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Savant's thirst for Euro pulp movies has been firmly in place ever since he saw Hercules and Caltiki: the Immortal Monster as a kid; thanks to pop popularizers like Video Watchdog magazine, we've been getting our fill of Euro horror on DVD, but Euro Westerns are just getting started. The most popular European import of all were the sword 'n sandal movies, which started out in the middle '50s with major coproductions like Ulysses with Kirk Douglas and Helen of Troy directed by Robert Wise. Then Joseph E. Levine imported Hercules, and the floodgates opened. Steve Reeves became every schoolkid's instant hero, and dozens of muscle men, Italian or American, were suddenly flexing their biceps on the big screen in Techniscope or Totalscope or whatever was available. Almost the entire lineup of muscle boys in the MGM musical Athena, and Mae West's NYC stage show, ended up throwing paper maché rocks and ripping fake chains at Cinecittá.
Goliath and the Dragon is an A.I.P. 'purchase and upgrade' of an Italian original by Vittorio Cottafavi, one of the more prominent names in Pepla. 1 It's one of the earlier and better of the bunch, and has some bizarre casting, to say the least. The original title seems to have been The Vendetta of Hercules, indicating that Joe Levine had the Hercules name sewn up for the American market. Hence the change to the Goliath monniker.
Probably riding on the big name of Oscar-winning actor Broderick Crawford, Goliath and the Dragon did big business in 1960, encouraging American International Pictures to reach out and grab more Italian productions to redub, rescore and beef up for domestic release. This one plays quite well when compared to the general glut of mediocracy in the genre. Peplum fans will think it's great, civilians will probably jeer.
The story is rather good. Goliath goes from one problem to another, stealing a jewel to place in the head of a statue (shades of The Thief of Bagdad, 1940) and encountering all those monsters listed in the synopsis. There's some okay intrigue and scheming around the throne. The large-scale battle action is so generic it might have come from another production, but the sets and other production value scenes are fairly large-scale. There are the usual sexy dancers, feats of strength, etc. The Les Baxter rescore has pep and drive, too, and would make a good subject for a retro soundtrack. The action is lively and well-directed. In 'scope and color, Goliath and the Dragon probably looked great on 1960 screens.
Mark Forest is dressed, coiffed and oiled in an effort to ape Steve Reeves, but, as they say, I knew Steve, I worked with Steve, and Forest is no Steve Reeves. The interest revolves around this Goliath, not on him. When Forest leaps into a chariot, there's always someone else to drive the team. Our rancher Steve did these chores without help!
Seeing Broderick Crawford in one of these shows sounds like a great idea, but it turns out to be only half-inspired. Crawford's there, alright, acting gruff and serious as all get-out with an impressive makeup scar (the box cover says he struts around like an American gangster), but his distinctive voice is absent. The dubbing is excellent, but with somebody else's slightly wimpier words coming from everyone's favorite Highway Patrolman, it just isn't like it should be. 2
With four Italian beauties in reasonably large roles, Goliath and the Dragon makes the most of female treachery and faithfulness. Federica Ranchi plays Crawford's 'adopted' daughter Thea, secretly engaged to Goliath's brother. Leonora Ruffo (I Vitelloni, Hercules in the Haunted World) is Goliath's understanding wife, trying to keep peace in the family. Naturally more interesting is Gaby André (Val Lewton's Please Believe Me, Strange World of Planet X), Thea's dark-haired sister who's angry because Crawford wouldn't marry her. Best of all is doublecrossing, sloe-eyed redhead Wandisa Guida (the beautiful captive from I Vampiri, a slave who promotes herself into chief backstabber to please Crawford. She gets herself lowered into snake pit for her pains.
There is a constant parade of special effects and stunts, most of which are ... fun. The flying bat monster looks almost exactly like an Ewok with wings, so it's fun to see Goliath stab it to death (take that, ya goddam furball!) A kidnapping Centaur transforms into a two legged version to avoid serious special effects problems. A key scene has Crawford sadistically using an elephant to crush some helpless victims; when Goliath bursts in to save the day he wrestles the giant pachyderm to the ground, which looks suspiciously like him just hanging onto the elephant's leg for dear life. The title dragon consists of one really limp-looking dragon's head, combined with some after-the-fact stop-motion animation from Jim Danforth. It's brief and not integrated into the cutting, but Danforth's shots are a reasonable match and are an interesting warm-up for his wonderful Brothers Grimm dragon.
Something Weird's DVD of Goliath and the Dragon is like their other releases, a "B" attraction transformed into an "A" attraction via a wealth of added interesting goodies. A cartload of trailers for other sword 'n sorcery titles is included. One special short subject appears to be a cutdown of a 'Sons of Hercules' episode, which features that series' hilarious title song. Another is a funny muscleman montage, and a third, called 'Hercules Oblivious', has a male bodybuilder striking poses and ignoring the sexy dancer who prances around him. The menus are funny too: instead of 'Play Movie', the command is 'Start Flexing.' Something Weird has included an entire second feature, The Conqueror of Atlantis, which is pan 'n scanned and looks like it came from closer to the bottom of the barrel. But that's just like Something Weird ... if the quality bugs you, the quantity makes up for it.
The transfer of Goliath and the Dragon is pretty good, very colorful and basically intact. It's not 16:9 enhanced, which is a disappointment. Some scenes seem a bit off color - the elephant scene is a bit bluish, but nothing major. The transfer is quite handsome so the variances must just be source problems. The stirring title theme and the rest of the score come through nicely on the clean audio track.
Savant does have a major complaint about the disc. There's nothing on here unsuitable for any child old enough to see juvenile traumatic stuff like elephants threatening to crush people. The DVD cover would appeal to any kid. But the disc has Something Weird's standard opening montage, with scenes from all of their really sleazy exploitation fare ... not good. I won't be pulling this one out at my house ...
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
1. A peplum is one of those pleated white skirts worn by Romans, friends, and
countrymen. Hence the reference to the movies, mostly in England. Our American term Sword 'n Sandal sounds less focused on
the homoerotic component of these movies, which for those fans, is tremendous.
2. who can forget Highway Patrol, a cheap '50s tv show where
Crawford showed up once an episode, ususally stumbling out of a big ballooney prowl car, snarling,
"Set up a roadblock here!" with a boozy slur.