Friday, December 7, 2012

Featured Film : GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON


GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON




Original title: La vendetta di Ercole
Director: Vittorio Cottafavi
Writers: Marcello Baldi, Nicolò Ferrari, (6 uncredited writers)
Music: Alexandre Derevitsky and Les Baxter (Goliath theme)
Release Date: 12 August 1960 (Italy); November 1960 (USA)




Cast:

Mark Forest (Lou Degni)…Goliath (Hercules in original)



Broderick Crawford…Eurystheus



Leonora Ruffo…Dejanira



Wandisa Guida…Alcinoe



Sandro Moretti…Illus



Federica Ranchi…Thea



Gaby André…Ismene



Giancarlo Sbragia…Tindar



Philippe Hersent…Androclo



Salvatore Furnari…




Plot summary:

(now before going to the plot summary I have to warn you that the plot doesn't make a lick of sense. So if you're confused after reading it, well, don't blame me. Aha.)

Goliath fighting monsters

Goliath serves the God of Vengeance (GOV) and the Goddess of the 4 Winds, which gave him God-like powers of immortality in exchange for his devotion to them. The usurper Eurystheus did not believe in Goliath's immortality and had the magical blood diamond taken from the God of Vengeance statue and hid it in a cave populated with various monsters, including a dragon. When the film starts, Goliath is in the cave, after months of searching, and proceeds to regain the blood diamond by defeating the monsters residing there.

Finding the blood diamond

Thinking Goliath was killed by now, Eurystheus openly tells everyone that he wants to conquer Thebes, home of Goliath (Hercules in the original version). During a feast, Eurystheus tries to convince other rulers to join him in his attempt to conquer Thebes. Eurystheus also introduces Alcinoe to the rulers at the table: she used to be a follower of the King of Ocalia but is now a slave to the evil conqueror. Fresh rumors of Goliath surviving the monsters surface during the feast which makes the other rulers leave in fear of Goliath's wrath.

Alcinoe joins the feast; what's with the big egg?

In another sub-plot, Thea is in love with Illus, the brother of Goliath. Thea is the daughter of the late King of Ocalia, who was overthrown and murdered by evil Eurystheus and his men. Thea and Illus meet at Eurystheus' Palace even if Illus is persona non grata there. He's captured and put in a dungeon, to be executed the following day. In the meantime, Goliath returns the blood diamond to the GOV statue and he's able to communicate with the powers that be.

The blood diamond is drawn back to the God of Vengeance statue; cool scene

Co-conspirator Tindar convinces Eurystheus to let go of Illus by forcing Alcinoe to pretend she's helping Illus to escape his imprisonment but also in order to plant a lie: Alcinoe tells Illus that Goliath is willing to agree to a truce with Eurystheus if Goliath can marry Thea. Of course this upsets Illus who is furious with his beefy brother and heads back to Thebes with plans to punish Goliath.

Having planted the seed of hate in Illus, Tindar hands a poison to Alcinoe to give to Illus so that Illus can poison Goliath (why they didn't do this before letting Illus go I'll never know). In the process of discussing this terrible plot, Eurystheus and Tindar realize that slave Alcinoe wants to rule as Queen next to Eurystheus after she warns the evil usurper that the only way the population of Ocalia will accept Eurystheus as their new ruler is by marrying Thea(?).

Alcinoe heads for Thebes with the intent of NOT giving the potion to the recently escaped Illus. Alcinoe is also saved from a bear by Goliath (right) but she disappears before he gets to know who she is. Co-conspiator Ismene had Alcinoe followed and saw that she left the vial in the forest. Alcinoe is sent to the dungeon and the trio of terror, Eurystheus/Tindar/Ismene, come up with another plan: by sending one of Thea's trusty slaves to hand the vial to Illus, who by then is tied up to a tree as punishment by Goliath after Illus tried to leave the night's festivities to see Thea.

In the dungeon, Alcinoe bribes the guards to let Thea visit her. In her cell, Alcinoe tells Thea about Eurystheus/Tindar/Ismene's plans with the potion. Thea is horrified that she was tricked into believing the potion was just a harmless potion to make Goliath forget about her (got that?). Eurystheus and Tindar were spying and listening to the two women. Thea is now a prisoner too. Feeling helpless with the idea that Illus will poison Goliath the two women ask for help from the Wind Goddess. During the feast at Goliath's house, Illus surreptitiously drops the poison in his brother's wine. Thanks to the Wind Goddess carrying Thea's voice, Illus now learns  that the potion is actually poison and pushes the cup away from Goliath's hand.

Poison? What poison? Illus is about to unknowingly poison Goliath's drink

Feeling guilty Illus runs away from the feast to be with Thea. He's captured by Eurystsheus' soldiers (and we're basically back to where we were at the beginning of the film…arf) and Illus will be executed tomorrow.

Goliath saves Illus

The next day, Eurystheus/Tindar/Ismene proceed to execute some criminals in a open air ceremony, which includes Illus who's tied to a cross. The method of execution? Stomped to death by elephant. After two men are killed under the gigantic foot of an elephant Illus is next but Goliath arrives in time and saves Illus from being crushed and the two escape. Goliath and Illus seek the guidance of Sybil who tells them that Illus will eventually reign as King of Ocalia but it will cost the life of Goliath's love, Dejanira.

Bringing down the house, Goliath-style

Furious with the constant bad luck happening to him, Goliath decides to destroy his villa, with a suicidal Illus bound on a horse, helplessly watching his brother destroy their home. Goliath, Dejanira and Illus move away from the cursed land by horse.

Alcinoe going down into the snake pit

In the meantime, Eurystheus tries to force Thea in marrying him by lowering Alcinoe in a pit filled with snakes. Thea reluctantly agrees to marry the evil man and in the process saving Alcinoe's life.

Goliath stops their journey at some impassible river and decides he will have to build a bridge made of rocks if they want to continue. Dejanira and a still-tied and suicidal Illus are left behind and the two talk. Illus desperately wants to end his life in order to save Dejanira but Goliath's wife pleads with the gods to end her life instead which would end his torment. This summons a centaur who kidnaps Dejanira.

Illus can't help her because his hands are still tied to his horse and he screams for help as the horse, scared of the centaur, gallops away, dragging Illus behind.

Goliath throws a spear to the sky which brings darkness; we're not told how or why.

Hearing the screams, Goliath goes after the centaur and wounds the man/horse with a spear thrown at a great distance. The centaur disappears in a puff of smoke and an angry Goliath defies the gods and throws another spear to the sky which causes an instant eclipse or darkness (why? I dunno but it's cool).

The dying centaur (and the dying grass around him) with Dejanira

The dying centaur re-appears near Eurystheus' palace and leaves Dejanira there. Eurystheus soldiers take Dejanira prisoner, to be executed by the dragon.

The God of Vengeance statue tries to crush Goliath

At the God of Vengeance temple, Goliath is angry at the GOV and defies the God by smashing the blood diamond with his sword. The statue reacts by falling on Goliath who, thanks to his formidable strength, is able to prevent the statue from crushing him to death. When Goliath smashes the GOV statue into small pieces Sybil appears and tells Goliath that Dejanira will be sacrificed to the dragon. At the cave, Goliath defeats the dragon and then joins Androclo's army who are ready to storm Eurystheus' city/palace.

Goliath and Androclo are underneath the city and Goliath decides to demolish the underground supports which brings down the walls surrounding the city/palace. Androclo's army enters the Palace grounds and a battle between Eurystheus and Androclo soldiers erupts.

Tindar is in the dungeon and wants Dejanira for himself (I thought he wanted Alcineo?) but Eurystheus kills him. Eurystheus then tries to stop Goliath from killing him by threatening to throw Dejanira in the snake pit. But Alcinoe tackles Eurystheus and both fall into the pit. Goliath rescues Alcinoe but it's too late, she was bitten by the snakes.

The story ends with Illus and Thea together and Goliath and Dejanira rebuilding their home, the one Goliath smashed to bits.

Got that?

If someone who's never seen GOLIATH & THE DRAGON asked me to describe the plot in a few words, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell them what it was about. Is it about a dragon? No. It seems the story is simple enough but when I played this on PEPLUM TV I've admitted to viewers that even after having watched it dozens of times I still had no clue what it was all about. Many of the characters' motivations simply defy logic. There are plot-holes, confusing number of characters, some of whom look and sound alike. For instance, Ismene is a totally pointless character, who is not even featured during the film's conclusion (what happens to her?).

Usually PEPLUM story-lines are pretty much straight-forward. Well, not this one. It's as straight-forward as a ball's trajectory in a pinball machine. But does it hurt the film? Oddly enough, it doesn't. In fact the entire film has a surrealistic aspect (not that different from HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN also directed by Cottafavi) and the confusing story and illogical character actions help make this mythological epic more weirdly Greek-like than any other PEPLUM film. Some of it was made intentionally but most of it was created by accident when the film changed hands, from Italian producers to US producers.

The one thing which is really inexplicable are some of the characters' actions, mostly with Alcinoe and Illus. Alcinoe, played by the beautiful Wandisa Guida, is truly confusing. She's introduced as a slave to Eurystheus and draws our sympathy but then she wants to become Eurystheus' Queen, which then makes her a scheming villainess but when she's sent to Thebes with the potion to hand to Illus, she doesn't go through it and then helps Thea. When Thea refuses to marry Eurystheus, Alcinoe is sent down into the snake pit which forces Thea to agree with marrying him. Is Alcinoe good or bad? Why not make her a full scheming villainess? Why even introduce the idea of her wanting to become Queen if they never delve into it?

The same thing can be said with Illus. And boy what a character he is. Constantly angry at Goliath and being a pisser, his character makes very little sense in the grand scheme of things. One second he's trying to kill Goliath, the next second he's trying to save him.

Which makes more sense: brothers or Father and Son?

There are probably several reasons for the general confusion: the original film was re-edited for the US/English market and watching THE VENGEANCE OF HERCULES one can clearly see that by re-editing some parts, confusion was created. In the original version, Goliath is Hercules and Illus is his son, not his brother. Also, there were apparently at least 7 people who worked on the script. This tells me that a lot of last minute changes were made while they were shooting, many changes which were illogical. Also, and this can't be stressed enough, something was lost in translation. From Italian to English. The general tone of the original version vs the US/English one is quite startling.

French opening credit from my Spanish version (got that?)

I can guarantee you that not one kid who saw this in 1960 understood the story and that's probably the reason why changes were made: the US distributor wanted to sell this to kids but when you watch the original Italian version, it's too plot-heavy even with all the monsters and action. They decided to add the dragon part, which was a good selling point to kids, and by re-arranging the order of some scenes, by adding pointless information here and there and suddenly one can see why it's difficult to grasp the gist of the story.

The extra dragon scenes were shot for the US/English market

The most telling part of this confusion in the US version is during the intro: we hear a narrator setting up the story. The narrator calls the main character "Emilius the Mighty" and that's it: we never hear anyone else call Mark Forest's character Emilius throughout the film. Everyone calls him Goliath. Plus, the narrator during the intro says that Goliath is invincible and immortal. But if Goliath is immortal why is it then that most of the plot is about everyone trying to poison Goliath to death? Adding these useless bits of info during the intro muddles up everything.

Mark Forest is great as Goliath. This being his first film it's quite an impressive start. Not as dazzling as Steve Reeves but pretty darn cool. Leonora Ruffo, who was basically a walking zombie for most of HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, is more normal here and is as beautiful as always. I love her screen time. Wandisa Guida is also good as Alcinoe but with her character is a bit confusing (is she friend or foe?) and I feel she didn't quite know how to approach her role. Federica Ranchi as Thea is the weakest element of the film. All three actresses sorta look somewhat alike and the confusion seen/felt throughout is amplified that much more.

Sandro Moretti is perfectly annoying as Illus. Giancarlo Sbragia, as Tindar, is excellent and often steals the show from Broderick Crawford who looks completely confused and befuddled as the main villain. At one point, Eurystheus tells Tindar:

"As of this morning I forbid you to work on any of these plots that don't make sense, you moron."

Truer words have never been said.

The production values run between hot and cold. Some of the sets, monsters, locations are pretty good while others are sometimes downright embarrassing (the dragon, which appears in two fashion: animated and full size puppet). The extra scenes filmed for the US edition are pretty obvious for anyone that has a good eye spotting these things. Mark's beard and clothes look different in those scenes. But the fact that some of it is terrible doesn't really matter because of the way most of it was filmed by director Vittorio Cottafavi. The word psychedelic comes to mind. In one particular scene we watch Mark Forest growling at the GOV statue and as he walks towards the statue the camera follows him walking over the camera, panning up (with an infamous upskirt shot) and as it follows Mark, the image turns upside down. It's one of the trippiests shots ever made for any film.

Upskirt shot: boxers or briefs or nothing at all?

Like Cottafavi did in HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (but with a smaller budget here), by injecting psychedelic elements or surreal film techniques or even curio props (like that giant egg during the feast), some of the weakest production elements still worked because the whole thing is so surreal. Cottafavi did psychedelia before it was cool. And he experimented heavily with this film.

Additional note: The transfer on the US DVD has some color correction issues. In one scenes the forest is purple/pink. In the original Italian version, the forest is naturally green. I don't know if audiences saw it like this when it was shown in movie theatres or if this is just the side effect of a bad film transfer to DVD with uncorrected color. Regardless, this wonky forest just works with the film's kooky environment.

Purple/pink forest?

I have two versions of this film: the US DVD and a Spanish version, which is supposed to be the original cut. It's great to watch both and compare them.

When all is said and done, I like GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON. I also like VENGEANCE OF HERCULES which seems to be the less insane version of the two. The film is one of the most recognizable Sword & Sandal films of the much maligned genre, even in regards with non-PEPLUM fans.


PROS:

- colourful and entertaining despite convoluted story
- great cast
- Mark Forest is impressive in his first film
- lively direction; never boring
- quasi-experimental direction
- odd elements throughout the film
- excellent locations
- no stock footage
- lotsa monsters and creatures

CONS:

- confusing story is almost impossible to summarize
- English version of script is filled with useless info
- big cast of characters is sometimes confusing
- uneven production values (masked by clever direction)
- recycled score
- added US scenes were obviously shot at separate times

8 out of 10

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5 comments:

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Despite all the weirdness, it's a fun film to watch, with all the monsters and the costumes, sets, and such. But yeah, doesn't make a lot of sense.

Foxman said...

Great synopsis! I really liked this approach to the classic peplums...helped me relive the film capture by capture. The most glaring flaw in this film, to me, is the poor use of a stuntman for Mark that doesn't come anywhere near his build. I think there is a scene where the stuntman jumps up on a horse and rides away. I remember seeing that scene and asking 'who was that?' Anyway, I agree that it is one of the best and I especially like the monsters and fantasy elements at the beginning, reminding me somewhat of Maciste in Hell, with one trial following another. Gee,I love this site! Good job all around!

Steve R. Orsulak said...

Despite the flaws and lack of any type of plot I always enjoy watching this PEP, because it is one of my favorites. The soundtrack is recycled, but AIP used it for most of their PEPS that they showed in US & CANADA.

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

I must have seen this film when I was a kid. I remember the scene of Goliath pulling down his house with chains but none of the rest. mind you as we saw every sandal and sword classic going, it's not surprising. this would have been in the 70's when in NZ where I live, kid's films put on during school vacations were hardly ever new. How things have changed!

Steven Lester said...

I just recently saw this film for the first time in its entirety at triple speed and with the sound off. I really enjoyed it. When you are trying to figure out the plot just on the movements of the actors, it made a lot of sense, although I did think that Illus was Goliath's son and that Broderick Crawford was the only guy who knew how to act. Also, I really liked how Broderick was able to make Goliath knell to beg for the lady's life.