Aka Golia alla conquitsa di Bagdad
Original running time: 95 minutes
Produced by Fortunato Misiano for Romana Film
Distributed by Titanus
Director: Domenico Paolella
Story: Luciano Martino, Domenico Paolella
Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi, Luciano Martino, Domenico Paolella
Cinematography: Augusto Tiezzi
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Editor: Jolanda Benvenuti
Art director: Pier Vittorio Marchi
Cast: Peter Lupus (Goliath), Mario Petri (Yssour), Helga Liné (Fatma), Arturo Dominici (Kaichev), Piero Lulli (Thor), Anna Maria Polani (Myriam), Marino Masé (Phir), Daniele Vargas (Saud), Mino Doro (King Selim), Andrea Aureli (Bhalek), Nello Pazzafini (Horval), Dario Michaelis (Safawidi), Fedele Gentile (Selim’s Officer), Ignazio Balsamo (messenger), Bernardina Sarrocco (Yssour’s slave), Mirko Valentin (Yssour’s bandit contact)
Uncredited: Emilio Messina (a wrestler), Pietro Torrisi (a wrestler), Artemio Antonini (a wrestler)
Fortunato Misiano, who was born just before the turn of the century in 1899, was one of the great characters of the golden age of Italian popular cinema. That he’s not particularly well known is probably down to the fact that he was a production of that most uncelebrated and derided of arts: film production. Although a number of film producers did become famous at the time –Dino De Laurentiis, Carlo Ponti, Franco Cristaldi – Misiano worked at a rather different level; like Fulvio Lucisano, Edmondo Amati and others, he made low budget films that would show in second or third run theatres (the most prestigious films would show in more expensive first run theatres, often in the big cities and to a huge PR fanfare). Between the early 50s and the early 70s, he was involved with about 60 films, mainly through his Romana Film company, moving from comedies and melodramas to peplums, spy films and jungle girl movies. Surprisingly, though, he steered clear of the spaghetti western genre, a profitable seam for many of his peers.
Goliath at the Court of Damascus, directed by Domenico Paolella, a former critic and specialist in historical adventure and mythological films, is a fairly typical example of his output. Set approximately ‘3000 years ago’, the Kurds, led by the ferocious Thor (Piero Lulli), have conquered Damascus, forcing the Sultan Selim (Mino Doro) and his daughter Miriam (Anna Maria Polani) to flee to the neighbouring state of Al Kufa. In an attempt to regain his kingdom, Selim plays matchmaker between his daughter and Phir (Marino Masé), a prince from another neighbouring state, Nisibi, which boasts a powerful army that could help overthrow the invaders. Thor, though, is nobody’s fool, and hires a bunch of grungy bandits to kidnap her before she gets the chance to marry her prospective groom.
Quite understandably, Selim is unwilling to do anything that will endanger his daughter’s life, and he reluctantly steps back from his prospective alliance with the Nisibi. Secretly, though, he also sends for his trusted friend, the famed warrior Goliath (Peter Lupus, acting under the pseudonym Rock Stevens), and charges him with the task of finding and rescuing Miriam. Goliath promptly head to Damascus, where he joins forces with a disparate bunch of people, all of whom are more than happy to help him in his task: Yssour (Mario Petri), a hedonistic Damascan merchant; Horval (Nello Pazzafini), a wrestler who appreciates his fighting prowess; and Phir, who’s set off in search of his beloved fiancée.
Given the way these films were made – by highly trained craftsmen on almost a production line basis – it feels more appropriate to refer to them as being assembled rather than made. And Goliath at the Court of Damascus is adequately assembled. The cinematography is fine, the performances perfectly acceptable and Paolella frankly knew how to direct this kind of thing in his sleep. However, compared to some of his other work it’s rather dull and uninteresting, largely because of the script, which – despite the involvement of talented writers Ernesto Gastaldo and Luciano Martino – feels rather tired. There are the usual interminable bar brawls and confused battle scenes, not to mention a ridiculous climax in which a bunch of sweaty, unarmed wrestlers manage to defeat an entire army, and it falls into the habitual peplum pitfall of featuring way too much talking and far too little drama. Furthermore, it’s also not helped by the fact that there are way too many characters, none of whom are anything beyond the clichéd stereotypes. Piero Lulli, Helga Line and Mario Petri all have almost nothing to do, leaving the major villainy to Andrea Aureli, the head of a band of religious nutters who all have facial scarring as an unfathomable way of proving fidelity to their unidentified pagan god.
But it has moments that give a glimpse of what it could have been: a shadow that moves behind the window of a room where Goliath has just discovered the corpse of a man he was due to meet, a well drawn-out branding sequence. Perhaps it’s most interesting to see it as a transitional film because, with it’s arid locations and frequent horseback sequences, it has something of the feel of a Spaghetti western; unsurprising, perhaps, given that this was one of the last peplums made before the industry moved its focus almost wholesale to the western genre. This twilight status could also have something to do with Paolella’s seeming disinterest, and he was simply bored of working with this kind of material. But things aren’t helped either by what appears to have been some injudicious editing; the US version is shorn by several minutes, but even the full length Italian print seems rather choppy and uneven.
And in its favour it’s packed full of familiar peplum faces, from the habitually villainous Daniele Vargas to the, erm, habitually villainous Arturo Dominici. Of particular interest among the performers is Mario Petri, an opera singer who drifted into acting, appearing in eighteen films during the early 1960s. His film career didn’t outlast the peplums, and this was his last appearance; as shame, as he’s a charismatic performer and could have fitted into other genres quite easily. Peter Lupus was one of the last of the American bodybuilders to try and make his name in the mythological films of the time, and appeared in four films during 1964 and 1965 (including two others for Paolella, Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (64), which also featured Petri, Line and Polani) and Challenge of the Galdiator (65)). He was one of the few peplum stars to have a substantial acting career after his time in Italy, starring in Mission Impossible between 1966 and 1973.