Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Jane Powell, Steve Reeves and Edmund Purdom
ATHENA (1954). Director: Richard Thorpe.

Athena Mulvain (Jane Powell) and sister Minerva (Debbie Reynolds) -- two of several siblings -- belong to a family of health nuts, vegetarians, numerologists, and body builders run by Grandpa (Louis Calhern) and Grandma (Evelyn Varden). Grandpa is seventy-eight but can swing around the parallel bars with ease. Athena and Minerva find themselves falling for men who don't quite believe in the same things they do, with the former setting her cap for Adam Shaw (Edmund Purdom), a lawyer running for Congress; and Minerva becoming involved with boyish crooner Johnny Nyle (Vic Damone). Both women already have highly muscular boyfriends, Ed (Steve Reeves) and Bill (Richard Sabre), both of whom compete in the Mr. Universe contest at the end of the movie; and Adam has a sophisticated fiancee named Beth (Linda Christian). Will true love win out in the end, or will Adam and Johnny find themselves in some crushing body blocks? Athena is a very silly and kitschy musical with some pleasant songs by Martin and Blane, the best of which is "Love Can Change the Stars," well-warbled by Powell. Powell also does a creditable job with an aria from Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment." Obviously wealthy, the Mulvain family come off at first as free-spirited non-conformists who are at one with the earth and all that, but in one of the better scenes Adam tells Grandpa that they are actually intolerant of (indeed obnoxious toward) others who don't think as they do. Athena is typical of so many movies in which supposedly nice people simply decide they want someone for themselves and don't give a damn for the fact that they are already involved with someone else. The actors in this are all good, but Louis Calhern, as he often did, gives the best performance, and there are notable turns from Kathleen Freeman as Adam's secretary and Ray Collins as a political associate.  Calhern and Collins appeared together in Invitation. Steve Reeves is so handsome it's a wonder he ever bothered with the beard that he wore for most of his career. He was a real-life Mr. America and Mr. Universe, and his American career could have been developed, but he didn't want to slim  down the muscles for the role in Samson and Delilah that was eventually given to Victor Mature. Reeves became a name after the Italian Hercules became a surprise hit, and he was reportedly offered the role of James Bond in Dr. No but turned it down. In all but two films, Reeve's excellent voice was dubbed. NOTE: The body builders of the fifties and sixties were a different breed from what you see today, typified by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose musculature is so overdone that he resembles something that was mutated in an H-bomb explosion. Steve Reeves had a great physique but he was in no way grotesque.

Verdict: The script is rather annoying, but there are some pleasant moments and performances. **1/2.

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