Archive for the “beefcake” Category

Gordon Mitchell’s sword-and-sandal debut is a pretty by the numbers affair. Mysterious hero finds baby, determines that it is the rightful king to an oppressed people, evil queen falls in love with him, evil queen is betrayed, 11th hour rescue, hero rides off into the sunset. There is some vague throughline about the baby being the descendant of Odysseus and the ghost of Circe wanting revenge on him, thus necessitating the baby being fed to a cyclops, but it barely pops up, save for the villains to occasionally cite it in an offhanded “oh yeah, motivation” sort of way, and for the big final scene featuring our hero (Maciste, not Atlas, because of course the hero’s name and the name of the movie are different) fighting a man made up to look like a cyclops. It’s a weird moment of ambition in a film that has been defined by how unremarkable it otherwise is. Further complaints are hard to make, as this is one of the notoriously worst dubbed sandal films around, which goes a long way towards explaining Mitchell’s complete lack of charisma and the overly long story for how little actually occurs.

We do have another film that seems to know its audience, though, keeping Mitchell in short skirts the entire time, and giving us frequent close-ups of him flexing or lying languidly on benches or the ground. There’s a minor camp villain as well, and although the obligatory evil queen falls for Maciste, he doesn’t seem particularly interested in return. It never rises to a winking level, giving it a semi-naive feel.

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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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Goliath and the Dragon, like most of the sword and sandal films, doesn’t really make much sense. The reason why it in particular doesn’t make much sense is that the US release was handled by American International Pictures, and it was heavily re-edited and re-written with new scenes added. It’s actually a Hercules film, and follows the story of Hercules’ twelfth labor fairly closely, but the English dub changes so much of the story it actually becomes quite hard to follow. It opens promisingly enough with Goliath travelling to the underworld to recover the blood diamond of the god of vengeance, fighting a puppety Cerebus and a giant man-bat along the way. Meanwhile his brother Illus is sneaking off to see Thea, princess of Ancient Greek Country, who Goliath hates because he wrongly believes she had his family killed (it was actually her uncle/warder/creepy guy King Eurystheus). All of this is part of an elaborate plot to kill Goliath, have Eurystheus marry Thea, and attack Thebes. Because that is what evil king’s do, apparently. When that doesn’t work, they send a slave girl to convince Illus and Goliath’s wife that Goliath is secretly in love with Thea. When that doesn’t work they convince Illus to poison Goliath. When that doesn’t work they kidnap Illus and attempt to execute him by elephant. When that doesn’t work they send Goliath’s wife to hell after she is kidnapped by a convenient centaur. Eventually all the plans come to naught, Illus marries the princess and the villain is thrown into the snakepit.

There’s a glimmer of a, if not good, at least entertaining, film in here, but the editing so badly butchers the story that all the little subplot and villainous plans blur together. The effects are ambitious, if a little obviously puppety, save for a stop-motion dragon added in for the US release. But the draw is Mark Forest as Goliath/Hercules, and he’s a bit disappointing. Like most sword-and-sandal stars, they’re playing off the Steve Reeves look, and pretty closely at that in this case. And while Forest’s singlet is impressive, he’s actually fairly dull and needlessly serious looking for the entire film. Very little personality shines through, and no fun at all. The film is also relentlessly heteronormative, with no camp or accidental homoeroticism to salvage it.

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Vulcan, Son of Jupiter is ambitious, you have to give it credit for that. The story is steeped in Roman mythology and features regrettable looking monster costumes that are a special effects stretch for this type of film by any means. The film opens with Venus traveling to Earth for a tryst with Adonis, much to the annoyance of Jupiter, who decides that she must be wed to either Mars or Vulcan in order to tame her. Vulcan and Mars engage in some not at all homoerotic wrestling before Mars and and Venus escape to Earth with the help of Pluto. While Mars and Venus go to Thrace, to hatch a plot with the king to overthrow Jupiter, Vulcan pursues them, losing his godly powers in the process. He’s found by Etna, a daughter of Neptune, but they are quickly captured along with some Sicilians by monsters. Everyone is saved by tritons sent by Neptune and then the plot goes completely off the rails. Mostly this is probably due to poor dubbing and editing, as people race back and forth across the countryside, get captured, escape, get recaptured, Pluto may or may not be helping Mars, Venus may or may not be betraying Mars, Jupiter may or may not be orchestrating all this as a test, etc. In the end the day is saved thanks to more not at all homoerotic wrestling and Vulcan is rewarded with life on Earth as a mortal with Etna.

It’s nice to see at least an attempt at a semi-faithful depiction of mythological themes, instead of the usual willy-nilly name borrowing you usually get with fantasy films, but the goodwill engendered by that is squandered by how poorly made the film is. The camera angles are awkward, the editing is atrocious, and the plot doesn’t make any damn sense. Iloosh Khoshabe plays Vulcan, and even by the standards of a physique film, he’s a fairly obscure actor, though nice to look at. The rest of the screen-time is given mostly to Roger Browne as Mars and Gordon Mitchell as Pluto, and having three bodybuilders run around does make for some pleasant eye-candy. There are plenty of shots of Venus lying around languidly in semi-seductive poses for the nominal audience as well.

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Colossus and the Amazon Queen is another Italian sword and sandal film in which the title character is never actually called that. “Colossus” is actually Glauco, and despite being the title chaaracter, Ed Fury only gets third billing, behind Rod Taylor and Dorian Gray (who isn’t the actual Amazon Queen, either). The plot is a fairly basic affair: Pirro (Rod Taylor) is conned by a couple of effeminate Jewish stereotypes into press-ganging Glauco into serving on a ship’s crew, after the stereotypes see Glauco’s impressive performance in a not at all homoerotic 30 man wrestling match to celebrate the Greek victory over Troy. The ship makes landfall at a beach where several chests are loaded with gold and jugs of wine have been laid out, and the crew are told that they have been hired to guard the treasure. The wine of course is drugged and the men are taken captive by Amazons, save for Glauco who is rescued by Sofo, an Egyptian sailor too smart to drink obviously drugged wine. Glauco has a meet-cute involving spying on Amazon general Antiope while she bathes, followed by some light bondage courtesy of Antiope’s rival for the democratically elected position of Queen, Melitta. The Amazons are impressed with the rugged marital prowess of the Greek men, which isn’t all that surprising given that all the men currently running around their island are extremely gay, and marry them off to the military women. Much scheming between Antiope and Melitta for the position of Queen ensues, with Pirro playing both sides against the middle, resulting in Glauco ending up back in Greece and tricking a band of pirates into bringing him back to the island, whose timely arrival prevents a civil war between Antiope and Melitta’s forces. And then everyone gets married.

Surprisingly, this film is actually fairly clever, despite the plot that veers between trite cliches and needless complications. There’s a strange mix of deliberate homoeroticism and camp gay characters that you sort of suspect that the film-makers knew exactly who part of their audience was, and that level of self-awareness is pretty rare in the genre. The script itself is also fairly clever and even funny at times. True, it’s a corny sort of humor, and fairly broad, but it’s there beyond the usual level of lame comic relief. It’s also refreshing to see a fantasy Amazon film in which the central conflict between female characters isn’t a love rivalry over the asshole male lead, but over a completely practical and understandable political ambition. Granted, there is an awful lot of women gazing lovingly at scantily clad men, but that just brings us back to the film-makers apparently realizing who their audience is.

Fortunately, we’re watching this because it’s an Ed Fury film, and easily 90% of the film is Ed in a small, tight toga running around flexing and punching people. He gets tied up quite a few times as well, and even shares a mass shower with the men, as well as the giant wrestling match that opens the film. Rod Taylor gets a fair amount of screen time as well, usually covered up, and it’s hard to tell if we’re mean to like him or not, as he’s almost a villain and played vaguely gay, but he’s the only male character with anything approaching a personality, as Ed is only required to look pretty.

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