edited by John Hayes

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Goliath and the Barbarians on DVD at last!

Reynold Brown's wonderful poster for the American International release

When I compiled the original Wish List in issue 10, I already had my eye on the Spanish release of the Steve Reeve’s classic, Goliath and the Barbarians. The problem was that the websites of the Spanish sellers were all uniformly vague about the aspect ratio of this transfer, some describing it as ‘Fullscreen’ others as ‘Widescreen’. Emailing a couple of them elicited no replies. And when my wife was on holiday in Spain last year, she could find no DVD stockist who’d even heard of it. It appears regularly on eBay, via American sellers, as an overpriced ‘import’, even though the price quoted by the Spanish DVD retailers in euros is very reasonable. Anyway, as I’m just a martyr to my readers, your editor decided to purchase a copy – at no small cost, let me tell you – so we could check out this ‘official’ studio release.

And then- no sooner had I acquired this version – another one appeared, this time in the US, courtesy of Wild East Productions, who have repackaged it in a double bill with another ‘Goliath’ picture, Goliath and the Vampires, at a much more sensible price. More about that later, but first…

Goliath faces the Test of Truth

El Terror de los Barbaros has been released in the Spanish Cine Epico series, by Mercury Video S.A., and carries the Warner logo on the reverse side of the case. It is a PAL region 2 disc. Now the biggest question is whether the aspect ratio is the correct 2.35:1 on this release; and we can answer ‘well, almost’ – but more about that later. Unfortunately, it is a non-anamorphic transfer, but on the plus side, the print is the best one I’ve seen used for a transfer of this film so far. It still looked pretty good when zoomed into ‘cinema’ mode on the 50” screen. The print also seems to be something of a hybrid; the American International titles of the UK/US release have been removed and replaced with full Italian titles (Il Terrore Dei Barbari) of the original European release, which play over a scene of galloping hooves. Also removed is Les Baxter’s terrific Main Title Theme: Goliath’s March, which is replaced with Carlo Innocenzi’s music, again from the European release – yet strangely, but thankfully, reverts to Baxter’s score for the remainder of the film. Les Baxter aficionados will be further enraged by the abrupt cutting of the magnificent March of Victory, which of course played over the original titles that were placed at the end of the film (Innocenzi’s score has just been released on CD, but it was never in the same league as Baxter’s masterpiece*). Apart from this mutilation, the film seems to be the 86-minute US/UK print (the European version runs at 102 minutes), with the film’s surprisingly graphic brutality left intact.

Selecting ‘Idioma’ from the menu screen will give you the option of ‘Espanol’ or ‘Ingles’ dialogue tracks. Sound is in stereo, though the right channel dropped out for the first few minutes – possibly print damage.

For those unfamiliar with the film, the plot goes like this:

Steve with Chelo Alonso, who plays Landa

In the year 568 A.D. hordes of Longobards, under the command of king Alboyna (Bruce Cabot) descend on Italy, raping and pillaging city after city. They make the mistake of killing the father of Emiliano (Steve Reeves), who then leads a rebellion against the barbarian invaders. Roaring out of the forests and mountains, wearing the mask of a beast, he terrifies the invaders so much that they begin to call him the Goliath. While Goliath continues his war against the barbarians, he also falls for Landa (Chelo Alonso), beautiful daughter of Duke Delfo, one of Alboyna’s generals. Determined to finally crush all resistance, the ambitious and jealous Igor (Livio Lorezon) sends his henchman, Svevo (Arturo Dominici) to massacre Emiliano’s village and enslave the survivors. But when Igor attempts to have Delfo murdered, the tables are turned and the barbarian tribes turn on each other. Emiliano and his men drive out the divided invaders, killing the treacherous Igor in the process. Goliath and Landa can now live in peace as the barbarians return to their own lands.

Director, Carlo Campogalliano (Son of Samson[1960]; The Mighty Ursus[1961]; Sword of the Conqueror[1962]), a veteran director with more than forty five films to his credit since he entered the business in 1919, keeps his story moving fast in a film that, in its 86 min., version never outstays its welcome.

Reeves would re-team with Alonso, a Cuban ex- dancer at the Folies Bergeres, in 1961 for Morgan the Pirate

The disc also features a couple of Spanish trailers, Last Days of Pompeii and Ursus, from the other films in the Cine Epico series – which actually features some quite interesting and much sought after titles, including Giant of Marathon and Colossus of Rhodes (see the DVD Reviews in this issue). Unfortunately, it seems that Goliath and the Barbarians is the only one of the series that includes an English soundtrack.

Buying direct from a Spanish website may be a cheaper option, if you really want this version, as Amazon.co.uk list the price at £19.99 – as of October 2008 - plus postage (usually around £1.24). However, there is now another option – but first you might like to hear a little story…

Way back in 1958, when Il Terrore Dei Barbari was in production, the companies involved, Alta Vista and Standard Produzione, ran into a problem – or more accurately they ran out of money. Enter the canny heads of American International Pictures, James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, who had been mightily impressed by Joseph E. Levine’s recent astronomical success with an earlier Steve Reeves vehicle, Hercules (1957), an Italian production that he had purchased and repackaged for the American market. Sensing a chance to emulate Levine’s brainwave, they offered to finance the rest of the production – providing certain revisions to the script were incorporated; Reeve’s character, Emiliano, acquiring the name ‘Goliath’ being the main one, as Nicholson and Arkoff wanted a ‘Hercules’ type strongman on which to hang the substantial promotional campaign they had planned. They couldn’t actually use the name Hercules, as Levine was about to repeat his success with a sequel to his earlier film, Hercules Unchained (1959). Colossus and Samson were briefly considered, but Goliath won the day – although, interestingly, the film actually went on release in Germany under the title Herkules, der Schrecken der Hunnen.

Emiliano rallies the villagers

American International’s ad campaign consisted of TV trailers, five different radio spots, newspaper ads, life-size theatre standees of Goliath, comic strips, window and lobby cards and an LP release* of the re-scored soundtrack music, and a splendid poster, painted by the now legendary – but then unknown – Reynold Brown** (Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Attack of the 50 foot Woman, This Island Earth, World Without End – the list goes on and on…). And it was a spectacular success, particularly as A.I.P. had managed to get the completed film, now called Goliath and the Barbarians, into US theatres a mere five months after Levine’s Hercules – which gave Steve Reeves four films on release in 1959. It premiered at the Palms Theatre, Detroit on Christmas Eve, where a delighted theatre manager found that his receipts for that night were greater than for any single day in the previous five years.

After Goliath had been on release for some months, A.I.P. reissued the film, this time as a double bill with an earlier and less successful A.I.P. import, Sign of the Gladiator (1959), which, speaking of double bills, brings us to the second DVD version of Goliath and the Barbarians.

The Wild East Productions release pairs our favourite muscleman, Steve Reeves, with his real-life pal, Gordon Scott starring in Goliath and the Vampires (1961), on a two-sided disc with one film on each side. We are not really concerned with the Scott film at this point, so suffice it to say that the print here is slightly inferior to the Reeves film, with washed out colour and some print damage. It is in ‘Scope, however, and it is this latter point that is the most interesting with regard to this release of Goliath and the Barbarians.

Prior to my viewing of this disc, I had noted the comments of others who had bought this version, with regard to the aspect ratio of Reeves’ film as it appears here. Many of them comment on how wide the film seems to be, and on viewing myself, I have to agree; and this seemed like a job for the tape measure. The measured aspect ratio of the Spanish, Cine Epico version is 2.20:1, which is fairly standard on DVD for any film described as being presented in its ‘original ‘Scope theatrical format of 2.35:1’. Goliath and the Vampires, on the US, Wild East release is the same. Goliath and the Barbarians, however, measures at 2.52:1, giving a much narrower letterbox image. It would be really great if this actually revealed more picture information but, sadly, it doesn’t. The wider aspect ratio has been created by simply stretching the image, probably during transfer, as the print is identical to the earlier Cine Epico release – even down to the hatchet job on Les Baxter’s score – but with slightly inferior mono sound.

Identical frames from the the two Goliath DVDs. The smaller image is from the U.S. release. Note the black bars which have appeared at the sides when the picture's 'stretch' is removed. Image area is the same in both frames, though.

So, this leaves Goliath and Barbarians fans with an interesting choice: whether to go for the more expensive Spanish release with the stereo soundtrack and ‘normal’ ‘Scope image, or the US release with the ‘expanded’ image (all the films are non-anamorphic transfers), mono sound and bonus Goliath and the Vampires picture on the other side of the disc and which retails for around half the price; which, for UK readers, means around £20 for the former and a tenner for the latter. If it helps, the US version has the better DVD cover art – a wonderful double feature ad – and the Vampires flick has the missing Goliath’s March as its main title theme. A tricky decision, indeed.

Emiliano/Goliath kills Igor

* Les Baxter’s superb Goliath and the Barbarians score – one of the most sought after by collectors – was also used on at least two other American International releases: Goliath and the Dragon (1961 - and Mark Forest instead of Steve Reeves) and Apaches Last Battle (1964 – yes, even a western!). The original American International Records release, and the 1979 Varese Sarabande stereo reissue – both vinyl LPs - still turn up regularly on eBay, sometimes quite reasonably priced.

** I am currently preparing an article on the work of Reynold Brown, the great, unsung hero of cinema poster art, for publication in issue 13 of Widescreen Movies Magazine – watch this space…


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John Hayes/Wide Screen Movies Magazine

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