Hercules Unchained (1959)

Hercules Unchained (1959)‘Polinices at the Gates of Thebes! lole! I have been tricked by the gods! 

Hercules returns home to Thebes accompanied by his new bride lole and Ulysses, the son of a friend. But the old king has abdicated and his two sons are contesting the throne. The mad Eteocles is in possession, but Polinices plans to overthrow him using foreign mercenaries.

After the worldwide success of ‘Hercules’ (1957) kickstarted the entire ‘sword and sandal’ genre, a direct sequel was really an inevitability. Stars Steve Reeves and Sylvia Koscina returned, along with director Pietro Francisci, who also worked on a script that was ‘freely adapted’ from some more of the legendary hero’s original exploits. Unfortunately, the results are decidedly mixed.

The original ‘Hercules’ (1957) was a tatty, ragbag of legendary bits and pieces that mostly revolved around the great man’s labours, but here we get virtually no mythology at all!  There is a fight with a ‘giant’ and a mysterious Queen who uses the ‘waters of forgetfulness’ to snare her lovers, but that’s about it. What we get instead is a fairly dull and generic drama, which lacks action or creative story developments to make it memorable.

Hercules Unchained (1959)

‘Seconds out, Round One!’

The fight with the ‘giant’ pits Reeves against former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Primo Carnera, in the last role of his brief film career. Camera might have been 6′ 6″ but l’m not sure that actually qualifies him as a giant. It was always alleged that Carnera was backed by the mob in his boxing days, and several books, and subsequent films, were loosely based on his life, including Budd Schulberg’s ‘The Harder They Fall’, which became Humphrey Bogart’s final movie.

After his wrestling match with Carnera and a rather disappointing homecoming involving nutbag Eteocles (Sergio Fantoni) and his pet tigers, the big guy goes off to broker peace with Polinices, rather stupidly leaving Koscina behind. On the way, he ends up in the clutches of sexy Queen Onfale (Sylvia Lopez) who keeps him doped up on the local water which makes him lose his memory. She normally has her lovers killed and then mummified by some rogue Egyptians(!) but, of course, she falls for the big lummox instead and, understandably, he’s quite happy with the whole idea. Unfortunately, pesky Ulysses puts his oar in and spoils the party. What a killjoy.

Then it’s back to quickly wrap up the main story with some swordplay and a battle at the gates of Thebes. The rival brothers fight a duel for the throne, Hercules pulls over some siege towers, and Koscina resists the advances of the horny leader of the evil mercenaries. The battle is quite impressively staged but it’s a little brief and it can’t atone for the long, dull build up. Hercules does fight the tigers, but it’s really left to Fantoni chewing the scenery, and the smouldering Lopez to keep things afloat. Sadly, Lopez was dead within a year after being diagnosed with leukemia.

Mario Bava worked on the film as the assistant director, lighting director and SFX director. He was only a year away from his full directorial debut on ‘The Mask of Satan’/‘Black Sunday‘ (1960), the horror classic with Barbara Steele that made his name. Two years after that he delivered what remains easily the best Hercules film ever made; ‘Hercules ln The Haunted World’ (1962). This effort from Francisci pales in comparison to that.

Unremarkable ‘sword and sandal’ shenanigans with barely a whiff of sorcery or the machinations of the gods.

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