Directors: Michele Lupo and Vittorio Sala
Retromedia/Infinity Entertainment

Fans of the sword ‘n sandal/peplum genre know all too well about the sparse and erratic representation these films have had on the DVD format. And, high quality widescreen presentations of this uniquely Italian genre are even scarcer. Something Weird and VCI have done a commendable job in the past of releasing a few of these treasures in their original aspect ratios. Alpha and Trimark have released a large number of sword ‘n sandal titles onto DVD, but their releases are primarily full frame presentations of varying quality sourced from 16mm prints. Towering high above these four labels is Retromedia, with at least seven sword ‘n sandal DVD releases to date, including their latest, GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON/COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN. Retromedia used to receive quite a bit of flack from fans angry over their lackluster transfers, but their recent releases are much improved, and finally include 16X9 enhancement for their widescreen titles. How does their latest release stand up against past sword ‘n sandal offerings? Does Retromedia continue with their recent trend of snappier transfers, or do they revert back to their old ways?

GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON takes place in 200 B.C., and centers around the small kingdom of Neffer, which is located along the Persian Gulf. Four years prior, Neffer was defeated in a war with neighboring Babylon, and as part of the peace treaty, Neffer had to annually turn over 30 of its loveliest virgins to Babylon. After four years of this, the people of Neffer have grown weary of this armistice, and a rebellion is brewing. A small group of men have banded together to oppose the Babylonian soldiers and the corrupt rulers of Neffer, hoping to end this tyrannical arrangement and free the enslaved virgins. Their chances for victory are exponentially increased with the emergence of Goliath, a beefy muscleman who decides to join forces with Neffer’s rebels. Armed with super strength, a soft spot for nubile vixens, and a winning smile, Goliath consolidates the rebel factions, and wages a new war against oppression.

A fairly lavish production, GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON is a joy to behold. The action is plentiful, and includes a battle at sea between two massive ships, and a pretty exciting chariot race. The wide angle frame is well utilized, and there are some impressive tracking shots that are especially evident during some of the fight scenes. There is some sloppy editing that tends to ruin these camera set-ups, but that may be a fault of the print used for the transfer. We’re also treated to fairly elaborate sets and colorful costumes. This was the first of four collaborations between director Michele Lupo and producer Elio Scardamaglia, and their creative chemistry together is evident throughout this picture.

But, the real highlight of the film is actor Mark Forest (GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON, MOLE MEN VS. THE SON OF HERCULES), who plays our engaging protagonist, Goliath. Only the legendary Steve Reeves outshines Forest as the king of the sword ‘n sandal pictures. Forest appeared in over ten of these films, and in many of them he fights a plethora of supernatural beasts and monsters (that is one minor drawback with this film – no monsters). His charisma, looks, and physique radiate throughout all his films. Forest gives an energetic, spirited performance, and he is clearly having fun here. He tackles his role with a deft balance of sincerity and lightheartedness. Forest is joined by some very familiar faces of Italian genre cinema, including the ravishing José Greci (HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS, COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA), Giuliano Gemma (BATTLE OF THE WORLDS, HERCULES AGAINST THE SONS OF THE SUN), Mimmo Palmara (HERCULES, HERCULES UNCHAINED), Livio Lorenzon (HERCULES AGAINST ROME, GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS), and Piero Lulli (DUEL OF THE TITANS, THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES).

Retromedia does a good job with the battered, faded A.I.P. print used for the transfer. The Technicolor and Techniscope image is presented here in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with anamorphic enhancement. Considering the source material, the colors are fairly strong and the fleshtones – including Mark Forest’s tan – appear to be accurate. Darker scenes tend to be murky, though, and the image could certainly be sharper and less grainy. The print is riddled with blemishes – vertical lines, splices, etc. Snippets are missing, and possibly entire scenes. None of these negatives should hinder your viewing pleasure. I tend to rate these pictures differently – as long as they’re in widescreen with decent color reproduction, I’m happy. Sadly, the English-dubbed mono soundtrack is hampered by a loud hiss that lasts for the film’s entire running time. Despite this, Les Baxter’s replacement score and all of the sound effects – including the wonderful “crunching” of the wooden oars during the battle at sea – come through strongly. The English dubbing was done at NYC’s famed Titra Sound Studios, and is handled tastefully. No additional audio tracks are provided, and there are no subtitles. In fact, there are no special features of any kind, not even a trailer.

On the flip side of the DVD is a bonus feature, COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN. Retromedia wisely uses the phrase, “Bonus Feature” since the film’s presentation is markedly inferior to the disc’s main feature. But, more on that later. The story concerns a remote island populated by a tribe of Amazon women who trick the men from nearby lands to come to their island, only to be captured as slaves and mates. The Amazons are war-like and dominate, and most of their male captives soon become effeminate and subservient, loosing all of their masculinity. But, the Amazons get more than they bargained for when Colossus is brought to their island with the latest group of captives. He quickly arouses repressed passions among the Amazons, as they start to become more lady-like and swoon to his decidedly masculine charms.

Sadly, COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN is a tiresome affair. It’s clearly much more of a comedy that just so happens to have a sword ‘n sandal setting. Whether dictated by the director or the script, almost everyone overacts, especially Rod Taylor (THE TIME MACHINE, THE BIRDS). Taylor plays the sidekick to Colossus, and he spends most of his screen time hamming it up and mugging for the camera. Colossus is played by Ed Fury (URSUS IN THE VALLEY OF THE LIONS, URSUS IN THE LAND OF FIRE) who is much more enjoyable as the beefcake hero in all those URSUS pictures. The one redeeming quality this film has is in the bevy of Italian beauties on display here, lead by the Amazon queen herself, genre icon Gianna Maria Canale (HERCULES, GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES). She is absolutely stunning here, as are her Amazon co-stars, Daniella Rocca and Dorian Gray. Are you hoping for some action in this film? Well, you have a long wait, since what very little action there is occurs during the final reel.

As mentioned previously, Retromedia was wise to refer to COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN as a “Bonus Feature,” since the DVD presentation pales in comparison to what they did with GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON. COLOSSUS is presented full frame, and the cropping ruins what little enjoyment the film could potentially offer. The video is soft and grainy, with faded colors. Too bad there isn’t better detail – some of the cleavage on display would be much better appreciated. The dubbed English mono track is unspectacular, but allows the corny dialogue to come through pretty clearly. As was the case with GOLIATH, there are no additional audio tracks, there are no subtitles, and there are no special features of any kind.

For sword ‘n sandal fans, GOLIATH AND THE SINS OF BABYLON/COLOSSUS AND THE AMAZON QUEEN is an automatic purchase. The main feature is one of the legendary titles in the genre, and Mark Forest has a lot of fun with his lead role. Until Something Weird jumps back into the fray, Retromedia has positioned themselves as the lead DVD label for releasing sword ‘n sandal pictures in their original aspect ratio. Just be leery of the accompanying Bonus Feature. (Matt Martell)