any film that isn't 'Made In The USA'.

Another extraordinary scene is the finale in which the people of Nephir unite with the rebels to burn down Babylon. Some nice miniature work found in this sequence. Another major highlight is the fast paced chariot race. Forest appears to do the scene himself although it's possible a stuntman may have taken his place somewhere but clearly it's him in a number of shots which adds more realism to an already exciting scene. Another nice bit is a brief scene right after the revolt resulting in Pergasos's death where the Babylonians release the lions and leopards into the dungeons to slaughter the resistance.

Mark Forest as Goliath (Maciste in the Italian original) was one of the most popular of the fusto actors to come from America to star in the films. Oddly enough, only three actors (that I'm aware of) outside of America got starring roles in these movies; two Italians and one Hungarian. Forest starred in at least a dozen of these films including GOLIATH & THE DRAGON (1960), HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1963), HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964), KINDAR THE INVULNERABLE (1964) and THE LION OF THEBES (1964) among them.

Forest retired from acting to pursue a musical career in opera as well as being a fitness trainer. One of the least stiff looking peplum performers in action scenes even with his massive frame, Forest was also a bit more emotive than many of his contemporaries.

In order to fulfill their plan to eliminate King Calphus and Morakeb, the rebels must pretend to give themselves over to the Babylonians. One man must give up his life to make the scheme believeable. Goliath steps forward and is fingered as the man behind the revolt. Morakeb orders that Goliath is to be put to death and that his friends, the ones who have handed him over as part of their plan, must carry out the execution.

This striking, suspenseful scene has Goliath bolted to a table below a metallic roof with about a dozen holes above. Inside the holes are massive spears attached to ropes. Some of the spears are designed to miss, some to hit the victim and at least one to kill. The purpose is to instill fear of death before the execution is carried out. It's probably the best scene in the whole movie and Lupo handles it masterfully.

About the only thing negative I can say about the film is that Goliath, or more accurately, Maciste, doesn't get to perform much in the way of superhuman feats. A minor quibble but you expect those kinds of things in the movies featuring the mythological characters such as this. Either way, it's also not Forest's movie soley. He shares equal screen time with his co-stars, Gemma, Palmara and even the midget actor, Fabrizio who is the comic relief in the film.

In fact, the film has a good amount of humor; not so much that it takes away from the film, but much of it is pretty funny. I don't quite understand all the flack given to films that feature midget actors. I couldn't tell you the last time I saw a little person in a film but Fabrizio is hilarious, and if you dig midget humor, you'll get a lot of it here. Midgets were also employed in the awful VULCAN, GOD OF FIRE (1961), the TEN GLADIATORS trilogy and SAMSON'S MIGHTY CHALLENGE (1964), a film that also featured other Italian fusto faves Hercules, Maciste and Ursus.

Considering the initial plot of the virgins being sacrificed, you might think there's an abundance of beautiful women on display. Not so as Susan Paget is the sole female of attention who loves Xandros (Gemma). She races in the chariot challenge with the winner getting her hand in marriage, but a ruthless scheme keeps Xandros from taking part in the race. Paget (who most often was billed as Jose Greci) is lovely, but she's no Chelo Alonso or Rosalba Neri, the latter of which frequently appeared in these movies.

Guiliano Gemma needs no intro to Euro film fans as he made his name predominantly in westerns especially the classics A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965) and THE RETURN OF RINGO (1965). Gemma worked with Lupo again on the Spaghetti westerns ARIZONA COLT (1966) and CALIFORNIA (1977). His other peplum credits include TWO GLADIATORS (1964) and HERCULES VS. THE SONS OF THE SUN (1964) also starring Mark Forest. Here, Gemma is as athletic and spry as he is in his westerns. Gemma was one of a few actors who successfully made the transition to all manner of Italian cinema appearing in numerous action, crime, drama and horror films in addition to his peplums and westerns.

Mimmo Palmara was a regular peplum/fusto star and appeared in at least 20 torch and toga movies throughout his career appearing alongside most of the other main muscleman stars mostly as a supporting player. Palmara did get to headline HERCULES AND THE MASKED RIDER (1964) which also featured Alan Steel as Goliath in the original Italian print.

Livio Lorenzon was an ace as the lead heavy in the Reeves vehicle, GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (1959) as well as a fair number of other peplums, but here he gets to play a hero as he did in the Richard Harrison gladiator film, GLADIATORS SEVEN (1962).

Also on hand are two actors who will be most indentified with Spaghetti Western fans, Nello Pazzafini and Piero Lulli. Nello plays one of the heroic gladiators. He lives, but he gets no lines of dialog. Lulli, as usual, plays one of several villains; Lulli has the role of Pergasos here. However, in ROMULUS & REMUS (1961) and THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES (1964), Lulli got to play a heroic role for a change. Both of these actors would portray villains throughout their careers in Italian westerns after the sword & sandal movies died out.

GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963) is another fine peplum adventure that benefits from a large budget and some spectacular set pieces as well as assured direction from the underrated Michele Lupo. Any fan of the genre or even the spaghetti westerns would do well to check this one out. There is much to recommend here.

This review is representative of the Retromedia double feature DVD. It is paired with COLOSSUS & THE AMAZON QUEEN.


Anonymous said...

I haven't watched anything like this since i was a kid but i gave it a go yesterday and thought it was pretty good.Surprisingly lavish with no expence spared on chariot races,ship battles,action sequences equal to almost any American equivalent i've seen but better paced and doesn't outstay its welcome like a few Hollywood epics.Not so self important as some of those other films and full of fun.
Being a massive spaghetti western fan there's the added interest of at least four familiar faces including the legendary Giuliano Gemma.
Maybe not quite enough to get me hooked on this genre but i'm pleased to have this in my collection.
My rating 8/10.

venoms5 said...

GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON aka MACISTE, THE WORLD'S GREATEST HERO is one of the highlights of the sword and sandal genre. Simply one of the best.

All the one's I have reviewed here so far, Sean, are, in my opinion, upper tier films in the genre.

Anonymous said...

Well HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD is very high up in my New Years "dvds to buy " list.

Sean M

venoms5 said...

It's reviewed here as well, Sean.

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