Two washed-up fight promoters overhear a scientist talking about his time machine. Seeing a chance to clean up by betting on future sports events, they use the device, only to end up in Ancient Greece where they tangle with sorcery and legendary heroes…
Silly, knockabout comedy which may not quite qualify as an outright spoof of the muscleman craze ignited by Steve Reeves’ ‘Hercules’ (1958) but certainly takes some affectionate jabs at the genre. It’s a measure of how popular these pictures
had become in such a short time that the Italian public was obviously prepared to accept their legendary heroes getting the same treatment that Abbott and Costello dished out to the iconic Universal Monsters in the post-war years.
Things are not going well for wheeler-dealers Rusteghin (Raimondo Vianello) and Comendatore (Mario Carotenuto). Local investors are more than a little unimpressed by their latest venture: an evening of midget wrestling. Facing mounting debts, and some angry dwarfs, the hapless team seem out of ideas until they overhear a conversation in the street about a time machine. A little housebreaking later and they’re going ‘back to the future’ to check out next week’s race results. Unfortunately, the resulting trip plunges then into the dim and distant mythological past. Oh, and it also sends them a few hundred miles from Milan to Mycenae in Greece!
Landing outside the Imperial Palace, they are immediately arrested and taken before King Eurysteus (Gino Buzzanca). This monarch is more concerned with marrying Princess Dejanira (the lovely Liana Orfei) than anything so inconvenient as ruling the kingdom and fancies his chance now that her boyfriend Hercules (Frank Gordon) is missing in action. The legendary strongman is off dealing with a pesky cyclops who has been ravaging the countryside and has kidnapped two bumbling fishermen (Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia) to be a light snack before lunch. Thinking that the time travellers are friends of the legendary hero, Buzzanca orders them thrown in the alligator pit, but Orfei rescues them in the nick of time.
After a failed escape, our less than dynamic duo are set to be human torches but win the King’s favour by curing his toothache and teaching his prim and proper dancing girls the Cha-Cha-Cha! (One of the film’s few amusing moments). The downside to their sudden success is that our merry monarch wants a champion who can defeat the returning Gordon and thinks that they can deliver one. After failing in their efforts to train the local talent, Vianello and Carotenuto go on the lam where they run into the sulky Maciste (Kirk Morris) who is trying fight off the unwelcome attentions of bumbling sorceress Circe (Bice Valori). Our heroes hatch a cunning plan to match the two strongmen against each other in the ring and regain their time machine during the fight but, predictably enough, things don’t go according to plan.
This knockabout farce is a harmless enough experience, but the negative aspects on display do outweigh the positives by quite a wide margin. There just aren’t many laughs in Marcello Marchesi and Vittorio Metz’s predictable script with few surprises and little invention. The central conceit of a battle between the two legendary heroes is barely realised at all. Morris is almost wholly sidelined, which is ironic considering that he’d just played the role in to box office success in ‘Il trionfo di Maciste/The Triumph of Maciste’ (1961). More outings in the part followed for Morris over the next couple of years, as well as starring appearances as both Samson and Hercules in other projects!
The film’s only real energy and fun comes from Valori’s turn as the amorous (but incompetent) sorceress who has a serious complex about being shorter than her slave girls. There are occasional other amusing moments, such as Vianello and Carotenuto re-inventing the wheel (the Greeks having favoured a ‘square’ design) and the occasional cut to a ‘newscaster’ (Riccardo Paladini) who keeps us up to date with the hot stories in the empire. It’s is a pleasantly surreal touch, if a little out of place.
Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia went onto comedy superstardom as ‘Franco & Ciccio’ in their native Italy with the result that this film is often referred to as one of their comedy vehicles, but that’s not the case, despite their top billing when the film was reissued. This was only their fourth film together, and they are strictly supporting characters here, with their familiar schtick not quite perfected. In other words, Ciccio hadn’t watched quite enough Jerry Lewis movies yet. The duo went on to face off against Vincent Price in Mario Bava’s ‘Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs’ (1966) and a joint film career that stretched right the way until 1984 and eventually comprised over 100 features!
A weak attempt at mining comedy gold from the Italian muscleman genre that manages a couple of mildly amusing moments.