It’s been awhile, but don’t for a second think my Bava obsession has waned!
The next movie on the list of my epic Bava-inspired gown was kind of a weird one and actually proved a bit of an unexpected struggle: La Battaglia di Maratona, released in the US as The Giant of Marathon.
This movie is pretty basic sword and sandal fare, and anyone who has seen more than one of those movies will recognize everything. It even has Steve Reeves, though he doesn’t have a beard in this movie and for some reason that REALLY weirds me out. Also present is Daniela Rocca, whom The Maestro also directed in Caltiki.
The movie goes like this: It starts in Olympia in 490 BCE, where the games are being held and Phillippides (our man Steve) wins everything because he’s freakishly strong. Now, in this movie, he’s just freakishly strong. There’s no real reason, he’s not the child of a god or anything. There’s no supernatural presence in this movie at all. Upon returning to Athens, the city-state he was representing, he is named Captain of the Sacred Guard, which is the elite guard of the city.
Now, going on behind all this is some political intrigue, some guy who used to rule Athens that everyone hates named Hippias is planning to return and seize control of the city. The problem is, when they kicked him out of Athens he ran to Persia and got on the good side of the king there.
I’m gonna make an aside here for something I love talking about: Darayavaus I. He’s typically known by the Latin version of his name, Darius. He was the third (maybe fourth depending on whose version of the story you side with) king of the Achaemenid Dynastry founded by Kurus II (Cyrus the Great). Basically, he had no right to the throne of Persia and at 30 years old, he stole it and spent years successfully putting down rebellions before expanding the Persian Empire to the biggest it would go. In short, he was a stud monkey.
Gratuitous stone relief of Darayavaus!
And he was a stud monkey who set his sights on Greece when they helped part of his empire unsuccessfully rebel. He gathered up his navy and sailed for Greece, where his forces, who were better prepared, better trained and should have won by any reasonable measurement were defeated by the Greeks. Darayavaus ended up so bitter and hateful toward the Greeks afterward that the story goes he had a servant whose sole job it was, until the great king died, to bend over and whisper in his ear, “my lord, remember the Athenians” at intervals.
Darayavaus does make a few appearances in the film (played by Daniele Vargas), but the movie is mostly about the Greek jerks who sided with him. And make no mistake, the Greeks in this movie who would go against their city-state are earnestly portrayed as the worst sort of scum on the earth.
There’s a really strong, pro-democracy strain in this movie that actually it reminiscent of Frank Miller’s 300. The Greeks are right-thinking people who value freedom and democracy whereas those nasty Persians want to rule the world with an iron fist.
The political aspects of this film center around Theocritus (played by Sergio Fantoni), who is manipulating Creuso (Ivo Garrani), an elder member of the senate, and his daughter Andromeda (Mylene Demongeot). In the mix is Charis (Daniela Rocca) who is said to be Theocritus’s servant, but the implication that she’s a prostitute in his employ is pretty clear. Theocritus forces Charis to try to seduce Phillippedes but she fails as Phillippedes has already fallen in love with Andromeda. Theocritus uses this to his own advantage by convincing Phillippedes that Androdema is a traitor to Athens. Phillippedes leaves Athens in disillusionment, leaving the moral of the Sacred Guard in tatters. A plea from a fellow soldier draws Phillipedes back to organize the effort to fight off the Persians. The movie does include Phillipedes’s legendary run to Sparta, though it lacks Pan so it doesn’t quite have the flavor it could.
The American title, I think, comes from a speech on of the soldiers gives before the senate about how any man will be a giant when he’s depending his homeland.
This film was a French/Italian co-production and, when it began was being directed by the wonderful Jacques Tourneur. Tourneur didn’t like the film and didn’t want to do it, but he was under contract. Partway through the movie, his contract ran out and he just left. Galatea Film then turned to the man who had proven himself adept at cleaning up other people’s messes, Mario Bava.
This leads to a very weird quandry. This film was directed by two people who are quite well known for their visual style. But this movie is quite bland and ordinary to look at. There’s one scene where I can confidently say, “yeah, The Maestro did that” and no scenes at all where I can tell Tourneur did it.
This led me to a crafting quandry as well. In making my piece for I Vampiri, I had to work a little bit to find the image I wanted to go with. No image grabbed me, but I was able to find something I liked and expand on it.
In this movie, there are no striking images. There were a couple nice pieces of jewelry, but they didn’t really hit me and, frankly, working them in would have taken up accessory space I had in mind for other movies that were visually strong and that I enjoyed so much more.
I figure, this is a military movie, so what can I work with that was in the battle scenes? Then I notice the shoulder armor they’re wearing.
Okay, I can work with this.
I have some leather cuffs I bought at a Renaissance Faire ages ago. They’re suede, and the shoulder armor doesn’t look suede, but there is a contrast between the inset squares and the outer edges, so if I stick with the suede and find a smooth faux leather for the inset squares, I’ll get a similar look. I cut the squares of smooth pleather out, but quickly discovered that, with the shape of the cuff, squares wasn’t happening. So I settled with rectangles.
I think, by this point, anyone reading realizes that I wasn’t that into it when I was making this piece. I thought of gluing the smooth rectangles to the suede, but I haven’t had good luck with glue and suede in the past, so I decided to use some cross stitch thread to sew the rectangles to the cuffs. I had some DMC Satin cross stitch floss that was a brilliant blue laying around, so I thought I’d use that. By the way, leather thimbles are GREAT.
THAT was a mistake. That stuff is terrible. It knots like you would not believe, and it actually frays as you’re working. As soon as I was done sewing the squares on, I had to go over it with the micro-tip scissors and cut off all the little fly-aways. I have a deep seated hatred of that stuff now. But the blue popped, and given how closely I associated blue and The Maestro I’ll leave it be.
At this point, the whole thing looked pretty plain. It needed a little pizazz. I remembered in the movie they had the Persians catapulting skulls into Athens as a fright tactic. I raised an eyebrow when I saw this and I don’t remember hearing that the Persians ever did this (it was an Assyrian thing), but, hey, skulls! I’ll always add skulls to things!
I found some iron on skull studs at the craft store and decided that super glue would serve me better than setting up the iron. I sewed the x’s in the middle of the rectangles (And managed to get them completely not centered), then glued the little skulls to the center.
I looked at the bottom now and realized I had the chance to fix the one thing about the cuffs I really hated, and the thing that kept me from wearing them. The ties. I don’t like jewelry that requires another person to put on you. Too much effort.
What I did have was some left over snaps and a whole bunch of ribbon that was the same color blue as the thread I used. So I sewed the snaps to the ends of some chunks of ribbon. This was done almost entirely while I was wearing the cuff. The way the cuff fits is that the edges are closer at the wrist because your wrist is smaller than the rest of your arm. So the ribbon at each pair of grommets had to be fitted to where it sat on my arm, and the only way to make sure it wasn’t too tight or too loose and to not have to remake it a bajillion times was to measure it while it was on.
This was an annoying process, but a lot shorter in the long run, and now I know the the cuff fits properly.
Then to cover up the ugly stitches required to sew the snaps to the ribbon, I glued on little skulls (MORE SKULLS!!!).
I let the piece sit overnight to make sure the glue dried uninterrupted.
The next day I put it on and wore it all day to make sure stuff wouldn’t pop off and it didn’t, so we call it good.
Frankly, I’m pretty ambivilent about the piece. It doesn’t suck. It’s not very good either. Kinda blah and ordinary. But I also think that’s a pretty good summation of the movie. So, it works? Maybe?
For me and my Bava gown enterprise, this movie is the calm before the storm. As much as I wasn’t into this project, and as simple and easy as it turned out to be, the next piece of the gown is going to be that difficult and I am dreading it a bit.
Tying up Tourneur’s loose ends with The Giant of Marathon meant that Galatea trusted Bava enough to let him write his own ticket for his next movie. And the movie The Maestro wanted to make was a horror movie based on a story by Nikolai Gogol.
A little movie called La Maschera del Demonio. It would arrive on US shores with the title Black Sunday. This is where the cult of Mario Bava would really begin.
Next up: Black Sunday.