Judge Daryl Loomis is always grasping for that spear.
World-famed story of friendship and fury!
The lesser-known Greek legend of Damon and Pythias, though seemingly with the perfect setting for a little sword and sandal fun, is a tale of friendship, and that fact helps to prevent the story from really delivering the peplum goods we expect from the genre.
In the 4th Century BC, Damon (Guy Williams, Captain Sinbad) is a rogue and a respected student of the Pythagorean philosophy, which envisioned a world where all are brothers and friends. When Pythias (Don Burnett, Northwest Passage), a new member of the group from Athens, arrives in town, Damon takes Pythias under his wing and they quickly become inseparable friends. When Pythias is accused of conspiring against the government, the tyrant Dionysius I (Arnoldo Foó, The Trial) sentences him to death. In order to humiliate him and discredit the philosophy, though, he allows Pythius to return to his home to settle his affairs, but forces Damon to take his place and die if he doesn't return. While everyone thinks Pythias will bolt, Damon has faith that loyalty and friendship will win the day.
This Italian/American coproduction is quite possibly the least entertaining example of the genre that I've ever seen. There are peplum movies that are way cheaper and way worse, but at least they aren't dull. Damon and Pythias strips everything fun that the genre has to offer, leaving the classical setting, the bad dubbing, and not much else. This is a story about friends being friends. Isn't that nice? Personally, I prefer betrayal and treachery, and am left unimpressed with all the loyalty and friendly smiles.
Since there's absolutely no question about the story's outcome, the only excitement to be had is in the Romans chasing our heroes, and they really aren't very exciting. The scenes are shot far too close in to give any sense of scale (a good thing, really; the farther out they zoom, the cheaper the movie looks), and the characters get away far too easily for there to be much tension.
While the movie is consistently boring, director Curtis Bernhardt (Possessed) brings a veteran presence to the production, which turned into one of his final films. He knows how to hide the cheapness of the sets and gets a decent performance out of Guy Williams who, like every other time he appeared in a movie or on television, is only there for his handsome face, while Don Burnett just looks lost.
Really, there's just one thing that needs to be said about how it fails its genre. I don't remember seeing a single bare chest in Damon and Pythias, male or female, and that's just wrong. There's a certain standard of operation here, and this is one piece that I demand. Where are my half-dressed slaves? Just shameful.
Damon and Pythias receives the standard Warner Archive treatment, with a bare bones DVD and a minimum of restoration. The film has received a number of shoddy releases over the years and this, certainly, is the best of them, but that isn't saying a whole lot. The 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer is fairly clean. The colors are relatively full, black levels are generally deep, and there isn't too much damage, but there's still a fair bit of dirt on the print. The sound isn't quite as strong, with a mono track that is muddy with a constant, but small bit of background noise. No extras on the disc, but that's expected from the label.
If you're looking for a sword and sandal movie with a nice message and absolutely nothing objectionable to show to your young children, Damon and Pythias is worth a look. If, however, you're looking for peplum that fits the seedy definition you're used to, then you can most definitely take a pass.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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