Saturday, August 11, 2012

#726. The Giant of Marathon (1959)

Directed By: Jacques Tourneur, Mario Bava

Starring: Steve Reeves, Mylène Demongeot, Sergio Fantoni

Tag line: "Neither Persian swords nor a beautiful traitor could stop him from defeating his enemies!"

Trivia: This became yet another film in which director of photography Mario Bava had to step in as director

The Giant of Marathon had not one, but two prestigious directors at the helm. Started by Jacques Tourneur, the man behind such Val Lewton classics as Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, it was completed (when Tourneur left) by none other than Mario Bava, who had been working as its cinematographer. In fact, the studio was so impressed with the way Bava handled the production that they green-lighted his first solo directorial effort, a little gem titled Black Sunday!

In 490 B.C., the very first Olympic Games were held in Greece, and were dominated by one man, an Athenian named Phillipides (Steve Reeves). Returning home a champion, Philippides is made the Commander of an Elite city guard, and treated as if he were a king, provoking the jealousy of Theocrates (Sergio Fantoni), also a prominent citizen of Athens. Philippides further antagonizes Theocrates when he falls in love with the beautiful Andromeda (Mylène Demongeot), who Theocrates himself intends to marry. The animosity between the two grows even stronger when Philippides discovers Theocrates supports the return of Hippias, a former dictator of Athens and a known ally of the Persian king Darius (Daniele Vargas). Determined to prevent his beloved Athens from falling into the hands of Persian invaders, Philippides single-handedly makes his way to Sparta to ask for their support in a war that appears to be inevitable.

By the time The Giant of Marathon went into production, American-born actor Steve Reeves was a box-office sensation in Europe, having risen to super-stardom by way of such Sword and Sandal epics as Hercules in 1958 and its sequel, Hercules Unchained, released a year later. And while Reeves may not have been the finest actor ever to grace the silver screen, he certainly had the build to play heroic characters. The opening scene in The Giant of Marathon is of Reeves’ Philippides tossing a javelin during the Olympic games, and his physique is often placed front and center throughout the movie (in a cleverly-framed shot, he ascends from a swimming pool after winning yet another event, standing between the statues of two Greek Gods). While his performance is noticeably wooden (his love scenes with Andromeda are almost laughable), he did have a bearing that made him a natural hero, and the perfect man to play Hercules, Goliath (as he did in 1959’s Goliath and the Barbarians) and Philippides.

As for The Giant of Marathon, it gets off to a very slow start, dedicating its first half to character development, and as I already mentioned, developing his character wasn’t one of Reeves’ strong points. I found my attention waning during these early scenes, and even a brief scuffle between Philippides and a wrestler he called a “brute” wasn’t enough to pull me back into the picture. Things do improve once the war between Greece and Persia gets underway, which includes some well-shot underwater sequences, and while I can’t go so far as to say this makes The Giant of Marathon worth an hour and a half of your time, it does succeed in saving it from the throes of mediocrity.

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