BOOTLEG FILES 141: “David and Goliath” (1960 Italian-lensed Biblical romp starring Orson Welles).
LAST SEEN: We cannot confirm the last public screening.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Only in duped PD versions.
REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: A less-than-holy experience.
CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Only on PD dupes, kids!
During the 1950s and early 1960s, the film industry rediscovered the Bible. This had little to do with a newfound sense of religious piety or a need to philosophically dissect the intricacies of the basic theological foundations of Western civilization. Actually, it offered a great excuse to provide gratuitous displays of cleavage and biceps while claiming it was all in name of God.
On occasion, a few of these Biblical films were genuinely memorable: “David and Bathsheba,” “The Robe,” “The Ten Commandments” and “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew” are still widely regarded. However, for each of these, there were plenty of overripe, overcooked stinkers that created globs of celluloid blasphemy from their incompetence and exploitative nature.
Typical of these Good Book/Bad Movie cases was “David and Goliath.” Filmed in Italy during the height of that country’s glut of sword-and-sandal cheapjack epics, the film boasts a screenplay that was “freely adapted from the Bible.” This was actually an adaptation that took freedom to new borders, as witnessed by such inane dialogue as “Goliath, where art thou?” and “Why are thou in thy quarters?” Yeah, look that up in your Gideon’s Bible!
“David and Goliath” takes place during the rule of old and seemingly mad King Saul. This monarch is played by Orson Welles, who was already losing his battle of the bulge. Clothed in crimson robes and a bogus beard, Welles’ King Saul looks more like Santa Claus with an advance case of gonorrhea than an ancient Judean monarch. King Saul is terrified of the prophet Samuel, who hobbles into his court to declare that Saul’s sissy sons will not inherit the throne. Instead, Samuel declares the new ruler will come from outside the royal court.
Cue David, the hunky shepherd who practices his slingshot swinging while keeping an eye to the sheep. David is played by one Ivo Payer, a blonde haired/blue eyed Croatian actor who stands out among the typical Judean shepherds. Mr. Payer also has an aversion to clothing – he shows up on screen without a shirt, offering ample display of his well-muscled torso (David seemed to have been sneaking in some creatine-fueled workouts when he wasn’t ankle-deep in sheep s**t).
David is perfectly happy flexing his pecs and watching his rams make an ewe turn until his girlfriend is struck dead by a bolt of lightning. After this tragedy, old Samuel turns up urging him to go to Jerusalem to seek his fortune and his crown. And he does.
Meanwhile, the Philistine king decides it is time to make war against fat old King Saul. The Philistine monarch seems to have a bodybuilder fetish – his royal court is populated with musclemen who do nothing but stand around in leather tongs holding torches in the air. (If these films are any indication, the world of the Bible was populated with men who would’ve fit in perfectly within the pages of Flex Magazine.)
In any event, the Philistines have a secret weapon to do their battle: a giant named Goliath. And what a giant he is! This humongous, hirsute creature can lift men by their throats and toss them around like rag dolls. But Goliath turns to melted pudding when dancing girls wiggle and jiggle for him (men are all alike, aren’t they?).
David turns up in Jerusalem and makes a scene by purchasing two slaves and setting them free in the open market outside of King Saul’s court. He then makes an impassioned speech about the impotency of King Saul’s reign. The local priests, wearing hats resembling giant lightbulbs, give David sanctuary when the monarch’s soldiers try to arrest him. King Saul, however, recognizes David’s intelligence and makes him a guest in the royal court.
Eventually, the gals in the court of King Saul admire David’s morals (not to mention his muscles). David eventually leads the local militia against the Philistines and goes mano-a-mano against Goliath. The actual confrontation takes a grand total of five minutes, with Goliath standing perfectly still while David fatally bonks him. After Goliath is killed and the Philistines run away, King Saul recognizes David as his heir and gives him one of his daughters so he can work his love-muscle and bang out a new royal lineage.
“David and Goliath” is difficult to appreciate since it was only released in America in a dubbed version – maybe the film was better in its original Italian edition. Even the New York Times, in its review of the film’s premiere, noted sourly how “some stiff Italian pantomimists fight a losing battle with their enthusiastic vocal counterparts, who spout shrill Americanese on the soundtrack.” Even Orson Welles was out of sync – performing in Italian while dubbing his own lines in English. Said the New York Times: “Only a lipreader could tell what the formidable Mr. Welles was actually saying to the camera, but it looked to us as if he were expressing his opinion of the picture, in no uncertain terms.”
“David and Goliath” was always something of an embarrassment to Welles, who made the film at a period when he was trekking amidst inane European productions for quickie acting roles that would pay him enough to self-finance his own movies. Welles would later express shock that the film actually played in America, and he appeased a belligerent Peter Bogdanovich (interviewing him for “Ths is Orson Welles”) by lamely agreeing to Bogdanovich’s insistence that he directed a couple of the shots in “David and Goliath” where he appeared. There is no independent verification that Welles offered any behind-the-camera instructions for this film, which actually had two directors (the Hungarian-born French filmmaker Richard Pottier and Italian hack helmer Ferdinando Baldi) – and the clumsy scenes featuring Welles are clearly not typical of the Welles filmmaking canon.
Welles was not the only English-speaking actor in this film – Irish performer Hilton Edwards, an occasional Welles collaborator (he played Brabatino in Welles’ film of “Othello”) played the prophet Samuel. But Edwards’ performance was obviously dubbed by another performer, and the actor himself had his identity subverted in credits listing him as “Edward Hilton.”
The most interesting actor, however, was Goliath – a role played by someone named Kronos. He was apparently an Italian circus giant with no previous acting experience. In the film, Goliath is photographed mostly in long shots (which were easier to disguise the bulky bodysuit fitted on Kronos) or in tight close-ups (which show Kronos guffawing and scowling like a hammy uncle making faces for a home movie). “David and Goliath” was his first movie – the 1962 “The Giant of Metropolis” was his second and last.
“David and Goliath” was shot in 1959 and turned up in America in 1961 via Allied Artists (the one-time Monogram Pictures). The film was actually produced by something called Beaver-Champion Productions, which sounds more appropriate for Linda Lovelace movies than Orson Welles flicks. The movie played on a double bill with the World War II adventure “Armored Command” starring washed-up MGM singing star Howard Keel and a trio of up-and-coming young actors: Burt Reynolds, Tina Louise and Earl Holliman. This one-two punch didn’t wow audiences.
Allied Artists didn’t bother holding the rights to “David and Goliath,” and it eventually fell into the public domain. The videos and DVDs circulating of the movie originate from lousy dupes of 16mm prints – the original Eastman Color is usually faded and the picture is frequently scratchy. Only the presence of Orson Welles makes it viable today – otherwise, it would barely find an audience outside of undemanding Christian bookstores.
“David and Goliath” proves that the Bible may be the source of profound wisdom, but it isn’t necessarily a great source for movies. Where are the Philistines when you really need them?