Wednesday, March 16, 2011


This superior sword and sandal spectacle benefits enormously from stunning production values, a solid cast, and a believable storyline. Nothing supernatural occurs in "Goliath and the Sins of Babylon" (*** out of ****), a Technicolor, Italian-produced opus distributed by American International Pictures. Our half-clad muscle-bound hero doesn't tangle with three-headed canines, fire-breathing dragons, or flying man-bats. As usual, this epic concerns an enslaved nation whose rebels plot to overthrow an tyrannical ruler, end palace intrigue, and allow a rightful heir to ascend to the throne. What sets “Goliath and the Sins of Babylon“ apart from most other ancient epics is the skillful use of irony and the surprises in the screenplay by Lionello De Felice of “Colossus of the Arena,” Roberto Gianviti of “Seven Slaves Against the World,” and Francesco Scardamaglia of “Seven Rebel Gladiators.” "Colossus of the Arena" director Michele Lupo draws on a dwarf for comic relief when he isn‘t orchestrating numerous fights between the heroes and the villains. Mark Forest registers as a sympathetic strongman hero, while Erno Crisa and Piero Lulli are sufficiently treacherous as the villains. Future Spaghetti western star Giuliano Gemma co-stars as Goliath’s friend and ally Xandros while fellow Spaghetti western actor Mimmo Palmara lends a hand.

An anonymous narrator establishes the setting: "Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the small kingdom of Nefer in the Persian Gulf was forced to pay tribute to its conqueror Babylon. The people of Nefer trembled with outrage and fear as the soldiers came to collect the yearly price, thirty of the loveliest virgins of the land." As the film opens, a girl (Eleonora Bianchi of "Ulysses against the Son of Hercules") bids farewell to her tearful family before the soldiers of King Pergasos, wearing red outfits, appropriate her as one of the sacrificial thirty. She tries to escape. Just when she believes she had eluded Pergasos’s troops in the market place, however, she runs smack into the arms of more soldiers. Goliath (Mark Forest of "Son of Samson") objects to the way one soldier roughs up the girl and intervenes on her behalf. After Goliath displays his unarmed skills as a warrior against the armed soldiers, they flee like cowards in a panic.

A resourceful little person, the mischievous Ninneto (Arnaldo Fabrizio of "Samson and the Mighty Challenge"), emerges from his hiding place in a basket strapped to Goliath’s horse and warns our hero about the consequences of this act of defiance. Ninneto races to a nearby tavern and tells Alceas (Mimmo Palmara of "Kindar the Invulnerable") and his friend Xandros (Giuliano Gemma of "Day of Anger") about Goliath. When these two see Goliath surrounded by the soldiers, they ride to his rescue. They literally hoist the strong man up by his brawny biceps and carry him away between them with their horses at a gallop. An imperturbable Goliath threatens to unhorse them, but they dissuade him because all three of them would then be captured. Meanwhile, Pergasos’s soldiers pursue them on horseback. Ninneto cuts them off when he shuts the city gates before the Pergasos’s men reach it.

The next time we see Goliath, Alceas, and Xandros, they are behind bars in an arena watching gladiators practice. Initially, Goliath refuses to become a gladiator. Goliath has nothing but contempt for gladiators who fight to amuse a crowd. The leader of an underground movement against the monarchy, Evandro (Livio Lorenzon of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"), explains to Goliath that the men training as gladiators in the arena are a part of a conspiracy to overthrow their dastardly ruler. According to Evandro, Nefer fought a war with Babylon four years ago and lost. The king of Nefer was murdered, and his older brother, Pergasos (Piero Lulli of "My Name Is Nobody"), arranged an armistice with Babylon. Clearly, Pergasos is nothing but a puppet for the Babylonians. They demand thirty virgins annually and sacrifice them. When Goliath asks about the slain king's daughter, Regia (José Greci of "War Gods of Babylon"), Evandro explains that their law dictates Regia must take a husband before she can rule. A frustrated Evandro fumes: "Who knows when a marriage will take place." Xandros states that they have pledged to halt these shipments of slave girls to Babylon. Evandro invites Goliath to join them so they will be 42 in number. Goliath agrees to help them. Ninneto chimes in "42 and a half" and joins them, too. "Alright," Alceas chuckles, “we’ll make you our mascot." Indeed, Ninneto serves as splendid comic relief, and he is genuinely funny, a little guy who can knock out unsuspecting warriors three-times his own size. The pottery scene where he eludes the soldiers is better than you'd imagine, particularly because Ninneto outsmarts them!

The father of the sacrificial victim at the beginning of the movie bursts into King Pergasos’s court where Pergasos has gathered the thirty girls for Morakeb (Erno Crisa of "Passport for a Corpse") to see. During the inspection, the father charges Morakeb and tries to stab him to death. Pergasos thwarts the father and has the man fed to the lions in the dudgeon. Morakeb worries about the growing intolerance of Pergasos’s subjects toward Babylon. “The years go by Pergasos and I’m sure our battles are only a memory. I blame your people. They’re beginning to forget the reason for having to pay tribute to our king every year.” Morakeb tells Pergasos that the sacred trireme will arrive within two days time to pick up the girls. “Let there be no more such incidents while girls are being taken onto the ship,” Morakeb commands. The evil Pergasos plans to use the spring chariot races to distract the populace from the departure of the slave girls. Pergasos' niece, Regia, vows to marry any man who can defeat her in the races. Neither Lupo nor his trio of scribes explain why Regia would want to remain a mere princess when she could marry and become queen. Pergasos points out that Regia would never deliberately lose the race. Meantime, Xandros has a rendezvous with Princess Regia‘s lady-in-waiting, Chelima (José Greci in a dual role), at a remote water fall. Xandros doesn’t like Regia. “Any girl who decides to rely on the outcome of a race to decide the man she will live with the rest of her life is just stupid.” Chelima chides Xandros for his intolerance.

Later that night, Alceas scrambles aboard a ship and begs for the merchant who owns the vessel to let him hide from Pergasos’s troops. Our heroes--Evandro, Goliath, and their followers--disguise themselves as soldiers, board the ship and confiscate it so they can stop the Babylonian trireme from coming to pick up the girls. Xandros wants to accompany Goliath and the rest of the men, but Evandro refuses to let him because he must participate in the forthcoming chariot race. Goliath, Alceas, and the others set off to attack the sacred trireme. Goliath chuckles at the sight of Ninneto who has strapped a bunch of cucumbers to his waist to serve as a life belt in case the ship should sink. Our heroes encounter the Babylonian trireme at sea and a battle ensues. During the free-for-all combat aboard the trireme, Ninneto wears a helmet equipped with a spike atop it that he sticks into various Babylonian soldiers. Interestingly, the Babylonians, who are clad in black outfits--seal their own fate when they launch flaming arrows at the ship bearing Goliath and company. Alceas swings aboard the Babylonian ship and kicks over the brazier that the enemy uses and their ship bursts into flames when the brazier tumbles below deck! Meanwhile, Xandros explains to Chelima at their special rendezvous that he must enter the chariot race where he will stake his life because he has no wealth. When she points out that he will have to marry Regia if he wins the contest, he explains that he will do it only to save their people from the Babylonian tyranny that they have suffered under Pergasos. “You must do what you feel is your duty,” Chelima concedes, “But you will always live in my heart.”

Little does Xandros realize that Chelima and Regia are one in the same. The crafty Pergasos sends assassins to kill Xandros after Chelima has departed. When Goliath and Alceas return in a long boat with the rest of their men from the sea battle, Evandro meets them at the shore and explains that Xandros is out somewhere with a woman. Goliath cannot believe that Xandros would jeopardize their plans in such a cavalier manner. part. Little Ninneto knows where to find Xandros and leads Goliath to there on horseback. shows up in the nick of time to save Xandros from certain death. Goliath shows up in time to thwart Pergasos's henchmen. Unfortunately, Xandros is wounded and cannot participate in the race. Pergasos is estactic until he discovers that somebody else--a stranger named Goliath--has replaced the ailing Xandros. There is irony in that Pergasos stopped Xandros from competing in the race, but opened the way for another contestant who ultimately defeats Regia. Regia isn't happy about the outcome of the race. Pergasos fumes about this reversal of events. "Well, now that he has had his victory in the arena, what's this Goliath up to?" One of the king's advisers replies, "This Goliath hopes to release all the slave girls. He intends to cancel our agreement with Babylon." Pergasos is incredulous with rage: "But if he does that Babylon with attack!" While Pergasos and his men brainstorm their alternatives, a lone survivor from the Babylonian trireme stumbles ashore. Three men pull him out of the water and a fourth helps them take him to the authorities. They believe that the man is a pirate.

Later,Goliath admits to Regia that he realizes he is not the man for her. He accuses her of setting a trap for Xandros and Regia convinces him that she had nothing to do with the plot to kill Xandros. Pergasos summons Goliath to the council room. "Your victory in the arena has earned you the right to voice an opinion within this council room," one of Pergasos's men, Meneos (Alfio Caltabiano of "Seven Rebel Gladiators") informs Goliath. "First, how much loyalty do have you to Nefer?" Goliath retorts, "Enough." Meneos challenges Goliath, "Then let us hear the names of every one of the conspirators who committed an act of treason." Goliath grows suspicious of Meneos's line of questioning. "Of what are you accusing him, Meneos? As far as I know, the sea doesn't speak." The lone survivor bursts into the council room and identifies Goliath without hesitation: "He attacked the trireme! He led the pirates that sank us!" Goliath fights his way out of the council room wielding the striker used to sound the gong to knock down the soldiers. He dives through the window and escapes. Meantime, Xandros learns the truth finally about Regia and Chelima. Regia didn't tell Xandros the truth because she feared that he would love her only for being a princess. "I wanted to be sure that you'd save my country." Xandros and she part on happy terms and he rejoins Evandos in the sity. No sooner has Xandros ridden off than one of his assailants who tried to kill him earlier seizes Regia and takes her hostage. The assailant hands Regia over to dastardly Morakeb.

Goliath meets up with Evandro and the rest of the men, and they launch a revolt to free the slave girls from the underground dudgeon. Meneos and his men rush into the corridors to battle them, and Ninneto releases lions and leopards from their cages. These predatory beasts attack Pergasos's men. Eventually, Goliath and company enter the palace and find Pergasos face down on the floor. When they rouse him, the mortally wounded Pergasos reveals that Morakeb killed his men and assaulted him. The rebels bring Meneos into the palace and Xandros and he square off in a sword fight. Xandros manages to kill him by slashing him across the stomach. Meneos dies dramatically when he smashes into the gong. A man who saw Regia delivered to Morakeb by the black assailant who tried to kill Xandros brings news about her abduction. Evandros hatches a grand scheme to get Regia back safely. "It's very clear what we have to do," he explains. "We must destroy Babylon before Morakeb can send his armies here so he can destroy Nefer. Now, I have a plan,a daring, desperate plan. If you approve the plan, I will need several men and one of them is sure to face certain dead." Goliath volunteers to be the expendable person in the plan.

In the next scene, four ambassadors from Nefer appear in Babylon at the king's palace to plead for leniency from King Cafaus (Paul Muller of "Avenger of the Seven Seas")for their people. Among the ambassadors are Xandros and Alceas and they assure Morekab and Rukus that none of the rebels survived the battle in the underground dungeon. When the Cafaus demands the whereabouts of the thirty virgins, Xandros reveals that the rebels killed all the slave girls. Xandros tries to convince the Babylonians that they are still allied to Babylon. To prove it they turn Goliath over to King Cafaus. The monarch stares grimly at the muscle-bound champion and vows: "Goliath, he's going to pay well." In the next scene, Goliath is shown strapped down spread-eagle to a slab. Morakeb supervises Goliath's torture. He wants to determine the loyalty of the ambassadors. Goliath's friends are forced to cut the ropes that will send spears plunging out of the ceiling down at him. Morakeb relishes the moment with the lines: "I know of only one thing worse than physical pain, and that's waiting to be killed. Yes, he might suffer badly waiting for the mortal blow, or he might be lucky and receive it from the first spear." Morakeb watches as the spears fall and barely miss Goliath and leaves him to his fate. The ambassadors and he leave. Little does Morakeb know that Evandro has mobilized the army of Nefer. They attack and repulse the Babylonian army and set the city ablaze. King Cafaus cries that the gods have abandoned Babylon. Our muscular hero relies on his brute strength to pull a Houdini and lead the revolt. The evil Morekab has King Cafaus stabbed to death in the back while he and his closest associates prepare to flee the city by the catacombs. They are surprised when they run into Goliath and Alceas. Goliath cuts off Morakeb's flight and the latter has to fight an unarmed Alceas. Alceas reverses Morakeb's knife and plunges it into him, killing him. At fade-out, Regia and Xandros plan to wed and rule over Nefer. The resourceful little Ninneto introduces everybody to his diminutive wife.

Lupo stages a boisterous sea battle, a careening chariot race, and several clashing sword fights with aplomb. Mind you, the chariot race is nothing compared to "Ben-Hur," but the arena setting is spectacular enough for an Italian peplum. Lupo is particularly adept at creating interesting transitions, and the one involving the gong being struck is really effective. The only thing lacking is the typical trials that the Herculean hero endures to prove his strength. Displays of brawn do not appear as often as they do in other better peplum movies. One of the big scenes shows Goliath chained to a slab in the dudgeon. Above him are several holes and each hole conceals a wicked looking spear. The spears are released by means of cutting the rope holding them and then these pointed weapons travel downward toward its victim. It is a cop-out that none of the spears actually strike our hero. The spears stop several inches from his important body parts while he patiently waits and then later rips out the irons restraining him.

Overall, Lupo does a good job with "Goliath and the Sins of Babylon." This widescreen Retromedia presentation qualifies as above-average despite some flaws in the print. This is one of the most polished looking Peplums ever with its pristine looking sets. The sea battle ranks as above-average, too, with scenes of the two full-size ships and actors swarming between them. This marked lenser Mario Sbrenna's debut as cinematographer, and he makes everything appear larger-than-life. Unfortunately, we never witness any of the sins of Babylon, short of people being fed to lions. For the record, the hero's name in the European releases was Maciste instead of Goliath. This Goliath movie is neither a sequel nor a prequel to the other Italian produced Goliath movies. Interestingly, in a departure from the formula, "Goliath and the Sins of Babylon" doesn't contain the beautiful but mendacious queen character that maps out most of the palace intrigue and at some point slips the strong man hero a drugged goblet of wine. In a sense, Regia is a substitute for this stock character but she is on the side of the good guys.