Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Original Title: La Battaglia Di Maratona
Italy/France/USA, 1959. Titanus, Galatea Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, Societé Cinématographique Lyre. Story and Screenplay by Ennio De Concini, Augusto Frassinetti, Bruno Vailati, from an idea by Alberto Barsanti, Raffaello Pacini. Cinematography by Mario Bava. Produced by Bruno Vailati. Music by Roberto Nicolosi. Production Design by Aleksandar Milovic. Costume Design by Pier Luigi Pizzi. Film Editing by Mario Serandrei.
Ever wonder why it’s called a marathon? Steve Reeves is here to tell you! In one of his most enjoyable adventures following his breakout in Hercules, Reeves plays the noble Phillippides, a fifth century Athenian soldier who is made commander of the Sacred Guard following an Olympian victory. His city is torn in two by the recent expulsion of the tyrannical Hippias, whose followers hope to bring their leader back to Athens by seducing Phillippides into a marriage with a sympathetic nobleman’s servant, but his heart belongs to the beautiful Andromeda (the always delightful Mylène Demongeot) and no other can take her place. This infighting is put aside, however, when the borders are threatened by an approaching Persian army that seeks to conquer all Greek lands and vanquish its people by setting them against each other. Crafty Theocritus believes that negotiations with Darius of Persia would solve the problem but our hero knows better, so he flees from the Battle of Marathon and runs, in this version, the many, many miles to Sparta to ask their support. His returning to battle with the Spartan armies behind him is definitely more exciting than the other commonly-known version of the myth, which is that Phillippides ran without stopping from Marathon to Athens to give news of Greek victory, and then dropped dead; either way, a distance was marked for all time, and a popular sport perfectly tailored to the ambitions of a mid-life crisis was born. There aren’t too many details to the actual narrative but director Jacques Tourneur manages to stretch it to feature length without it ever feeling overly drawn out, hampered as usual by the choice of having someone who sounds like he’s narrating a public health video to dub the lead actor. The drama isn’t so rich, but the real star of the show is Mario Bava, director of photography (and, unofficially, director of many scenes after Tourneur left the project early), who makes every shot pop with bright, beautiful colour and ensures we don’t miss a bit of the glinty beauty of Reeves’ musculature. It’s not the most adventurous of the peplums that the star made in this period, but it is one of the best looking and is an easy pleasure to sit through.