Supposedly, The Giant of Marathon was a relatively big budget affair and I thought that with Hercules emeritus Steve Reeves (Goliath and the Barbarians) in the title role and director Jacques Tourneur (War-Gods Of The Deep) behind the camera that I might just be in for something a little more special than the usual all-male grab ass that these movies usually flexed and posed their way into by the end. On the “jock is half empty” side of things though, I was concerned that since it was about famed Olympian Phillipides, I was going to be subjected to some old time Olympic action.
As a guy who studiously avoids anything Olympic related since college football isn’t a medal sport, I wasn’t really that excited to see the Hammer Throw prelims between Sparta and Athens. I was also concerned by the rumor I had heard that these first Olympics were done commando-style. Put your concerns aside though because events such as the Man-Grab where two grown, sweaty, muscular men mount one another are conducted in rather conservative diapers.
Even though it should be obvious from his perfect hair, boyish smile and smooth, tan body, Phillipides dominated his competition at the games, including a big win over some highly touted Spartan. He even gets the ancient world equivalent of a Wheaties box when his buddy, Milziade, puts Phillipides in charge of the Sacred Guard! I didn’t know what that really was, but I was figuring that it must be something like the Delta Force because I always thought that if Bruce Jenner were in charge of our Delta Force, that those Americans in Iran would have been home inside a week instead of having to wait 444 days!
Phillipides takes his place along side the great heroes of cinema when we see him reject the city life and the responsibility of heading up the Sacred Guard for some good old fashioned mind-clearing farming. But there is some political maneuvering going on in Athens with Teocrito, Croesus, and a dark haired vixen named Karis. Teocrito is a power hungry guy who practices his knife throwing while telling Karis about his devious plan to corrupt Phillipides by having Karis seduce him.
What no one knows is that Phillipides has fallen in love with the blonde haired Andromeda who as luck would have it is set to marry Teocrito in a marriage arranged by her father Croesus. Once Karis tries to seduce Phillipides and is politely rebuffed, she falls for him and in the end provides vital information to the Athenians when the Persians are invading. (The ancient world is like an episode of Days of Our Lives!)
Karis even ends up getting full military honors for her funeral, though this is such an action packed affair, it’s merely ordered and we don’t get to see it. Well, heck who has time to watch some reformed whore get dumped on a funeral pyre when Phillipides is losing his horse in a raging river. (There is a hilarious scene of Phillipides swimming furiously in this river while his horse floats by in the opposite direction.)
The problems occur when Teocrito turns traitor and agrees to help the Persians take over Athens. Milziade travels to Phillipides’ farm in an effort to lure the great hero out of retirement for one more mission. These scenes thankfully play out just as you expect right down to Milziade making small talk about the fancy new bathes that just opened up in Athens before getting down to business about how his Greek city-state needs him and that its easy to hide out at his farm avoiding responsibility. Didn’t I see some Chuck Norris movie where someone came out to his farm to plead with him to enter the Octagon one more time to save something from somebody?
Once back in the game, Phillipides pretty much does the work of 300 Spartans when he goes to Sparta to beg them to join in the battle against the Persians, runs from Marathon back to Athens to round up the Sacred Guard, holds off thousands of Persians at Athens with just a handful of guys in diapers, and single-handedly destroys several Persian warships with his expert javelin throwing. It was the greatest Olympic performance ever next to Michael Phelps!
The last third of the movie is the best with lots of underwater action with the Sacred Guard acting as frogmen, planting giant pikes in the ocean waters to wreck the Persian fleet, throwing flaming spears at the ships, battling these invading punks from sea to land and holding off the bad guys until the Spartans can finally roll out of bed and get involved.
Mario Bava (Black Sunday) is an uncredited co-director and was the cinematographer and in charge of special effects. His distinctive style wasn’t terribly evident, but what is on screen looks a cut above what you would expect from this type of movie, particularly the underwater shots which look remarkably well done.
Steve Reeves may be the brand name in the Hercules biz, but that don’t mean he’s any good. He stands around awkwardly, his dubbed voice spewing forth the kind of stilted dialog that exists only in these movies and porn, but to his credit he doesn’t look old and creepy or overly beefy like some of these sword and sandal heroes.
No one else distinguishes themselves in this and there aren’t any monsters, but Phillipides does start a landslide by throwing giant boulders down on a bewildered Persian army. (They don’t seem to really know if they should just stand there and let the cascading rocks bowl them over or if they should move out of the way, but they probably didn’t train for man-made landslides).
There’s lots of action, some of the sets are impressive, and there’s even a boat with spikes on it that opens and closes like a mouth. Go ahead and check out The Giant of Marathon and see exactly why I call Steve Reeves the Steve Reeves of off-brand Hercules movies!
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