Friday, November 01, 2013


This re-telling of the familiar Bible story begins with the aged prophet Samuel arriving at the court of King Saul and telling Saul's advisor Abner that the Lord has spoken and said it's time for the corrupt and decadent Saul to be replaced by a new king. Saul seems almost resigned to the news, upset since the Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant, but the scheming Abner is on his guard, worrying about losing his own bit of power. Meanwhile in Bethlehem, we meet the shepherd boy David, son of Jesse, who impresses his girlfriend with his slingshot talents (hint, hint) before she's struck by lightning in a storm and dies. Samuel, told by God that the next king of Israel will be a son of Jesse, comes to town to take David off to his destiny. Right off the bat, David stirs up trouble with some rabble-rousing in the streets, and though Abner is against him, Saul takes him under his wing, hoping to pacify him and win him over. David becomes buddies with Saul's son Jonathan and flirts with Saul's daughter Michel; meanwhile, with the Philistines threatening to attack and Saul wanting to get the Ark back, Abner plans to use David as an emissary to Asrod, king of the Philistines, hoping for David's failure and/or death at the hands of the Philistine giant Goliath. Spoiler alert: remember that slingshot!

This Italian film feels like The Ten Commandments done on a low budget with the cast and crew of a Hercules movie. It comes nowhere near the grandeur of a De Mille film, but in its B-movie scrappiness it has its fun moments. The movie's big draw is Orson Welles as Saul (at left), in the beginning of his "shambling fat man" years (as in THE LONG HOT SUMMER and TOUCH OF EVIL), and as usual when he's on screen—even if he's only going through the motions as here—he's always compelling. Unfortunately all the dialogue was post-dubbed so even though he dubs his own voice, a certain immediacy is lost and the performance feels diminished.  Ivo Payer, the actor playing David, is a cute young guy who might have played a strongman sidekick in a Hercules movie (pictured above right), but doesn't have the gravitas for this role. Few of the other actors make an impression except for Massimo Serato as Abner. A burly, hairy Italian circus giant by the name of Kronos plays Goliath—my recollection is that he has no lines, just grunts. They try to use camera trickery to make him look huge but it doesn't really work. I mean, I wouldn't want to run into him in a dark alley, but he never looks quite as menacing as he should. The dialogue is full of "thee"s and "thou dost"s which is fun in an old-fashioned way, and the sets and costumes look good. There's a good battle scene near the end. The only print available is a junky looking pan-and-scan one, but I’d watch this one again if a widescreen version was released. [YouTube]

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