Film: The Giant of Marathon (La Battaglia di Maratona, 1959)
Rated: No rating
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Steve Reeves as Philippides
Mylène Demongeot as Andromeda
Daniela Rocca as Karis
Sergio Fantoni as Theocritus
Tagline: A Giant Among Men in a Gigantic Spectacle!
By Marilyn Ferdinand from Ferdy on Films, etc.
I managed to dredge up one film that planted three scenes indelibly in my mind: The Giant of Marathon. Because the film came out in 1959, when I was 4 years old, and it’s not the kind of film that would have been revived only a few years from its premiere, I’m sure I didn’t see it at a theatre. I’m almost positive I saw it on TV because I generally I spent my Saturday afternoons in front of our TV in the basement. A very popular type of film for the networks to show in those days were Italian sword-and-sandal epics. I watched Greek mythology and history paraded in front of me week after week and took great delight in trying to see how well the English dubbing matched the lips of the mainly Italian performers. It was during these afternoons that I became intimately acquainted with the special effects of Ray Harryhausen , whose films I still take pleasure in viewing today. Somehow, the only one of those films that really stuck with me, other than the Harryhausen films, was The Giant of Marathon. Even though I hadn’t seen it since the 1960s, I remembered its name and these images:
1. The tiny figure of a man lifting a giant boulder and throwing it onto the Persian army fighting below on an open plain.
2. A dark-haired woman running from some burning bodies and being struck in the back with an arrow. Her blue, chiffon dress turned purple as a perfect circle of blood oozed from her back.
3. Men underwater being struck through and through with arrows fired by men in a boat above them.
I placed the DVD of this movie in my player and rewatched The Giant of Marathon to see if the rest of it looked familiar and whether my memories were accurate. To the first part of that sentence, the answer is “no.” To the second part, I can say “yes,” but the first two scenes didn’t happen the way I remembered them.
The story basically tells about the history of the marathon foot race as it recounts the battle between Greek city-states, united in opposition to a common enemy, the Persians. Philippines is the “giant” of the title, overall winner of the ancient Olympic Games and a peasant from near Athens, who runs to Sparta from Athens when he loses his horse to ask them to join arms with their historical enemy, Athens, for the sake of all Greece. There are love stories and treachery, thrilling action sequences and ingeniously staged battles. The quintessential Hercules of films, Steve Reeves, plays Philippides.
Now that I’m older and a pretty dedicated cinephile, I can appreciate that Jacques Tourneur and Mario Bava (as DP and uncredited director) were involved in this film, making it something that film buffs might be interested in. Tourneur’s influence is nowhere visible, but Mario Bava in this, his third feature film, has imprinted it with ingenious violence that would be even more elaborate over time. Could I tell that someone of quality was involved in the film’s production when I was young? Is that why it stuck out? I’d have to say that I didn’t know it at the time, but the scenes that impressed me were from Bava’s hand. So I must have had some reaction to its quality. Nothing about the love story and court intrigue stuck with me, nor is that an impressive part of the film to me now.
I’ve become familiar with Daniela Rocca, who played Karis, through her brilliant work in Divorce, Italian Style. It was great to see an actress of her caliber in this film. She did lend a certain dignity to this pulpy film that I can appreciate now. I also liked the Athenians treating her as an equal in war; it was a classy scene that is in keeping with a certain equality Greeks gave to women as goddesses.
I find I’m still a sword-and-sandal fan, and this film is one of the reasons why.
Hear Marilyn’s Olympian recollections below or download the podcast here.