One thing you tend not to see in a lot of sandal epics is violence. Usually it’s contained to men wrestling or grappling, with occasional bouts of screen-style sword-fighting. Not so in The Giant of Marathon. The makers of this film really wanted to impress upon the viewer that an actual war is going on between Greece and Persia, and so we see men impaled on flaming spears, blood spurting, the whole bit. It’s fairly shocking, especially in a genre that’s usually dominated in the popular mind by the campier, hokier productions. A self-serious, straight-faced depiction of ancient warfare can take you aback.

All that fighting is in the context of Olympic victor, Phillipides, played by the genre-stalward Steve Reeves, joining the Sacred Guard in Athens after taking home the laurels. He is soon drawn into a plot by the traitorous Theocritus to corrupt the Sacred Guard, so that the Persians may invade Athens and return the deposed tyrant Hippias to the throne. To that end, Theocritus enlists an attractive slave girl, Charis, to seduce Phillipides, unaware that Phil has already fallen in love with Andromeda, daughter of Theo’s co-conspirator and Theo’s fiance. When word of the Persian invasion reaches Athens, Phil is sent to Sparta to round up some support, with little hope that much will come of this since the Spartans are generally regarded as self-interested dicks. An attack on the temple of Athena is thwarted, and Phil leans where the Persian navy plans to land from a dying Charis. He races off to rally the Sacred Guard and wait for the Spartans to maybe show up some time. Theo, meanwhile, kidnaps Andromeda for reasons. A massive sea battle takes place and the Spartans eventually show up in time to take the credit for the victory, and Phil and Andromeda go settle on a farm, where Phil turns his sword into a plowshare because symbolism must not be subtle.

Giant of Marathon is actually fairly high quality film, though it’s dedication to being straight-faced does lead to it dragging some. Visually it’s quite impressive, and while the commitment to realistic violence is maybe admirable, the scenes themselves are filmed in such a herky-jerky, shaky-cam manner that they lose some impact. We don’t care about that though as we’re mostly here to see Steve Reeves run around in a loincloth, which he does. A lot. He wears very little clothing and spends a fair amount of time posing or grappling with other men. Sadly, despite the suggestive membership in a Greek army with the word “Sacred” in its name, this is definitely one of the more heteronormative sword-n-sandal films out there. The personal conflicts all revolve around romantic relationships and there’s not so much as a wink to audience regarding why we’re watching men in loincloths wrestle.

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