The Giants of Thessaly (1960)

a.k.a. - I giganti della Tessaglia (Gli argonauti) (ITA)

The Argonauts set sail in Riccardo Freda's Adventure Peplum. VCI US R0 DVD.

The Film

In Thessaly, a series of natural disasters stem from the loss of the golden fleece given to them by Zeus. King Jason sets off to get the fleece back leaving his cousin Adrasto in charge. Jason and his crew land on a remote island in desperate need of food and water, but Jason's crew are turned into sheep by a witch. Meanwhile in Thessaly, Adrasto has usurped his absent rival on the throne. Jason is forced to fight against a cyclops before he finally approaches the fleece, but his on his return home he will have to confront Adrasto...

The storyline, co-written by director Riccardo Freda, is an adaptation of Apollonius Rhodius' 3rd Century epic poem, made three years before the better known American production with its iconic special effects work by Ray Harryhausen. Unfortunately the Italian production is never able to compare to its American cousin. The script for Giants of Thessaly jumps straight into the storyline with Jason and his crew already departed, giving us only a very brief introduction to explain the situation - from then onwards the film feels very episodic with a number of individual chapters concerning those in Thessaly and the crew of the ship, many of which are quite slowly paced and drag on.

The story takes its main source from Argonautica and the ship-board crew includes several of the characters from the poem (with the notable exception of Hercules) although few of these are built up into more than mere name checks with the exception of Orpheus who gets some characterisation but despite appearing several times, does not get to perform his most heroic role from the original story - his saving of the crew from the sirens' song. Indeed, despite the rich potential in Rhodius' work, most of the script is invented for the film, giving a number of not particularly exciting segments and putting rather too much emphasis on the usurping Adrasto back in Thessaly, a rather cliché Peplum storyline. One of the few remaining elements from the poem is the story of Queen Hypsipyle of Lemnos, an island of women who have killed their menfolk and try and lure Jason's crew, which is mixed with the story of Circe, the witch from Homer's Odyssey who turns half of his crew into sheep. Even the climactic capture of the fleece is tiresome with Jason climbing an excessively large wall and then an even larger statue, but the film does at least provide an action packed conclusion that makes up for a lot of its earlier flaws.

Riccardo Freda takes the director's credit, although like a lot of his films it is hard to tell if he really was behind the camera throughout. The production is clearly not blessed with the budget of some of the better Pepla and the film suffers as a result. The episodic style of the storyline also seems to apply to the editing, with scenes quickly jumping with little continuity (one incredibly bizarre, near-montage sequence has the ship being battered in a storm and then coming ablaze before seeming completely fine in the next shot). The few special effects shots are done well and although not up to Harryhausen's gorgeous claymation, a sequence where Jason fights a man-in-a-suit monster is not as mirth inducing as it might have proved to be. One aspect that certainly could not be improved is Carlo Rustichelli's stunning choral score that sounds like it should be backing a real epic and certainly helps to boost the film considerably.

With no requirement for a bulky hero (since Hercules is mysteriously missing from the story), top billing goes instead to Jason played by Swiss theatrical actor Roland Carey - his performance is certainly good and perhaps too good for a genre more used to wooden heros and over-the-top villains, making him seem like he is in the wrong film. A few familiar faces appear in the rest of the cast including Raf Baldassarre (Blindman (1971)) and Massimo Girotti (Teorema (1968)).

Compared to the bulk of the Peplum adventures, Giants of Thessaly is an average example but it simply cannot stand up against Don Chaffey's highly enjoyable 1963 film, or even the Argonauts elements of Peplum landmark Le Fatiche di Ercole (1958), lacking the effective pacing and character of these films. Of interest to Peplum fans but not generally recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? No-one well known.
Directed by anyone interesting? Riccardo Freda - a regular contributor to the Peplum genre, including Maciste alla corte del Gran Khan (1961), he is best known for his gothic horror work, giving Mario Bava his first directoral role on I vampiri (1956).
Any gore or violence ? A couple of scenes with blood, nothing strong
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? Peplum fans might enjoy this, but it is one of the genre's weaker examples.

Visuals Cropped - aprox. 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen (OAR is likely to be 2.35:1). Colour
The print is of a generally poor quality, with scratches and damage throughout, along with a general lack of detail, particularly in the very dark night scenes. Frequent pan and scanning does keep the action in focus but also shows just how much is being lost.
Audio English mono
Subtitles None
Extras This disc includes:
  • VCI Peplum trailer reel.
More extra features are included on the disc for the other included title, Sins of Rome.
Availability Available only as a double-disc release, with Freda's earlier, Sins of Rome.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Other regions? Various other 'public domain' releases in the US, none reported to have a better print. Also available in the Italian "Peplum Collection - Box 3" on the Elle U label - Italian audio only. The print quality of these release is unknown, but images on the internet show that there is a fully restored print available:
Cuts? Cut status unknown. The print used is English language and films were routinely re-edited during this period.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 1st March 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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