So all the cool kids were in Monterey, apparently all of them speaking as well as blogging. Ah well, I was never one of the cool kids. (And if I heard Abram claiming DVDs are going to disappear in some near-term future, I’d probably laugh loud enough to interrupt the keynote, so it’s just as well…)
Meanwhile, I’ve been walking my way through Thebes and nearby locations, somehow always uphill at a 4 to 5.5 degree grade, accompanied by four different hunks all claiming to be Hercules.
[Yes, I deviated from the Sci-Fi/TV-Movie alternation: I didn't want to finish the first half of each 50-pack in the same month for what may or may not be good reasons. Fortunately, these were actually pretty well made flicks...if not in any way science fiction.]
So here’s what I’ve written for a future issue of Cites & Insights:
Thereâ€™s a theme to this disc: Hercules! Legendary strong man, son of Zeus, beefcake for the ages, played by a different mortal in each of these moviesâ€”four from some 40 Italian and Italian-French productions with titles including â€œErcoleâ€ or â€œMacisteâ€ (son of Hercules?) or â€œSansonâ€ (Samson, but whoâ€™s counting?), not including all the TV movies and the Disney cartoon. (Some of the â€œMacisteâ€ are actually son or sons of Hercules, and I see a couple of those coming up in later discs.)
These movies have a lot in common besides Hercules as protagonist. Theyâ€™re all color. Theyâ€™re all Italian. They all feature evil or at least semi-evil (and sometimes deranged) women rulers or co-rulers who swoon over Hercules (and in at least two cases try to keep him around through drugs). They all have lots of young women in short â€œHelleneâ€/Theban/whatever outfits to match the lightly-clad Hercules and sometimes groups of other hunks.
Oh, and theyâ€™re all fairly well made movies. Sure, theyâ€™re fodder for MST3K (at least two of these four were on that show). Sure, the plots make as much sense as most mythical tales, even less than some. But they have good production valuesâ€”sometimes remarkably good production valuesâ€”and good cinematography, staging, and the rest. These are legitimate B flicks. Hear that snap and crunch? The snap is the thread of connection to â€œSci-Fiâ€ at least breaking completely free. The crunch is Hercules tossing huge statues into groups of attackers or otherwise showing his superhuman strength. (Well, why not? Heâ€™s born of gods. What do you expect?)
All in all, decent flicksâ€”but theyâ€™re not science fiction by any stretch.
Hercules Against the Moon Men, 1964, color, Giacomo Gentilomo (dir.), Sergio Cianti (â€œAlan Steelâ€) as Hercules, original title Maciste e la regina di Samar (Italian-French production). 1:30 [1:27]
Hereâ€™s an oddity: From the opening titles, you might think this was black and white. Itâ€™s not, although the colorâ€™s a little faded. More damage than in the other three films, but still a watchable print. The plot involves the city of Samar, where children are being sacrificed to some mountainâ€”which is where the moon men live, and they have an alliance with the evil queen. Too much plot, and for some reason the U.S. agents felt it necessary to have an â€œAmericanâ€ star, thus â€œAlan Steelâ€ for the actor Sergio Cianti. I give it $0.75, mostly because the printâ€™s damaged.
Hercules and the Captive Women, 1961, color, Vittorio Cottafavi (dir.), Reg Park as Hercules, original title Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (Italian production). 1:41 (original), 1:33 (U.S.). [1:34]
Too bad they didnâ€™t translate the Italian title, since this is really about Atlantisâ€”and now we know how that island disappeared! You see, Hercules, setting from Thebes for some reason, kills a demon/demigod, thus freeing a captive woman (singular: thereâ€™s only one) whoâ€™s been partly trapped inside rock, and they go back to Atlantis, whereâ€¦oh, never mind. The immortal race of Atlantis folk all look the same (at least the men), they want to be shrouded in fog, they mistreat regular folks, and thanks to Hercules, the whole island gets blown up and deep-sixed. Good color, some print damage, certainly watchable. $1.
Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon, 1964, color, Domenico Paolella (dir.), Peter Lupus (â€œRock Stevensâ€) as Hercules, original title Ercole contro I tiranni di Babilonia (Italian production). 1:30 (orig.), 1:26 (U.S.) [1:25]
Heâ€™s been hanging out, preventing Babylonian troops from capturing even more slaves to take back to their empire, ruled by two brothers and a sister (all of them a bit deranged). He finds that the queen of the Hellenes has been captured, so off he goes to the rescue. The tyrants donâ€™t know sheâ€™s one of the slaves; lots of stuff ensues; the climax involves the highly probable historic scenario that the female ruler has had all the big buildings in downtown Babylon attached by chains to a huge underground winch, so that, at her command, a hundred slaves can turn the winch, thus destroying Babylon so she can rule from the other major city. Need I say that Hercules has the strength of a hundred? Peter Lupus is probably the best actor of the four Hercules, and this episode may be the least over-the-top in acting in general. $1.25.
Hercules Unchained, 1959, color, Pietro Francisci (dir.), Steve Reeves as Hercules, Primo Carnera, original title Ercole e la regina di Lidia (Italian-French production). 1:34 (original), 1:45 (U.S.) [1:36]
This seems like the biggest production of the four, and the printâ€™s in the best shape. This time, Thebes has problems because King Oedipus is blind and in exile and his sons, who are supposed to alternate on the throne, have problems: The first on the throne is crazy as a loon and wonâ€™t yield power. Somehow, Hercules ends up on a diplomatic mission, then drinks from the well of forgetfulness and is seduced by Queen Omphaleâ€”who is wearing a catsuit in the opening sequence, remarkable for a film set in ancient times. Lots of plot, and this time Hercules is married and his new wife is in danger. (Primo Carnera? Heavyweight champion, and even bigger than Steve Reeves; heâ€™s in the movie for maybe two minutes, but it was his last hurrah.) Spectacular. $1.