Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Claymation of the Gods!

The last time we visited with one of our mesomorphic Super Friends, it was Maciste, the Italian folk hero who boldly squat thrust his way through the history of European cinema, but was usually billed in America as Hercules or "Son of Hercules," thanks to the success of two films starring bodybuilder Steve Reeves, Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959).  When these pictures made an unexpected mint in the U.S., engorging the tingly naughty parts of our nation's Betty Drapers and Sal Romanos, it inspired distributors to buy up all the other Italian movies featuring Wesson-basted beefcake (mostly films in the Maciste series) and change the hero's name.  But in 1960, when the whole "peplum" craze first got started, some U.S. distributors were confused about who owned the name "Hercules" (because being stupid in America has never been a privilege reserved solely for beauty pageant contestants from South Carolina), which is how American International Pictures managed to turn an actual Hercules movie (Revenge of Hercules or La vendetta di Ercole) into Goliath and the Dragon.

This budget-minded rip-off marked the film debut of another American weightlifter, Mark Forest, (star of Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules), who dyed his hair and grew a beard to resemble Steve Reeves, but which somehow only made him look like an oily, steroid-abusing Monte Markham.

Goliath and the Dragon (1960)
Directed by Vittorio Cattafavi
Written by (takes a deep breath…) Marcello Baldi, Archibald Zounds, Jr., Duccio Tessari, Mario Ferrari, Fabio Carpi, Ennio De Concini, Franco Rossetti (French version screenplay credits omitted for clarity).

I apologize in advance. This film isn’t in Technicolor, and it’s not in Cinemascope, but it is, according to the opening credits, “In Colorscope,” which, judging by the dark, muddy print, was an early version of the now familiar Colonoscope.

After the credits end and we resign ourselves to watching a film written by Archibald Zounds, Jr. (or as I like to think of him, Zounds the Lesser), we meet Goliath, the duly authorized representative of the God of Vengeance. This is a cushy civil service position, so it’s almost impossible to fire him, and thanks to a “Cadillac” healthcare policy (paid for by hard-working Greek taxpayers), he’s immortal, just like teachers and postal workers. Goliath does a bit of semi-nude spelunking while the narrator informs us that even though we’re only thirty seconds into the movie, Goliath has royally screwed up, allowing his arch enemy King Urethra to steal the precious “Blood Diamond,” and Goliath’s boss, the God of Vengeance, is certain to discover its loss when they do bi-monthly inventory.

Urethra has hidden the Blood Diamond where no one but Leonardo DiCaprio could ever find it, and he won’t be born for like four thousand years, so it’s pretty secure. But Goliath hatches a cunning plan to listen to the narrator, who blabs about how the Diamond is concealed in the mysterious Cave of Foreskins (honestly, that’s what it sounded like).

But Goliath misses his exit and climbs all the way down into Hades, where he finds Cerberus, the three-headed puppet that guards what appears to be the entrance to the Mine Shaft ride at Knott’s Berry Farm. Goliath apparently surprises Cerberus in the act of making dessert, because each of the hellhound’s slavering maws is equipped with a tiny crème brulee torch. The fire keeps our hero at bay, and we worry that he won’t be able to approach and subdue the beast before its papier-mache heads burst into flame, which is almost certain to affect the flavor of the custard.

Goliath dances around the monstrous dog, never actually hitting it, because papier-mache is delicate, and the prop department is all out of old newspapers and wheat paste. Eventually, the flames shut off and the beast just sort of collapses, probably as the result of a Cease and Desist letter from OSHA.

Cut to the throne room of King Urethra (Broderick Crawford – no, I’m not kidding, it’s Broderick Crawford. In a tunic. Fortunately, the cameraman goes to such desperate lengths to keep him framed from the waist up as he wanders around the set that it's almost like you're watching Elvis on the old Ed Sullivan Show – if Elvis had been moist, jowly, and pickled in Cutty Sark -- but instead of concealing a young rock 'n roller's sexually provocative hip gyrations from Middle America, they're just trying to hide Crawford's scrotum, which I assume dangles below his skirt like a pair of Truck Nutz.

Brod announces that Goliath will never return from the cave, because he secretly placed a dragon puppet down there, hoping it would look better in low light. Brod’s gone to all this trouble because he wants to invade the Greek city-state of Thebes, but the immortal Goliath, Thebes’ champion, stands in the way. However, Goliath actually lives in the city of Gath, in ancient Israel.  This I know, because the Bible tells me so.  I can only assume he's in Thebes working as some sort of Blackwater-style private security contractor.

Back in Foreskin Caverns, Goliath runs into one of my favorite Aurora Model Kits, “The Forgotten Prisoner of Castlemare.” If he could just manage to find the 1964 King Kong Set (Mint, Sealed in Box), the scale model John F. Kennedy (complete with rocking chair), and the Lost in Space Robot, we’d really have ourselves a movie.

Now we come to the greatest part of this epic: 4.3 seconds of stop motion dragon footage edited in for the American release. It’s a shy dragon -- most of its body is hidden behind some convenient rocks, and it’s peeping rather hesitantly over the top, like it was hoping to catch the Pep Squad sunbathing topless -- but still, it’s better than the cardboard Cerberus, so never let it be said this film was afraid to peak too early.

Goliath pulls his knife, but then the God of Vengeance (speaking in a woman’s voice, because he’s also the Goddess of the Four Winds, which I assume is a drag club he frequents on weekends), reminds Goliath that he’s supposed to be looking for the Blood Diamond, and not putting the film over-budget by mixing it up with a process shot.

Meanwhile, Goliath’s younger brother Illus is seeing a princess on the sly (I didn’t catch her name, but she looks like one of those Does She or Doesn’t She? girls from an early Sixties package of Miss Clairol). They meet secretly in her royal chambers because Goliath doesn’t approve of their impending marriage, hoping instead that his brother will forget about girls and follow in the family tradition of being really beefy and wandering around caves.

Goliath finds the Blood Diamond, but before he can grab it he’s attacked by a flying (which is to say, dangling) creature that looks like what you’d get if the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz got really drunk one night and boffed one of those flying monkeys. The “fight” lasts 8 seconds – good enough for a rodeo, not great for a monster movie – then Goliath grabs the Blood Diamond and walks off camera. Okay then, quest completed. All he has to do now is turn the gem into the NPC and level up.

Meanwhile, Brod is conspiring with a Klingon (not the bumpy-headed brand, but one of those John Colicos/Michael Ansara models from The Original Series) to get rid of Goliath’s brother Illus, leaving the way clear for Brod to marry Princess Clairol. So a couple of Trojans catch Illus in a net, which as any fan of Muscle Man Movies knows, is the Kryptonite of demigods (and their low-achieving, Billy Carter-like brothers). In fact, nets were so versatile they were also apparently used as anti-anxiety medications in Ancient Greece, because as the soldiers lock Illus in a cell, one says, “Leave the net on him, it’ll calm him down a bit.”

So there you go. Nets: bad for dolphins, but good for Bronze Age panic attacks.

Brod is still trying to get the other kings to attack Thebes, so he holds a banquet and presents them all with a giant L’Eggs egg. No one knows why.

Unfortunately, just when everyone is jazzed about the idea of attacking Thebes with pantyhose, a messenger arrives to say that Goliath survived the dragon because they were never in the same shot, and killed a Flying Monkey Lion, so that costume’s available for Halloween if you’re interested.  The other kings immediately skip out on the check, but the Klingon has a plan; he makes the slave girl, Aloe, trick Illus into believing Goliath wants to marry Princess Clairol too.  Fooling Goliath’s brother doesn’t prove difficult, since he can’t even figure out how to escape from a net that’s just draped over him like some Second Grader’s hand crocheted pot-holder.

Goliath delivers the Blood Diamond to a statue of the God of Vengeance.  Suddenly, the gem levitates out of his cupped hands and flies to a hole in the god’s forehead, where it lodges like a cork. Which would have been a solemn and awe-inspiring display of divine power, if the flying diamond hadn’t made the same sound as George Jetson’s car.

At Goliath’s home, Jane, his wife, prepares a lavish celebration for her husband’s triumphant return from his Flying Lion Monkey-punching and spelunking expedition.  Meanwhile, Illus has gotten all emo and is moodily strumming the autoharp.  Jane asks what’s troubling him, and by the way when’s he going to start looking for a job?  He retorts that he put in some applications, and then changes the subject by saying Goliath wants to bone Princess Clairol.

Now comes Scheming Time.  The Klingon gives Brod’s slave Aloe a vial of poison to give to Illus to give to Goliath, which will somehow allow Brod to marry Clairol, who is the daughter of the former ruler and still has the pink slip on the kingdom.  But Aloe, who hates Brod, will only get Illus to kill Goliath if Brod kills Clairol and marries her, so she can rule at his side and they can become a kind of mutually loathing, Mycenaean Age Lockhorns.  Brod agrees, even though this will make his plan to become the legitimate king by marrying Clairol impossible, but his bare thighs are chafing and it’s really hard for him to concentrate.  The Klingon assures Brod that he can solve the whole thing by cutting out Aloe’s tongue, which also doesn’t make sense, but that’s his answer for pretty much everything, including Tennis Elbow, uneven tread wear, and Ring Around the Collar.

Aloe heads for Goliath’s house to deliver the deadly poison, because even though the Mercury logo was working nicely, FTD hadn’t quite worked out all the kinks yet.  She falls off her horse and gets attacked by a bear, but Goliath arrives just in time to wrestle with some spliced-in nature footage, then toss a stuffed animal into the bushes.

When Aloe gets back, Brod orders Anton Le Vey to throw her into the dungeon.  Meanwhile. Illus tries to slip away from Goliath’s homecoming party to visit Princess Clairol, but Goliath yanks him off his horse and ties him to a tree, then goes in to dinner.  At this point, everyone in the theater who grew up with an older brother nods and goes, “Yup.”

 Illus (who still thinks Goliath is in love with Clairol) pours the poison into Goliath’s cup, believing it’s actually a philter that will make his brother fall out of love (an elixir people have apparently been regularly administering to Larry King since 1952).  But Clairol prays to the Goddess of the Four Winds, who allows her to broadcast a warning to Illus (although her voice is faint and crackly, so while powerful, the goddess still gets spotty cell phone coverage).  Illus saves Goliath at the last instant (although he kills his dog instead, because he’d already cracked open the poison and if he didn’t use it, it was just gonna go bad).

Illus then goes to Brod’s palace so he can be captured again.  Meanwhile, Brod has had it with the Klingon’s confusing script revisions, snarling, “After this morning I’ll forbid you to work on any of these plots that don’t make sense, ya moron!”  I feel his pain.

Brod decides to publicly execute Goliath’s brother, so he has Illus and several other prisoners carried out to the yard on St. Andrews crosses, to ensure that all these pantless men are fully splayed at all times (and as much as I dislike gimmicks, even I have to admit that their widescreen taints really show off the Colorscope). Then he has an elephant crush their skulls.

Goliath bursts through the gates just as Illus’s head is about to be popped like bubble wrap and gets into a shoving match with the elephant. As epic struggles between pachyderms and muscular title characters go, it’s a little like the climax of 20 Million Miles to Earth, although the Ymir is a more expressive actor.

Goliath eventually stops molesting Jumbo and he and Illus chariot-jack their way to freedom.  They go to the temple of the Jetson’s Jewel so Goliath can ask the Goddess of the Four Winds what’s the deal with his brother’s destiny and stuff.  Windy reveals that Illus will one day become king, but Goliath’s wife Jane will have to die, presumably so Goliath can star in one of those popular sitcoms starring widowers, like My Three Sons, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, or Flipper.

Goliath does the classic wrap-chains-around-the-columns-and-pull-down-the-building gag, except this time he does it to his own house, because it’s marble and there’s no way to burn it down for the insurance.  As the walls fall with a thunderous roar, Goliath lifts his arms and cries, “Collapse, like my shattered dreams!”, which is weird, because that's what I always used to shout whenever my sister and I played Jenga.

Goliath loads up the whole family and heads west, because he saw a handbill that said, “Pea Pickers Wanted in California. Good Wages All Season.”

Broderick dangles Aloe over a snake pit so Princess Clairol will consent to marry him. Considering the two women just met, this seems like feeble leverage, but it turns out Clairol is squeamish and cannot stand to see her new friend be fatally bitten by Olivia de Havilland, so she agrees.

Cut back to the Ancient Joads, and I’m going to warn you, things get a little weird from here on out.  First, they come to a river, and instead of riding around until they find a shallow spot, Goliath decides to build a bridge out of stone, presumably so he’ll have something else to destroy the next time he has a temper tantrum. While he’s busy with his craft project, Illus (who’s in bondage) begs Jane to free him so he can commit suicide and foil the gods’ plan to make him king and her dead. But Jane one-ups him by praying for the gods to just kill her now, because there’s like half an hour left to go in this movie.

In answer to her prayer, some goat-like dude materializes, then keeps teleporting around a meadow like the transporter button on the Enterprise is stuck. He leers at Jane and tells her he’s a god (which is obviously a line, but hey, we’ve all shaded the truth a bit at Last Call) and carries her off.  Illus screams for Goliath, falls off his horse, and gets dragged away.   

Goliath throws a spear into Goat Boy’s back, which just makes him mad, and he shouts, “Now I’m going to take your wife!” which is what he was doing anyway, so it’s really less of a threat and more of a Facebook status update.  Then someone turns on the sprinklers, and Goat Boy and Jane vanish while playing in the spray.

Enraged, Goliath looks to the skies and bellows that if the gods don’t help him he won’t be their friend anymore.  He heaves a spear, which causes a solar eclipse, because that's how that works.

Cut to Broderick’s throne room, where he’s strangling a guy, because why not.  Suddenly, Anton Le Vey appears and shouts, “Quickly! Come with me! First the sky grows black and now a strange monster has arrived!”  Brod squints at the guy, clearly puzzled, and says, “What does that mean?”  A good question, and one I wish had been raised during a preproduction story conference.

The monster is Goat Boy, who drops Jane off on the front lawn of the palace and asks Brod to avenge him because he’s dying. You wouldn’t think a spear could hurt, let alone kill a god, but Goliath and the Dragon is just making its own mythology the way Gravy Train dog food makes its own gravy.

Goliath goes back to the temple to break up with his gods. When they give him the silent treatment, he stamps his foot and demands they return his Blood Diamond and his LPs.  Suddenly, Windy appears to announce that Jane is in the Cave of Foreskins, about to be devoured by very expensive stop motion, so at least it’ll be a quick death.

Cut to the cave, where two soldiers chain Jane next to the Forgotten Prisoner, and she obligingly screams at cutaways shots of the animated dragon that are so brief they’re practically a strobe effect.  Alas, it won’t be that quick a death, because the stop motion budget runs out just as Goliath arrives, so he has to fight the plush toy fom the original Italian cut.  But he’s already proved that he can kill mythical monsters with nothing but his modern dance moves, so he pulls a knife and goes all Twyla Tharp on it’s ass.  Goliath’s flailing arms never seem to connect, but eventually he just sort of yells, “I call you’re dead!” and the stagehands immediately drop the puppet head and go outside to smoke a Modiano and watch the government keel over.

Goliath comes out of the cave, and immediately goes into another cave, beneath the walls of Brod’s palace, where he laboriously undermines the foundation in a scene that’s just as exciting as crawling under your house with a flashlight, looking for water seepage.

The walls come down and Brod kills the Klingon, because it’s always the loyal, Smithers-like aide who takes the fall for this kind of foreign policy failure.  Then he drags Jane to the snake pit.  This involves a fair amount of struggling; fortunately, Brod had the decency to slip into a maxi skirt before the scene.

Goliath is on the opposite side of an iron gate, and there’s nothing he can do to save his wife.  Well, he could tear the gate off its hinges and go beat up the paunchy, drunken old man limply grasping her arm, but that doesn’t seem to occur to him, so he just stands there. Finally, slave girl Aloe takes the initiative and tackles Brod, knocking the two of them into the snake pit.  She saves Jane, at which point Goliath remembers, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a super strong immortal” and tears the gate off its hinges.  Ha!  That would have really shown the villain what sort of demigod he was messing with if he hadn’t already been killed by an 18 year old girl.

Cut to the final scene, where workmen are rebuilding Goliath’s home, overlooked by Illus, who has married Princess Clairol and is now king, thus fulfilling his Destiny; and Goliath and Jane, who is not dead, thus proving that Destiny is a bunch of crap. Take your pick.


trashfire said...

Maybe if they'd used Sean Connery to voice the dragon, or had Mike Holmes do the demo on the castle foundation...

As always, a dynamite review -- you obviously have too much time on your hands.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

"Reviews that are better than the movie"

Thanks, Scott!

Carl said...

overlooked by Illus

Straighter'n an arrow, that Illus...

Scott said...

trashfire: I do have too much time on my hands, but I prefer to think of it, as "making a silk purse out of insomnia."

Thunder: Given the quality of this movie, that's not a terribly hard standard to meet, but I appreciate the endorsement.

And Carl: Have you seen this movie? It sounds like you've seen it...

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

SEEN it?!? he was IN it!

Elizabeth said...

I was going through some of my old blog archives and found this commentary on a Filmusik production of a Hercules movie a few years back. Doesn't reach the level of sophisticated snark found on this site, but you might find it amusing (more amusing than the film itself, in any event).