MUSCLE MEN | Offscreen
The "muscle men" first emerged at the end of the 1950s to the mid-1960s when the Italian peplum or sword-and-sandal genre achieved international success. American and British muscle-bound actors such as Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott, Reg Park, Gordon Mitchell, and Mark Forest donned loincloths, flexed their biceps, crossed their swords, and battled various armies and monsters in epic widescreen spectacles.
In Maciste, l'eroe piu grande del mondo, the titular hero confronts the malevolent Babylonians. It stands out as one of the best sword-and-sandal adventures due to its above-average budget, impressive action scenes, and the energetic, charismatic performance of the robust Mark Forest. The very high production rate in the Italian film industry did not always come with large budgets, and over time, the genre produced more campy films than genuine classics.
It wasn't until the 1980s that muscle-bound heroes shamelessly returned to the forefront, with figures like Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren becoming profitable money machines known for superhuman feats and monosyllabic one-liners. With Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan The Barbarian from 1982, the muscular hero of the sword-and-sandal film seemed rehabilitated, although often darker, more violent, and sleazier than their historical predecessors.
The short cycle of sword and sorcery films, including a series of Italian rip-offs, reached its peak—or nadir—in 1987 with The Barbarians, a co-production with Italy by the legendary Cannon studio. Directed by Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust), featuring animatronics (a werewolf, a dragon, and swamp creatures), and starring the burly bodybuilder twins David and Peter Paul (The Barbarian Brothers).
The heroic strongman Maciste (known as Goliath in this dubbed version) defends a small kingdom against invading Babylonians in this ambitious sword-and-sandal adventure that showcases impressive chariot races and naval battle scenes.