Hercules arrives at the city of Arpad to find that his old friend, the King, has passed away. His daughter now rules but she has become fixated on building a high wall around the city. Her chief advisor has indulged this obsession and enslaved the populace to complete the project while he strengthens his grip on power…
The ninth in the loose cycle of muscleman films featuring the demi-god that came out of Italy in the late 1950s and early 60s, riding the coat-tails of the international success of ‘Hercules’ (1958) starring Steve Reeves. This time around US actor Brad Harris sports a nifty beard and toga in the title role and brings the requisite physical presence. However, the results are tired and predictable with director Gianfranco Parolini bringing nothing new to the party.
After being waylaid by apparent bandits on the road, Hercules (Harris) rides his chariot into Arpad to visit the King. He’s immediately confronted by a hostile captain of the guard who needs some form of identification. Luckily, a couple of utility bills and a driving licence are not required as the big man averts an accident at the walls nearby when a building block almost falls on the men working there. As a guest at the court of Queen Cnidia (Mara Berni), he soon realises that all is not well in the city. The real power behind the throne is the silver-tongued chief advisor, Menistus (Serge Gainsbourg) who has levied the usual unreasonable taxes on the populace to fill his own pockets. He’s also put any dissenting voices to work on the building site under the whip.
The state of the union doesn’t sit well with Harris, particularly when the innocent Mila (Irena Prosen) is accused of treason and condemned to death. Mitigation of the sentence is only possible if a champion appears at her execution and undergoes three dangerous trials on her behalf. This is the big man’s bread and butter, of course, and he’s lowered into a pit to face a sleepy lion, followed by a man in a gorilla suit, who gives Harris a surprising amount of bother. Finally, he defeats a gladiator above ground in front of an appreciative crowd. It transpires that Prosen is the daughter of the local rebel leader, Eridione (Carlo Tamberlani), and, of course, it’s not long before Harris is allied with their cause.
Perhaps it’s not all that surprising that this film hits all the expected targets with such dull and lifeless precision. After all, besides vehicles starring Hercules, there had already been about another dozen features with identikit musclemen such as Maciste, Goliath, Ursus and Samson. So it was inevitable that a formula would arise pretty quickly in such circumstances to keep up with the pace of production. Unfortunately, Parolini’s effort sticks so close to established conventions that the results are drained of any real interest.
There are no mythological elements either, so all that remains are just the usual story beats. Queen Berni falls hard for Harris and/or his muscles, but he fancies handmaiden Daria (Luisella Boni, billed as Brigitte Corey) instead. She’s Tamberlani’s daughter, of course, which gives the big man a personal stake in the rebellion. The ‘in-court entertainment’ is provided by the usual troupe of dancing girls in gauzy costumes, although, on this occasion, they are played by the Zagreb Opera Ballet! Arpad’s unlikely to become a recurring list on their tour itinerary, though, what with their act ending with an assassination attempt. There’s also a scene where Harris turns back a herd of rampaging elephants in the best Johnny Weismuller tradition. Umgawa, indeed.
Harris shines brightest in the action and combat scenes, appearing appropriately daring and heroic as he cuts a swathe through Gainsbourg’s men. These include Sergio Ciani, who went onto play Hercules several times himself, under the name of Alan Steel. The climactic battle scene outside the palace is staged on a reasonably large scale; it’s just a shame that the film itself is so lacking in any personality. There is an effort made to show the rebel group as a happy, loving community as a contrast to the selfish, dour city dwellers, but it’s half-baked at best. Also, the attempts to interest us in the fates of various side characters come over as feeble when there’s been insufficient effort to establish their characters in the first place.
This was Harris’ sole appearance as the legendary demi-god, but he had already flexed his muscles in the title role of the suspiciously similar ‘Samson’ (1961). He re-teamed with director Parolini for the ‘Kommissar X’ Eurospy series opposite Tony Kendall and with both actor and director as one of ‘The Three Fantastic Supermen’ (1967). Those later roles provided him with far more opportunity as an actor, and he was able to bring a lighter touch to them, mostly as a foil for Kendall. They also allowed him to show off his martial arts skills in fight scenes that he often choreographed himself. Over two decades later, he appeared briefly in Luigi Cozzi’s ‘Hercules’ (1983) starring Lou Ferrigno. On the face of it, this might appear to be a clever cameo, but it was probably just as much a matter of convenience as anything else. Both actors had gone straight into that production from ‘I sette magnifici gladiatori/The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983) in which Harris had a far more substantial role.
And, yes, that is French singer-songwriter and hitmaker Serge Gainsbourg, the man behind the controversial hit ‘Je t’aime… moi non plus’ which he released in 1969 as a duet with Jane Birkin. Although principally known as a musical artist outside his native country, he also had an acting career, one of his earliest roles being an appearance with Harris in ‘Samson’ (1961). Later credits were appropriately eclectic, considering his roles in multiple aspects of cultural media. There was unusual superhero satire ‘Mr Freedom’ (1968), a part in Jerry Lewis’ still unseen ‘The Day the Clown Cried’ (1972), and a role as a police inspector in Antonio Margheriti’s offbeat Giallo ‘Seven Dead In The Cat’s Eye’ (1973), which reunited him with Birkin.
An uninvolving, desperately unoriginal Peplum which develops on well-travelled lines, but does deliver its action sequences efficiently enough.