FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, sociological*
DAVID AND GOLIATH was made during the height of Italy's *peplum* craze, and in many scenes does resemble one of those action-adventure flicks more than one of the equally-popular Biblical-drama films, such as THE SILVER CHALICE and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. Arguably, the 1960 film holds together a little better in dramatic terms than many Bible-epics, possibly because the script rewrites religious canon for the sake of showing how the warrior-shepherd David (Ivo Payer) assumes the mantle of Israelite kingship from the older, unpopular monarch Saul (Orson Welles).
I've seen many reviews assert that Welles' Saul is the best aspect of the film, but I found it an unexceptional, one-note performance-- certainly a result of the script, which gave Welles nothing with which to work. In contrast, though star Ivo Payer doesn't set any worlds on fire, his David at least does have to show more than a single emotion-- joy as he romances his shepherd-fiancee, sorrow when she's apparently taken from him by a manipulative God (who zaps her with lightning so David will give up the shepherd's life), and righteous fury when he goes to Jerusalem and sees the people being tyrannized by the "false liberties" of Saul's reign.
If it weren't for that very improbable lightning-strike-- which isn't in the Biblical tale of David, though it bears some comparison to the story of Job-- I would probably deem DAVID an uncanny film like SILVER CHALICE. As in that film there are prophets claiming to know the word of God-- in DAVID, it's the soothsayer Samuel-- but no other miracles take place, though the Ark of the Covenant is referenced. (Saul is blamed here, though not in scripture, for losing the artifact to the evil Philistines.)
The source of the film's uncanny vibe is inevitably Goliath, the nine-foot-tall giant who comes to work for Israel's enemies. One of the film's best scenes paints him as something of a Cyclops, when a weaselly go-between seeks out Goliath within a huge cave in order to gain his services for the Philistines. I was unable to find out the actual height of the actor playing Goliath, a circus giant named Aldo Pedinotti, but going on the film's use of forced perspective I presume he was something less than nine feet high. Since the film's hero is a lithe but not bulky specimen of masculinity, Goliath gets to fill in as the film's "muscleman," lifting a huge stone that only the legendary Samson was ever able to lift before.
The filmmakers apparently wanted their David to be more of a firebrand than the standard Biblical image, since upon arriving in Jerusalem he loudly expresses his disapproval of seeing Saul's enemies publicly tortured, another scene present nowhere in the Bible. There's a tiny suggestion that David is also the harbinger of a more civilized mode of governance, as there's a line about letting the people rule themselves-- but this sociological theme is not developed, any more than the psychological relationship between the Old King and the Young Blade who's come to replace him. In the end, after David has conquered Goliath and returns in triumph, Saul even comes to David's rescue against a hidden conspirator-- also not in the Bible.
The film's least interesting scene is without a doubt the "fight" between the shepherd and his titanic adversary. While it would have been impossible to prevent the majority of viewers from knowing the outcome in advance, the directors might have chosen some more interesting angles from which to shoot the short encounter. Though it's not much of a battle, Goliath's defeat leads to the military downfall of the Philistines in a general rout, thus supplying more action for the viewer and putting the film more firmly in the combative mode.
Like many peplum-films, DAVID AND GOLIATH also sports two females, one good and one bad, and both strikingly gorgeous.