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TCM Spotlight: Sword and Sandal
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Damon and Pythias

A cut above the average Italian sword 'n' sandal release is 1962's Damon and Pythias, which was co-written and co-produced by Hollywood veteran Samuel Marx and distributed by MGM. TV star Guy Williams (Zorro, Lost in Space) and lesser-known TV actor Don Burnett head an otherwise all-Italian cast in a faithful adaptation of a Greek legend from the fourth century B.C. Departing from the norm of action dramas about evil rulers and muscular heroes, Pythias (Don Burnett) comes to Syracuse to ask Arcanos (Andrea Bosic) to return with him to Athens to teach his Pythagorean philosophy of the brotherhood of man. Pythias hires an outlaw, Damon (Guy Williams) to help smuggle Arcanos out, but is instead captured by the tyrant King Dionysius (Arnoldo Foa;), accused of fomenting rebellion and sentenced to death. Pythias is permitted leave to settle his affairs and bid farewell to his loved ones, but only after Damon offers to serve as a hostage to guarantee his return. As the day of execution nears Dionysius seizes upon Pythias' no-show as proof that there is no such thing as a brotherhood of man. The critics of the Monthly Film Bulletin habitually found favor with Italian genre films, and praised Damon and Pythias for doing without mass battles, gruesome tortures or gladiatorial combat. Even dismissive American critics noted the fine cinematography of Aldo Tonti, the music of Angelo Francesco Lavagnino and the beauty of actresses Ilaria Occhini, Liana Orfei and Maria Berti. They also noted the fine direction of Hollywood veteran Curtis Bernhardt, who uses no gratuitous shocks or violence, and stages the suspenseful execution scene before a setting sun.

By Glenn Erickson

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