• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Tuesday, February 11, 2014

    David e Golia (1959)

    The title may read David and Goliath, but really it's all about Orson Welles' Saul. It's unclear what possessed Welles - a director of sublime talent - to get involved in this film, where very little talent is on display, but nevertheless he did and his portrayal of the Israelite king is, unsurprisingly, the best thing in an otherwise forgettable movie. Welles' heavy, sweaty body evokes memories of his earlier role as corrupt cop Hank Quinlan in A Touch of Evil (1958). The impression of corruption and decay is only heightened by the cheap and poorly lit throne room set and the generally amateurish feel of the production as a whole.

    Whilst the vast majority of the film is set in the period before David becomes his national hero, the filmmakers nevertheless introduce the theme of Saul's jealousy for his one-day successor. It's not hard to see why. In contrast to the boyish figures that feature in many films about David here he is a full-blown, muscular adult. Whilst actor Ivo Payer is certainly shorter in stature than Goliath, he would be a match for many a man. Personally my feeling is that this is a little more realistic. The odds are still overwhelmingly in Goliath's favour, but David's subsequent military heroics make far greater sense.

    One of the most interesting things about this film is that it gives Goliath a backstory. Indeed all three of the major players are developed as characters. The film's early scenes keep the three in isolation working hard to help the audience connect with them and build a backstory. This casts Goliath in a particularly interesting light. His character is shown to be a loner, living outside normal society. His only "friend" is really seeking to sell his labour to the Philistine kings. This sense of isolation is heightened by the bold and unusual soundtrack when Goliath is on screen. The orchestral music that features for most of the film is replaced by more esoteric sounds such as the musical saw and the theremin. It evokes sci-fi / monster B-movies, and makes Goliath monstrous and further emphasising how he is different from normal people.

    Of all the films about David, this is the one that is most content to invent plot lines to flesh out the story and leading characters. David's first scene features his fictional girlfriend Egla who dies when she is struck by lightning. Later David visits Jerusalem (which in this film is already an Israelite city) and appalled by what he sees takes action and makes a speech against those exploiting others to make money. It's strongly reminiscent of the episode in the Gospels where Jesus turns over the tables in the temple. Abner and Saul's daughter Merab are also lovers and plot together against David, a scheme brought to an end in one of the closing scenes when Saul shoots his favourite commander with a bow and arrow. These elements so add a greater level of intrigue to the plot.

    The biggest downside of the film, in the English dub, at least, is the attempted use of King James English. Whilst it's not hard to understand - it feels a little like someone has just gone through the script with a checklist of modern English words that convert to 17th century English - it's not close enough to the King James Bible to sound authoritative or authentic. Instead it leaves the film feeling stilted and phony and whilst the melodramatic acting and cheap sets mean this was never going to achieve classic status, it does ruin what had the potential to be a cult favourite B-movie.



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