It’s 1962 and the Roman Empire is a brutal place where men struggle to prove their masculinity because the only fashion available to them is the mini skirt. The women, meanwhile, enjoy looking wistful and helpless whilst wearing the pants (under their robes) and killing the tyrants. No, it’s not some fabulous alternate universe, it’s an Italian sword and sandal film.
Richard Harrison is Darius, a well oiled, spastically shaped Gladiator who, upon winning his freedom, returns home to find his dad is dead and his lady being wooed by the patricidal cock who offed dear daddy. So, because director Pedro Lazaga admired The Magnificent Seven and The Seven Samurai so much, and had obviously read Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, Darius trots around roping in his gladiator buddies – until there are seven of them – to help him overthrow the nasty pa-killing, babe-stealing Hiarba.
Meanwhile, over in Athens, Philippides (Steve Reeves) is faced with the same sartorial problems. Yet, despite winning the entire Olympics all by himself, and being made leader of the sacred guard, he’d rather be a latter day Paris – a lover not a fighter. But Darius has other ideas. No, not Darius the gladiator – Gladiators 7 vs The Giant of Marathon isn’t that literal – but Darius the Persian, an ancient Saddam Hussein intent on owning Athens for its, um, olive oil… The Athenians, like the Kurds a decade ago, need the help of a more belligerent ally – Sparta – and only Philippides can unite the two, leading an army of men in nappies to defeat the Persians.
Reeves is a deadset legend who can suck his nipples in and ride a horse at the same time. So can Harrison for that matter, who (ahem) muscled in on Reeves’ territory in the great beefcake rush of the 60s. And while Harrison’s film is a better print, with marginally better sound – though it still plays like it’s been filtered through custard – Reeves got the better battle scenes, especially the bloody underwater ones which are still kinda gruesome, even by today’s standards. And the winner is… you and me, the sword and sandal fans, who get two dodgy but delightful romps through muddled mytho-history on the one disc.