Goliath and the Dragon

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Anyone who went to Sunday School when they were young knows the name Goliath. The story of how the young David defeats the evil Philistine giant is one that is often shared with kids. Though, it’s kind of a grisly story for kiddie fare. It’s got decapitation and everything! The bottom line, though, is that we’ve come to associate the name “Goliath” with a villainous individual. So it’s a bit strange that when American International Pictures got their hands on this 1960 Italian Hercules film they chose to change their lead character’s name to Goliath. The original film’s title is translated as Revenge of Hercules, but for AIP’s purposes, it became Goliath and the Dragon. Strange thing is, all the stuff involving said dragon was added for the American version. That means that neither of this film’s title characters, Goliath or the dragon, appear in the original Italian release of this film. The movie business can be a bit strange sometimes.

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The adventure begins with Goliath (Mark Forest) on a quest into the underworld to retrieve an item called the Blood Diamond. What muscle-brain doesn’t realize is that he’s been sent on this mission by King Eurystheus (Broderick Crawford) because he figures the monsters that guard the diamond, including the three-headed Cerberus and a strange bat creature will surely cause the death of Goliath. With Goliath out of the way, the king will be able to gather allies for an attack on Thebes.

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Goliath survives, of course, but now has to deal with family drama as his brother Hyllus (Sandro Moretti) is in love with Thea (Federica Ranchi), the daughter of one of Goliath’s enemies. Hyllus, however, becomes convinced Thea is in love with Goliath. So a plan is hatched by the king to get Goliath’s wife to trick Hyllus into poisoning his brother. This backfires, too, and we have various battles between Goliath and various murderous beasties including a bear and an elephant before we get to the titular dragon.

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Goliath and the Dragon is a film that jumps back and forth between the extremes of production value. The print I watched of the AIP version of this film was pretty pathetic. It was washed out and had a considerable amount of scratches and other imperfections. However, the Italian cut of the film can also be found online in a much more pristine copy. The colors used in the sets and costumes really pop and show that this is no bargain-basement production.

Now, the creature effects are another thing altogether. The first monster we lay eyes on is the three-headed dog Cerberus, portrayed here by a fire-breathing puppet that is completely unable to maintain eye contact with whomever it’s attacking and is just a few notches above papier mache. A few moments later, Goliath faces a bat creature that looks a bit like a wookie with wings. It flaps around on wires and does more bumping into Goliath than it does actually posing a threat. Later in the film we have a centaur which only appears in four-legged horse man form when shot at a distance. It seems to be able to change from two-legged to four-legged at will. I mean, if you’re able to do that, why not just stick with two all the time? At least you’d save on shoes. Honestly, the most intimidating beast in the film is not a special effect at all. It’s the elephant! The king uses him to execute prisoners by just stepping on their faces.

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Of course, we need to address the titular dragon. This is an element that was not in the original version of the film. His presence definitely feels tacked on. At times he is portrayed as a stop-motion effect, which is not all that bad. It’s not Harryhausen, for sure, but we’ve all seen worse. For close up shots the dragon is just a large puppet sticking its head out of a hole in the rocks. Ultimately, the sequence is pretty goofy as Goliath spends most of the battle wrestling with the creature, standing right in front of its gaping jaws. Um, Goliath…buddy, dragons breath fire, ya know. He’s safe though since this film’s budget didn’t seem to allow for the dragon to deep fry our hero. It certainly seems like more of the budget was put into sets and costumes than making cool creatures.

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All the cheesiness of the effects aside, Goliath and the Dragon still manages to be pretty enjoyable. The actors seem to be doing a solid job. It’s always a bit hard to tell when dealing with a film where the dialogue is dubbed, but nobody really seems to be hamming it up. Sure, there are many elements of the film that are a bit clunky, but the actors all seem to be doing what they can to elevate the material.

So, in the end, Goliath turns out to be not such a bad dude, after all. I certainly could’ve done without so much of the family drama subplot of the film. At times it treaded a bit too close to being a mythological soap opera with the occasional monster attack thrown in. The film ends up succeeding enough, though, to see past the weaker moments and deliver some fun sword and sandal silliness.

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