See the seductive Amazons lure men to voluptuous revels and violent deaths! SEE the heroic Hercules rip down the Age of Orgy's lavish palace of lustful pleasure! SEE the Mightiest of Men fight the Mightiest of Beasts, the killer Cretan Bull! SEE Hercules fight off the savage love-starved Amazon women! SEE the seductive Amazons lure men to voluptuous revels and violent deaths! SEE the powerful Hercules crush the savage ape-men who guard the shrine of the Golden Fleece!
Running Time: 107 Minutes
MPAA Ratings: PG
When talking about the muscleman movies of the 1950s and '60s one has to acknowledge that the original Hercules is the granddaddy of them all. The first and (I've heard it argued) the best of the Italian-made Sword & Sandal films, it was one of those mega-hits that changes films for years to come by creating an entire genre that would end up lasting a surprisingly long time, even resurfacing occasionally to please new generations of filmgoers (think Gladiator). As a big fan of the dozens of the peplum made in this movie's wake I think this is certainly one of the best, even if I'm not sure I'd call it the greatest of its type. It's a wonderful tale and, as it set the standard for everything that followed, is essential viewing for fans of fantasy films or anyone just looking for an enjoyable quest story. It's episodic and stutteringly paced at times, but its scope and grand scale offer what most movies of this genre do very well: present a fun "boy's adventure" tale with great feats of daring, harrowing escapes, a chaste love interest and a happy ending. At the very least it serves a great double feature with Harry hausen's Jason and the Argonauts (1963) for a look at different approaches to the same story.
Nothing more than a pared down retelling of the Jason legend with Hercules (Steve Reeves) made the main character, the film slowly builds to the epic journey to find the Golden Fleece. As the film begins we see Hercules save Princess Iole (Sylva Koscina), the daughter of the current king of Jalco, from going over a cliff in her runaway chariot. He was en route to Jalco at King Pelias' (Ivo Garrani) request to train both his army and his obnoxious son Iphitus (Mimmo Palmara) in the ways of war. The princess informs Hercules about the details of the current state of political upheaval in Jalco. After the previous king was killed under questionable circumstances, Jason, the rightful heir to the throne of Jalco, was forced into hiding so that the king's brother Pelias could usurp control of the city for himself. Gone missing along with Jason is the fabled Golden Fleece, symbol of prosperity and success for the country. In recent years the waning fortunes of Jalco have made times difficult. There is a growing percentage of the population that believes a possible reason for this bad turn of luck is that King Pelias murdered his brother and the missing Fleece adds to the increasing unrest. Making the king more nervous is a prophecy from the oracle Sybil (Lidia Alfonsi). She foretells that a man will come to Jalco wearing only one sandal, and that this man will bring doom to Pelias.
Curious as to who really killed the previous king, Hercules nevertheless sets about teaching the enthusiastic men of Jalco the skills they'll need to be fighting men. They are very responsive to his tutelage except for Iphitus, who proves himself to be a pompous, spoiled ass. Unable to best young Ulysses in an archery contest, he challenges Hercules to a test of skill and runs off when he loses. Hercules should've smacked the boy around to teach him manners and courtesy but his growing affection for his sister Iole tempers his actions.
At this point the film seeks to include one of the legendary Twelve Labors of Hercules into the story. The Nemedian Lion is reported to be attacking people in an outlying area so Hercules rushes off to stop it. But the vain Iphitus follows and, although Herc kills the beast, the king's son and heir is fatally wounded by it. Pelias is crushed by this and even though he fears Hercules he is pushed by a plotting subordinate (Arturo Dominici, Black Sunday) to punish the demigod in some way as revenge. The king banishes him from Jalco until he fights the Cretan Bull — another of the Twelve Labors. When Herc turns to Iole for sympathy, the weeping girl rejects him.
A confused Hercules leaves the city and goes to visit the Sybil for answers. Expressing his frustration at his inability to strongly feel the higher emotions of love or hate, he seeks a way to become more like the people he lives amongst. Cursing his birthright, he renounces he is immortality and sets off with just the strength of a mortal man to fulfill his destiny. Of course, this makes offing that big bull pretty damned hard! And after a rough day kicking bull butt Herc stumbles across the now grown-to-manhood Jason (Fabrizio Mioni) just as Chiron, his last protector, dies. Chiron explains that Jason must reclaim the Golden Fleece and the throne of his murdered father to set things right. Hercules pledges to help the young man in his quest with both of them urged on by Chiron's revelation that the name of the person who killed Jason's father is written on the Fleece.
From here on the adventure kicks into high gear with fights, nefarious plotting and mythological monsters being the order of the day. The only slow spot in the second half of the story is the stretch on the isle of the Amazons but even with the lady's sadly modest costumes this is a diverting interlude. Having watched a fair number of peplum over the years I can see how this film really did set both the tone and structure for what followed. Very much a film of separate tales strung loosely together it still manages to keep its momentum (most of the time) and the script weaves just enough of the legend of Hercules in to make it feel like a larger than life myth. This is the film that made Steve Reeves a star and it's easy to see why. Filling the role of Hercules wonderfully, Reeves comes off as a fierce warrior comfortable with the weapons of war as well as a confused man striving to fit in with people he is naturally superior to. He looks great with a muscular build that makes him stand out without being overly large and bulky. He looks realistic and at the same time towers over all the other muscular men surrounding him. I began to wonder if at times he wasn't somehow being photographed in some special way to make him look so spectacular. This might not be too off the mark when you realize Mario Bava was responsible for the lighting and special effects in the film. Still a couple of years away from assuming the director's chair for his own Hercules movie (the fantastic Hercules in the Haunted World), Bava instills amazing mood and texture into nearly every scene. His trademark colored lighting is in evidence much of the time, with Herc's prophetic scene with Sybil being a great example of set design and skillful lighting creating a masterful piece of cinema. (This film was followed by a direct sequel, Hercules Unchained, in 1959.)
One day a friend of mine came to me and said that he brings a great classics. I was ignoring him because I thought that he brought a pile of Z-production films. Suddenly I saw an attractive poster with Steve and ,when I first saw the movie I was charmed by Steves performances. Imagine how girls in 50s reacted on his deep voice. In my opinion there is a lack of quality in script , but nice scenography , good cast and music have made movie that you can watch hundred times and you still wont be bored. I have noticed a couple of mistakes but I still think that movie is great. As all movies from that time this one also poses a great spirit which now-days movies don't... (Written by Vladimir Jaksic)
CAST & CREW:
Gianna Maria Canale
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