Made very early in the sword and sandal cycle of the late 1950s and early to mid 1960s, Goliath and the Barbarians attempts to get by solely on the fact that the biggest name in the genre, Steve Reeves, is the featured player. The movie fails to rise above “forgettable strongman epic” but the fault in no way lies with big Steve.
Steve and his Goliath-sized guns grunt and groan mightily in an effort to heave this movie into something approaching interesting, but even his mammoth chest, no matter how much it’s glistening with hunk-sweat, can’t overcome the dull story of barbarians harassing Steve’s lower class village.
The year is 587 A.D. and barbarians have swept into Italy taking over towns, killing villagers, and causing some of the survivors to escape into the hills where they could plan their revenge safely until about the seventy minute mark of the film when they would launch the big raid on the caravan carrying the head barbarian’s sacred crown.
Since this was back in 587 A.D. how is it that we can single out one group over another group as being barbarians? Isn’t everyone still pooping in the woods and using their hands to wipe? Don’t they all smell like a horse’s day old fart? Is one group enjoying the opera in top hat and tails while the other group is eating roasted dog?
Or am I supposed to figure out that the invaders are the barbarians because one of the leaders is a bloodthirsty guy whose head is shaved except for a pony tail and who goes by the name of Igor? That and the sexy daughter of a duke (barbarians had dukes?) is one those dark, sultry types who likes to perform suggestive exotic dances at feasts we usually get in movies like this. The village (read: non-barbarian) gals never do that. They’re mostly getting spears in the gut during barbarian raids.
As is so often the case in situations where barbarians are running roughshod over whatever location Steve Reeves has gotten a passport for, they hit his village and wipe out Steve’s father. When that happens, it’s just like flipping a switch in one of Steve’s tightly toned gluts. Gone is the unassuming (though still jacked up) form of Emiliano and in his place is the young giant called Goliath!
One of the movie posters quotes our newly christened hero thusly: “I will kill 10,000 barbarians…and they will call me GOLIATH!” Well, I’ll be betting that if you’re wading through about 10K worth of barbarian corpses, they’ll be calling you a lot of things. That’s a heck of a lot of revenge for one dead dad! Still, I was expecting big things out of this Goliath since his kill rate would have to be something in the order of about 125 barbarians a minute, or a little over two a second!
Sadly, through no fault of Goliath’s, he doesn’t come close to the numbers he was predicting. Blame it on a script that insists on focusing way too much time on the political behind-the-scenes maneuverings of the barbarians.
This isn’t the only one of the Italian peplum films that makes the mistake of substituting bad guys bickering and scheming amongst themselves over lands and babes for he-men showcasing their gaudy strength in deeds of heroism that I’ll be passing on to my own bodybuilder-turned-movie-star obsessed kids.
We want to see Goliath punching gaping holes through paper-mâché dragons and parade float sea serpents, not watch Igor make passes at Londo or Aboino moping over his hijacked crown. In fact, the only monster in this movie is when Goliath goes in disguise as a guy in a fur loin cloth and a silly-looking cat mask!
The whole cat mask business is only the second dopiest identity that Goliath assumes. The first one is when he’s caught by the barbarians and is suspected of being Goliath. Goliath responds that he is just a simple woodcutter! “I have the body of Greek god, not because I am a young giant, but because I’m sawing logs all day long!”
This is really the only time the movie comes alive as Goliath then has to endure a couple of tests where he has to out-muscle a bunch of barbarians and some horses.
I did admire the advanced legal system the barbarians had in place though. After he denies he’s Goliath, the sexy barbarian dame announces that everyone knows that when there’s any doubt, the decision goes to the accused.
A forerunner to the entire concept of presumed innocent and proof beyond a reasonable doubt? Perhaps, but our trials usually don’t involve a bunch of barbarians playing tug of war with the defendant where they’re trying to pull him into a board full of spikes. But just think how much fun going to court would be if they did! More fun than this movie that’s too heavy on the talking and plotting and too light on the muscle-bound antics that’s the raison d’etre of these things. For fans of Steve’s rippling chest only.
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