Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Big Muscle Tussle: Goliath Against the Giants (1961)

Original title: Goliath contro i giganti

Throughout February, the members of M.O.S.S. have decided to bring some meat onto their exoskeletons by taking a look at film's most beefcake-y heroines and heroes. And what better example of a male slab of meat is there than that guy from the bible?

The intensely heroic Goliath (Brad Harris) leads an army of his hometown Beirath (shouldn't that be Gath?) to free and/or conquer a town that may or may not be Sparta from the evils of tyranny. Or something.

While the notorious do-gooder is away slaughtering people, the evil yet dumb Bokan (Fernando Rey, providing his bad guy with all the menace of a petulant child), usurps the throne of Beirath, killing the old king and his wife in the process. Somehow - and we unfortunately never learn how exactly he manages that trick - Bokan convinces the old king's daughter Elea (Gloria Milland) that Goliath is responsible for her father's death; which really would be quite something even for the highly competent mass murderer Goliath, seeing as he was at the other side of the world at the time. Let's not even talk about the fact that Bokan's acting like a sadistic jerk, letting his men throw people down a cliff, and later even ruining gladiatorial combat through his dickishness, which does make him look about as trustworthy as the real-world dictator of your choice.

Once Goliath is victorious, Bokan at once sends assassins to get rid of him. Obviously, these assassins don't succeed and only manage to convince Goliath that he's really needed back home. So home Goliath tries to go. Alas, travel in ancient times was not particularly safe. Consequently, our hero has to fight sea lizards, amazons, and bad weather and will lose most of his friends before he can return home and have a talk with the usurper. On his way, the muscled hero also picks up Elea, whom Bokan somehow managed to transport onto an island where every ship sailing to Beirath lands to take on drinking water before Goliath can arrive there. Initially, Elea's job is to kill Goliath, but soon enough, his mighty pectoral muscles, his kind heart and possibly his body count win her over to the beefy one's side.

Things don't look good for Bokan (or his wife, who is supposedly the brains in the operation but only compared to her hubby's utter idiocy), even though he still has more than one plan for getting rid of Goliath; too bad for him none of his plans are ever any good.

After the quite atypical for its genre Vengeance of Hercules I couldn't help myself and just had to watch another, altogether more typical, peplum for M.O.S.S.'s Big Muscle Tussle.

In one of the more surprising turns of events when it comes to the naming - or rather renaming - of peplum heroes outside of Italy, Goliath actually is Goliath in the film's Italian version, too. I suspect the producers of the US version were confident that their presumably bible-thumping countrymen would recognize the name of Goliath from their favourite book. But don't worry, gentle atheist friends, there's nothing Christian, and not much biblical about the film at all. Consequently, the only country where this particular film's hero isn't called Goliath is my native Germany. Around here, the film is known as Die Irrfahrten des Hercules which brilliantly translates to "The Odyssey of Hercules", because if Odysseus can have one, Herc can, too. At least, it's not all that less fitting a title than the original one - after all, Goliath fights the titular giants for about one minute, if in fact the cavemen he is fighting right at the end are supposed to be those giants.

Anyhow, compared to Vengeance of Hercules, Goliath is a film much more unified in tone, which is somewhat ironic in a film that's as episodic as this one. However, all the film's episodes at least seem to belong to the same genre and the same film. Plus, director Guido Malatesta (there are stories by writer and production designer Gianfranco Parolini about how Malatesta was fired from the movie and he finished it, but these stories are also full of Parolini telling us how awesome he himself is supposed to be, and how everyone else is an utter moron, so it's a bit difficult for me to see them as true) has decided to concentrate on his hero Goliath and not waste time on horrible emo sons or other horrors, and only leaves his hero's perspective to demonstrate how evil Bokan is.

Where the Hercules movie - possibly helped by its position early in the peplum wave - has ambitions on being something more complicated than your average peplum, Malatesta's film only ever wants to be an adventure movie about a buff and violent but also nice and not too dumb guy throwing people at other people (as a rule of thumb, if there's no scene of the hero throwing a bad guy - dead or alive - at other bad guys, the movie at hand clearly is not a true peplum), wrestling monstrous water lizards, the mandatory guy in a mangy ape suit (nope, I don't know why that one's caged in Bokan's dungeon either), lions that turn into adorable large lion dolls at the drop of a bodybuilder, monstrous land lizards, and rather large cavemen who may or may not be giants. I'm somewhat disappointed there's no scene of Goliath wrestling amazons, but at least his best friend and boring sidekick Blandy McBland (actual character name may differ) acquires a cute girlfriend (Barbara Carroll) there, who then proceeds to do nothing at all, robbing me of the opportunity of declaring this part of The Big Muscle Tussle as the one where muscle-carrying women finally get their moment in the spotlight. Okay, Barbara Carroll isn't muscular at all, but it would still have been a plan better than any of those Bokan cooks up.

Where was I before I was so pleasantly distracted by the thought of violent women? Right, as I was saying, Malatesta's film is a very standard peplum that treats its material like you would an equally standard adventure movie - just with a hero who really, really likes to show off his muscles - shot in a decent and straight style that's entertaining enough to watch but never even strives for the dream-like mood some of the better films of the peplum genre feature. If you're like me, always on the look out for the homoerotic as well as the sado-masochistic elements in these films, this one isn't particular fruitful, either, apart from a scene where Blandy McBland is tortured by what I hereby dub the Wheel With Blades. It's the kind of device that needs half a dozen slaves doing the Conan to work, and effortlessly wins the prize of least probable torture device of the week.

That scene, as well as the complete randomness with which the monsters appear (well, possibly the complete randomness of everything in the script), is of course very silly if one is the kind of viewer who takes herself very seriously, but then again, what business has somebody of those tastes watching a movie called Goliath Against the Giants? I, for one, welcome our half-naked muscular overlords, as long as they wrestle monsters.


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