(1959, Fantasy-Sword and Sandal, color)
No horses weren’t harmed in the making of this movie.
In a nutshell:
Athenian beefcake Phillipides gets the girl while saving all of Greece from Persia.
Hoary, toga-clad judges select the most chiseled and glistening young Greek following the most credit-filled Olympic Games of ancient history. Athenian athlete Phillipides (Steve Reeves) accepts the crown of laurels, and dedicates it to his patron goddess. The Athenian elders grant him commandership of the sacred guard, defenders of Athena’s temple. This appears to be a position of some influence, as certain pro-Persian elements within the Athenian government immediately begin planning to either to kill him or convert him to their cause.
The villainous Theocritus leads these revolutionaries. He outfits his best pet hooker and directs her to seduce Phillipides over to their side. This goes awry; partially because one of the larger entertainers flips out over some minor criticism and attacks the guest of honor, but mostly because Phillipides is already smitten with the lovely Andromeda. Andromeda is, unfortunately, already betrothed to Theocritus, but Theocritus doesn’t mind. Once he figures out who Phillipides really wants, he offers to rearrange the betrothal—if he promises to help the Persians conquer Athens. The heartbroken Phillipides incorrectly assumes that Andromeda is in on the Persian plot. He refuses and leaves Athens.
The Persians begin to land their troops at Marathon. The Athenian armies realize they’re no match for the Persian hordes, and beg Phillipides to ask his Spartan friends for help. Phillipides leaves for Sparta, beating off Theocritus’ assassins along the way. While he pleads with the Spartan Council, the Athenians engage the Persians in a massive battle that features twelve-foot drums and the slaughter of dozens of horses. It’s pretty much a stalemate until Phillipides returns to turn the tide with several large chunks of Styrofoam. The Persians withdraw for the day.
Meanwhile, Theocritus meets with the Persian king in secret. His pet hooker overhears a plan to attack Athens from behind with a fleet of ships. The Persian guards mortally wound her as she flees; she dies in the arms of Phillipides after warning him of the treachery. Phillipides runs all night and all day to warn the sacred guard. After he arrives, they all strip to their briefs and plant pikes on the sea bottom near the place where the Persian ships will land. In the midst of this, Phillipides learns of Andromeda’s innocence, though his joy at this revelation is slightly dampened when Theocritus abducts her.
The hour of battle arrives. A surpise attack allows Phillipides to sink several ships, kill Theocritus, and rescue Andromeda, but there are just too many Persians. Arrows and flaming spears fly fast and furious as the ridiculously dressed invaders drive back the nearly naked defenders. Just as the Persians reach the shore, the combined armies of Athens and Sparta finally arrive to save the day. Later, Phillipides and Andromeda stroll arm-in-arm into the sunset.
Mike shows up late in a dirty coverall, covered in filth, and carrying a large toolbox. When Bill and Kevin inquire about his activities, he produces a remote control and explains he was trying to find the right button. Bob Honcho interrupts a low-orbit date with Rita Moreno to call in and introduce the movie. After the call, Mike further explains that the sticky brown substance covering him is not grease, but pudding.
Proclaiming himself to be a history knower (he vehemently objects to the term “history buff”), Bill interrupts lunch to enlighten Mike about the Battle of Marathon. To this end, he reenacts the battle using toothpicks as archers, grapes as Athenians, brownie bites as Persians, and so on. He eventually enlists every foodstuff on the table, including several wild spurts of ketchup to simulate arterial spray. “War is hell,” he says.
Inspired by the Hershey’s Kiss-esque headwear of the Persian soldiers, Mike, Bill, and Kevin hold a silly hat contest. Kevin begins with a dangly helmet-ish thing made of Pantiliners. Bill one-ups him with a head-mounted, life-size Styrofoam model of an ancient Greek ruin. Mike shows up in a Basque beret, and proceeds to mock that culture mercilessly. “Mike, don’t!” Bill cries. “The Basque have guns!”
The first feature consists of Mike reading a prepared apology for his behavior during the final host segment. The first take ends when he apologizes to the Persians by insulting the Italians. In the second, he apologizes to Italy while insulting Norway; Kevin ends it with a flying tackle. The third take has Kevin apologizing while Bill ties up Mike in the background. Mike escapes to protest. “Have you ever spent time with a Norwegian?” he asks. “They smell like fish!”
The second feature shows several scenes of the film with a commentary track by a suspiciously Mike-voiced man named Walter S. Ferguson. After starting several irrelevant stories about his passage to Italy, Mr. Ferguson tells stories about being an extra in Giant of Marathon, appearing first as an Athenian, then as a Persian, then as a statue, horse, monkey, patch of dirt, and loincloth.
For a sword-and-sandal flick from the fifties, Giant of Marathon isn’t half bad. It’s a bit liberal with its history and rather light on story, but manages to keep both of these elements unobtrusively entertaining. The only thing this film is heavy on is flesh—man flesh, that is, and not in a cannibalistic Uruk Hai, “You will taste man flesh!” kind of way. Basically, if you like to look at mostly naked guys, this movie is for you. Me? I rolled my eyes every time I saw some body builder’s hyper-toned physique, and then kept them rolled as the camera refused to budge from his oily pectorals. It’s not that the men are ugly, or that the cinematography is bad. It’s just not fixating on anything that interests me.
Once again, my favorite host segment is the lunch break. Bill’s culinary reenactment of the Battle of Marathon is great, as is the aftermath, when Kevin attempts to convince himself that the remains are still edible. Mike’s partial explanation of his filthy state at the beginning is worth a laugh too. Mike’s various cultural insults and various apologies are somewhat amusing—maybe they would have been funnier if they hadn’t already used this gag a time or two on MST3K. I guess it’s hard to be as prolific as these guys without repeating yourself occasionally. The Walter Ferguson commentary was a funny idea, but went on for entirely too long.
Of course they make the film segments fun to watch. When the pet hooker goes to ridiculously elaborate lengths to seduce Phillipides, Bill calls her efforts, “High-tech seductiography.” When a pair of Greeks square off for a stagy, tentative fight, Mike boasts, “I could take both these guys with a Twizzler.” More very careful combat during the epic battle scene inspires Kevin to say, “I’ve seen tougher mosh pits at a Celine Dion concert.” The DVD is almost as funny as Wild Women of Wongo, making it my second favorite Film Crew release.
(1959, Fantasy-Sword and Sandal, color)