Goliath and the Sins of Babylon - 1963
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Goliath and the Sins of Babylon - 1963
Goliath (Mark Forest) wanders into a percolating rebellion in the kingdom of Nephyr on the Persian Gulf. This Goliath has no resemblance to the biblical giant who fought for the Philistines and was clobbered in the head with creek stones by David, instead he is a traveling adventurer who is looking for injustices to battle (and in the original version of the film in Italian he isn't even named 'Goliath,' but is 'Maciste,' a character that appears in approximately 50 films from the silent era up to the last one, 1964's The Invincible Brothers Maciste. In these films, Maciste is usually a simple fellow who uses his great strength, and depending upon the scriptwriter, his cunning, to outwit evildoers who are perennially victimizing beautiful women and a helpless peasantry.)
In his first confrontation in Goliath and the Sins of Babylon he starts off by grabbing a soldier by the nose (who is tormenting a beautiful female captive) who he turns around and sends flying with a smack across the face, leaving a harsh looking red handprint. When a far larger group of armed soldiers appear to arrest Goliath, he walks smiling into their group ready to defeat them all with just his bare hands. He makes a good start at doing so but is rescued from the escalating skirmish by two horsemen who lift him up by the arms between their two horses and race him to safety elsewhere in the city.
These men are actually from a secret group of rebels within the kingdom, but Goliath mistakenly takes them for a professional band of gladiators. They ask him to join their group, but he dismisses them with the rather ironic statement of "I have no desire to change trades, much less become a gladiator, a man who kills to amuse others." After he comes to understand that they're only posing as gladiators as they prepare their revolt, he then agrees to help, declaring them a band of 42 freedom fighters, but this number is immediately amended by Arnaldo Fabrizio (as a sarcastic dwarf fighter who is adopted as their "mascot") bringing the total fighting force officially to "forty-two and a half."
The ruler of Nephyr is a regent king named Pergasos (Piero Lulli) who took the place of his dead brother while the dead king's daughter, Princess Regina (José Greci), waits to rule Nephyr after she marries (Pergasos is a treacherous Uncle and plans to make certain he will not lose the throne, hiring assassins to eliminate competitors). Meanwhile the kingdom is tyrannized by distant Babylon ruled by King Kalfus (we actually see very little of Babylon, despite the movie title). Kalfus demands 30 virgins a year to be rounded up from Nephyr and sent to him for sacrifice, and he sends his understudy Morakeb (Erno Crisa) to keep an eye on things. (King Kalfus should actually keep an eye on Morakeb, he is a dangerous plotter with highly objectionable ethics when it comes to his loyalty.)
Goliath will defeat the beautiful Regina in a chariot race and thus has the legal right to marry her (these scenes are like Ben Hur redux, though with fewer horses and the stunts are mostly "falling horse" tricks, but it is impressive all the same, with a large set that mimics quite a bit of Wyler's movie). After winning the race on the track despite tricks and traps, Goliath declines his right of marriage into the royal family since he knows Regina is secretly the sweetheart of his warrior companion Xandros (Giuliano Gemma). What Xandros doesn't realize is that the maiden Chelima who sneaks away from the palace to meet with him who he thinks is only a lady-in-waiting at the palace is actually Regina herself, and thus he is in line to marry into the throne, that is if Pergasos cannot stop him first.
One of the main (intentional) humorous features of Goliath and the Sins of Babylon is the activities of the dwarf Fabrizio who is frequently the monkey wrench that fowls up the bag guys plots which seem to regularly outwit Goliath and his forty-two fighters. There's bad jokes about his height, as might be expected for 1963, such as when Fabrizio introduces Goliath to the faux gladiators and they immediately ask:
"He must be a shrimp like you?"
He responds: "He's built the same. But, taller."
In between the jokes about Fabrizio's size, the character ends up saving everyone's skin over and over, and his sarcasm toward the rest of the cast is deserved.
Like many of the Maciste movies, Goliath faces a test of endurance, this one seemingly hatched out of Edgar Allan Poe, with the trap featuring spears falling from the ceiling one at a time toward the chained Goliath waiting in agony to be skewered. Instead of a swinging blade descending slowly (like Poe's "the Pit and the Pendulum") these steel barbed spears keeping stopping just inches from various parts of Goliath's frame. At this point the camera work, which is rather preoccupied for the full 120 minute film with observing the various musclemen on screen (or José Greci in her various gowns), now concentrates exclusively on Mark Forest's anatomy. He is carefully lit (and oiled) from angle after angle, and this is somehow a penultimate moment for the movie considering how much importance it is given. But, like the Joker getting tired of his trap and leaving just before it finally will kill Batman, Morakeb exits the torture chamber before it's over by saying "..the waiting no longer amuses me..." Goliath/Maciste will of course be off the table quickly and back in the fight.
If Goliath and the Sins of Babylon seems visually familiar, one reason is that the people generally dress like the Hebrew slaves from Ten Commandments, the servant girls in the palace like the entourage around Elizabeth Taylor from Cleopatra, and the aristocracy look like Romans (after all, the cast is mostly Italian) dressed in robes from Spartacus. The royal palace guards are suited like the spike-helmeted invaders from El Cid, and troops of the empire sometimes are in standard Roman legionary gear. It's a mishmash but I don't know if it's from budget constraints or just an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to costuming. Morakeb and King Pergasos seem to have new outfits in nearly every scene, mostly featuring metal discs on their robes, and this makes for an unintentionally funny moment when we finally get a good look at Bablyon's evil King Kalfus (Paul Muller) and he is wearing enormous giant discs on his outfit.
Goliath and the Sins of Babylon is a hybrid film that can't help but look derived from Ben Hur, Spartacus, pirate and gladiator films and any number of other Italian peplum precursors. Director Michele Lupo gets good stunt work from the many action sequences, and the costuming and sets are fairly impressive. José Greci as the chariot-racing princess has to carry all the weight for femaledom since the movie is heavily populated with testosteroned fighting men, and she is fine in that role and a welcome respite from all the bicep flexing. Mark Forest is better than most in the acting department while playing Maciste/Goliath, and Giuliano Gemma has the expressive ability to look pained or anything else by just changing his face, and considering how wooden much of the cast is before the camera, any scene with Gemma (though he looks like a skinny boy compared to the beefy men populating the screen) suddenly improves considerably. The editing is tight and fast, particularly when working through the many fight scenes, though only our main protagonists are really giving it a lot of effort, if you look into the background there seems to be too many extras weakly swinging swords and axes without much conviction, as if they're living through take #79 of the scene.
The Maciste movies (and those like them, from the 1950s and 60s) are considered a mostly forgotten, specialty area of cinema in this day and age. The large number of them resulted in a refining of the main story idea of battling warriors and their effective leaders facing all odds in the name of justice. It isn't hard to see a direct link between Star Wars and the many comic book superhero movies of today with this (Italian) phenomenon. If you update Maciste/Goliath, Princess Regina, the dwarf and his sarcasm to the 21st century, you have something like Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Poster art by Kudzu [above]
Related: Hercules Against the Moon Men - 1964
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