Giuditta e Oloferne (aka Head of a Tyrant) (1959)




Director:     Fernando Cerchio.

Starring:     Massimo Girotti (Holophernes),  Isabelle Corey (Judith),  Renato Baldini (Arbar),  Yvette Masson (Rispa),  Gianni Rizzo (Ozia),  Camillo Pilotto (Belial),  Lucia Banti (Servant Girl),  Ricardo Valle (Isaac),  Leonardo Botta (Gabriele),  Franco Balducci (Galaad),  Luigi Tosi (Iras),  Gabriele Antonini (Brother),  Daniela Rocca (Naomi),  Enzo Doria (Daniel). 

girl gives herself to cruel Assyrian tyrant who has conquered her city in order to overthrow him


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Judith is watching the sheep. Gabriele gives her a pretty necklace. She says he will become rich and famous if he follows his art. He tells her that he loves her. There are horsemen on top of the hill. The shepherds hide themselves.

Grandfather sends Gabriele out to warn their city.  The little boy runs out of his hiding place to retrieve a little lamb. An Assyrian shoots him with an arrow. Judith carries the dead child back to the settlement. Gabriele tells the leaders that there were at least eight or ten of the riders and they wore very bright red cloaks. He doesnít know what people they were, but one man, Josiah, does. He says they are the Assyrians from the River Tigris. That means they must be from the army of Holophernes. Another man says that this leader is just a legend. And why would they want to strike at their people? They are a relatively poor city and are at peace with everyone.

A messenger comes in to say that a platoon of cavalry is at the main gate of the city. The leader of the cavalry rides up to the gate with his men and asks to speak with their king. But they have no king. They are ruled by a council of elders. The leader says he will speak with the elders.  The strange men tell the elders that Holophernes will stay in their village for several days so that his men can rest in preparation for the battles they must fight in his march toward the conquest of the world. He requests their hospitality.

The elders are bitterly divided on whether to fight the invaders or let them in. The council leader says that the Assyrians are just far too powerful for them to fight. Holophernes and his army arrives. He comes in to speak with the council.

The spokesman says that the city of Bethulia through its show of friendship has made itself acceptable to become a part of the great Assyrian empire, the first of the cities of Judea. Nebuchadnezzar, the great emperor of Assyria, will be their sovereign. All their weapons must be turned in. And all their livestock and provisions must be made available to the Assyrian army. All must accept Ashur as the supreme god and adore his image. The leader of the council objects that they have their own god that they worship. The spokesman says there is only one law, the law of the Assyrians.

Josiah the merchant speaks in glowing terms of Assyria, so Holophernes makes Josiah the representative of his people. Josiah escorts Holophernes to his quarters. His wife has prepared the quarters for the Assyrian. Holophernes says his wife is beautiful, even worthy of their own city of Nineveh.

Many of the city residents stay indoors, so Holophernes has the people dragged out of their houses. They are then executed by the archers. The city residents respond by killing a few of the Assyrian soldiers with their bows and arrows.

They take into custody some of the city archers. They have been tortured but they have not talked. The Assyrian spokesman says the residents only have four days in which to turn over the other assassins. If on the morning of the fifth day the assassins have not been given up then the city residents will be killed and the city razed to the ground.

Holophernes asks the previous head of the council about the cityís "invisible" god who gives them the effrontery to rise in rebellion against the Assyrians. Holophernes asks why hasnít their god come to their assistance? He goes on to say that he will subjugate all of Judea, lay siege to the capital and destroy the temple of their god.

The city residents talk about the women currying favor with the Assyrians. If they could only get one of them with enough courage to get close enough to Holophernes with a dagger and kill him, she would be a saint to the people of Israel. Judith listens to the men talk and thinks about what they have said. She canít sleep.

Judith's brothers Isaac, Daniel and David say they are going to turn themselves in. But one man says they should gather weapons and fight and let that be a sign to the others to rebel.

Judith thinks of ways to get to Holophernes. And she thinks of the words of the men that the woman who kills Holophernes will be a saint, the greatest woman of all Israel. Judith asks her servant to help her kill Holophernes.

Gabriele sees Judith go to Holophernes and yells to stop her. She continues walking. The guards stop Gabriele from going any farther. Judith is searched and a dagger is found on her. She is thrown into a jail cell. Holophernes asks that she be brought to him. Judith is brought in and thrown at his feet. He is surprised to see that "she is only a girl". She wants to say something to Holophernes, but not in public. So everyone is cleared out. She says that she just wanted to sing and dance for him, the powerful ruler.

Judithís brothers and father are very worried for Judithís welfare. Judithís maid breaks down and tell Isaac that Judith went to kill Holophernes.

Judith dances for Holophernes and the others. At night her brothers try to free her from prison. They overpower the guards and get to the cell area, but Judith is in none of the cells. She has been placed in a large room by special order of Holophernes.

Her brothers are discovered and must run for their lives. They hide in the bushes. Holophernes comes into Judithís room. He was really impressed by her dancing. When he approaches her she shrinks from him. He says this proves that she wanted to kill him. He gives her his dagger. Holophernes says he should have killed her with the others. She replies that he should have done it. He kisses her and she starts to give in to him, but she pulls away crying and says: "I hate you."

Two of Judithís brothers and Gabrielle come to see Josiah. They want his help in freeing Judith. Josiah tells them not to worry. Judith knows how to take care of herself. She danced for Holophernes. The fellows leave, disgusted with Josiah. Rispa, the wife of Josiah, says now she knows that they are the ones who tried to kill Holphernes. She urges Josiah to denounce them. Josiah says he needs some proof of this, otherwise Judith will just get them released.

The Assyrians have a mongoose fight a cobra and bet on the outcome. The mongoose wins. Judith is repulsed by the display. Holophernes says thatís just life. He explains to Judith that he grew up in poverty and soon learned that force was the only law.

Gabriele comes to take Judith home. Holophernes says he will let both of them go. But Judith says she is staying. Gabriele grabs Holophernesís dagger and tries to kill him with it, but Holophernes overpowers him. Judith asks Holophernes to let him go. Holophernes says he lets both of them go and leaves.

Judith tell Gabriele that she has seen good in the Assyrian leader. She thinks itís her duty to stay near him and change him for the better. Judith believes that he will listen to her. She comes back to Holophernes. They kiss.

The brothers and their allies get weapons ready for their rebellion against the Assyrians. Josiahís spy comes in to speak to them. He asks to join the group for they are preparing for rebellion, are they not? The fellows laugh at the idea. They obviously do not trust the man.

Judith tells Holophernes that she loves him now.

The spy for Josiah catches the young brother of Judith smuggling arrows in bundles of fire wood. Josiah wants the boy to serve him, but the boy tells him that Josiah just makes him sick. Josiah starts to lash the boy to force him to tell him all about his smuggling. But the boyís brothers come in and save the lad. One of the men stabs Josiah with an arrow. He dies.

Holophernes puts a crown on Judithís head. He says now Judith is Holophernesís woman. But Judith says she could only truly love him if he was the type of man who would spare her people. She says he is powerful and can afford to have pity on others. A messenger tears Holophernes away from Judith. Alone she prays to her god to help Holophernes cultivate that goodness that is within him.

The news is that Josiah has been killed. There is also a messenger that has come from the Emperor. The message is that Holophernes should capture the capital of Egypt before the coming winter. Holophernes speaks of sparing the city residents, but his spokesperson finds this unacceptable. He must carry out his threat to kill all the inhabitants and raze the city. The woman of Judea has brought him to this. Hophernes says now the spokesperson has gone too far. But his defense is that all the soldiers know that Judith is special to him and has made an impact upon him. So Holophernes gives the order to repeat the threat to the entire city.

Holophernes tells Judith that he tried, but it was impossible. He tells her that the city will give up the assassins, they will be executed and the whole city will be saved. Holophernes wants to drink until he forgets the situation they are in. And he wants Judith to drink with him.  He asks if she still loves him and she says yes. He speaks of taking her home with him. Judith looks over at a sword.

The men of the rebellion ready themselves for the fight. In the morning Judith sees the Assyrian troops gathering together. She looks at the sword again as Holophernes sleeps. She goes over to it and takes it out of its sheath. She starts to cut him, but first gives him a kiss. She then takes up the sword and brings it down on his neck.

The Assyrians are frightened by lighting. Then they see Judith come out with the head of Holophernes in her right hand. The Assyrian troops run away. The rebellion starts thereby saving Judith from Assyrian revenge. The Assyrians get on their horses and ride away from the city.

Judith says she betrayed her people and asks to be killed. One of her brothers says itís not true. She says that she loved Holphernes then and she loves him now. She breaks down and cries. But the people come to her wanting to thank her for what she did. She tells them to go away. But she listens when her father calls out her name. He tells her that she has loved her people more than herself and that she has given them back their lives. Dad takes her home and tells her that she will not be alone. As they walk, women kneel down in front of her and kiss the hem of her dress.


It's an o.k. movie.  It's a B type movie with a low budget.  The quality of the picture is also not that great.  But it was o.k.  The film is based on a questionable part of the Old Testament of some of the religions in the Christian tradition.  It is based on the Book of Judith.   It is an interesting story, but would have fared better with a bigger budget.  The problem of the Book of Judith is that it contains a number of anachronisms. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


There is a  problem of mixing up the Assyrians and the Babylonians.  The Assyrians were from the upper part of the Tigris River area, while the Babylonians were from the southern part. 


20th to 15th century BC  --  Old Assyrian period where Assur controlled much of Upper Mesopotamia. 

1728-1686  --  emergence of Babylonia with reign of Hammurabi, who created an empire out of the territories of the former kingdoms of Sumer and Akkad.  Under his rule the city of Babylon obtained hegemony over Mesopotamia. 

1651 or 1595 or 1531 or 1499  -- possible dates of the sack of Babylon by the Hittite king Mursilis I.


15th to 10th century BC  --  Middle Assyrian period where Assyrian influence waned.  (Influence was subsequently regained in a series of conquests.)  In this Middle Assyrian period, Assyria was a minor kingdom of northern Mesopotamia, competing for dominance with Babylonia to the south.

 1133-1115  --  reign of Assyrian King Ashur-resh-ish I.   He defeated Nebuchadnezzar I of Babylon.

1115-1077  --  reign of Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser I who founded the first Assyrian Empire


911-612 BC  --  the Neo-Assyrian Empire expanded farther.

911  --  accession of Adad-nirari II.  Beginning with the campaigns of Adad-nirari II, Assyria became a great regional power, growing to be a serious threat to the 25th dynasty of Egypt. 

745-727 BC  --  with the reforms of Tiglath-Pileser III Assyria reached the peak of its power.

668-627 BC  --  for a few decades under Ashurbanipal, Assyria controlled all of the Fertile Crescent, including Egypt. 

627 BC --  death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal.

626 BC  --  Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar the Chaldean.

612 BC  --  the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Babylonians (with the help of the Medes). 

Assyria was defeated by the Neo-Babylonian and Persian expansion. 

605 - 562 BC  --  Nabopolassar's son Nebuchadnezzar II ruled for 43 years.  He once more made Babylon the mistress of the civilized world.  In the Bible in the books of Daniel and Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar II is mentioned.


Some within Orthodox Judaism say the Judith story relates to the Hellenistic period when Judea battled the Seleucid monarchs (a Hellenistic empire, 312-63 BC).  They also believe it to be part of the history that led up to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. 


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