Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)‘Has anyone dared feed your monster a little steel?’

While travelling home to Thebes, Hercules and his crew encounter a ship filled with pirates and put them to the sword. Their cargo of slaves are refugees from Troy, fleeing the city because every month a virgin must be sacrificed to a sea monster to appease the Gods…

At the end of the Italian muscleman cycle, director Albert Band decided to take the Hercules character onto the small screen with the assistance of producer Joseph E Levine, who had brought Steve Reeves to America with the original ‘Hercules’ (1957) and kicked off the whole craze in the first place. Together, they created this 50-minute pilot starring ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott in the title role. Unfortunately, the show didn’t sell, and the result went to cinema screens instead. Although that doesn’t sound promising, the film provides a surprisingly decent level of entertainment.

Sailing home to Thebes after various adventures, Scott and his companions encounter a pirate sharp, captained by Gordon Mitchell. A fairly well-choreographed fight scene follows, ending with Scott dumping Mitchell into a basket and flinging him overboard. Scott’s brothers In arms are led by ‘philosopher, scientist and sceptic Diogenes (Paul Stevens) and Ulysses, the son of the King of Thebes, played by Mart Hulswit. The easy banter between the three is one of the drama’s significant strengths and would have provided a solid base for a series if one had subsequently followed.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘Pah! Why does Scott get all the close-ups?’

When they take the refugees back home, the gang are disappointed to find their charges imprisoned when they reach the city. As King Petra (Steve Garrett) explains, they broke the law by leaving. Every month, the young maidens of Troy have to make themselves available for possible selection as monster fodder. Even Garrett’s niece, Diana (Diana Hyland) has to take part until she takes the throne in a couple of months. Of course, Scott vows to challenge the beast and end the curse, but intrigues at court threaten the attempt. The main problem is that Garrett is planning to hold onto the throne by ensuring Hyland is chosen at the next ceremony. Her lover, Leander (George Ardisson) is also jealous of the big man.

There’s enough plot here for a full-length feature and, at times, it does feel like this has been cut down from something much longer. This impression is heightened by actor Everett Sloane, who is fulfilling the role of VoiceOver Man here. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but the device is overused, and his commentary is often unnecessary. Still, there is a fair quantity of well-mounted action, and it’s evident that Band had a decent budget at his disposal. The monster FX are variable; in the water, the creature looks pretty ragged, but it fares far better on land. It may not stir from the one spot on the beach, but it’s an impressive size and has a good range of body movement otherwise. Scott’s interactions with it make for a decent climax, although you can’t help wondering why everyone else just stands by and watches the fight, rather than give the big man a helping hand.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘Keep your tentacles to yourself.’

The performances also help proceedings significantly, with Scott making for a fine Hercules. Physically, he looks the part, and he has a charm and screen presence that elevates him above most of the actors who have taken on the role. Stevens is the brains of the heroic trio and delivers his lines with a dry, cynical humour that provides a nice contrast to the youthful enthusiasm of the good-natured Hulswit. We also get Roger Browne as heroic soldier, Ortag, who unsuccessfully takes on the monster at the start of the story, and later helps to rescue Scott from the bottom of a metal pit. Ardisson also displays a lively presence in his underdeveloped role, although he can’t compete with pirate captain Mitchell who only gets about a minute of screen time.

Scott had first made his mark through military service before pursuing various careers after his honourable discharge: cowboy, fireman and salesman. He was spotted by Hollywood talent scouts while working as a lifeguard, and producer Sol Lesser cast him in the title role of ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ (1955). Five films in the series followed before he moved to Italy where he was cast in Peplum films, taking on the roles of many of its’ significant strongmen including Maciste, Samson and Goliath, as well as Hercules. But, by the mid-1960s, the popularity of such characters was being eclipsed at the box office by more modern adventures, typically featuring guns, girls and gadgets. Scott briefly made the switch to the spy game, but, after a couple of outings as a ‘Bond On A Budget’, he retired in 1967.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘A little help, please…’

Ardisson and Browne shared a very similar initial career trajectory, both getting their starts in Peplum before transferring to the Eurospy arena. But, while Scott retired, both Ardisson and Browne went onto long careers throughout the 1970s and beyond. Ardisson is probably best remembered for his work with director Mario Bava, appearing as sidekick Theseus in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961) and the title role of ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961). Browne took the lead in cult favourite ‘Argoman The Fantastic Superman/The Fantastic Argoman’ (1967) and toplined half a dozen Eurospy pictures, most of which were better examples of the type, such as ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo’ (1965) and ‘Operation Poker’ (1965).

A surprisingly good little episode in the chronicles of its muscle-bound hero. A series never resulted, of course, and, although that’s not a tragedy, on this evidence, it certainly had the potential to be an entertaining show.

The Giant of Metropolis (1961)

The Giant of Metropolis (1961)‘Within two months, the conjunction of the stars will create the favourable physiological conditions for the transfer of a human brain.’

Obro and his brothers travel to Metropolis to warn its leaders to stop using science to pervert the course of nature. Meanwhile, the city’s leader (and top scientist) plans to transfer the consciousness of his deceased father into the brain of his young son so that the boy can live forever.

It’s always a little tricky to review films made in other countries, based on their U.S. release print. For a start, is this Italian muscleman picture about Atlantis or Metropolis? It’s the ‘M’ word throughout the picture, but the title crawl at the start of the film suggests otherwise, perhaps because George Pal’s big budget ‘Atlantis, the Lost Continent’ (1961) was out at the same time. Having said that, the English dub is so atrocious throughout that they may as well have gone the whole hog and just called it ‘Giant of Atlantis.’ Nobody would have been any the wiser…

Proceedings open with Obro (Gordon Mitchell) surviving some…um…wind thingy, which evil mastermind Yotar (Roldano Lupi) uses to keep strangers out of his city. You see, Lupi has quite a full dance card already, what with keeping his father alive after death, planning to put the old man’s mind into his pre-teen son, keeping the entire city’s population under hypnotic control and his wife (Linda Orfei) and daughter from his first marriage (Bella Cortez) in line. He’s also has a 200 year old ‘cave dweller‘ he regularly asks for advice and, surprise, surprise, the city’s built on top of an active volcano (probably an oversight in town planning there).

So along comes hunky Mitchell stirring things up with his prophecies of doom and that’s the last thing Lupi needs. Even if nearly everyone else in the cast is telling him the same thing anyway! But he plunges on with his mad schemes nevertheless and submits Mitchell to various tasks (or ‘labours’ perhaps?) including writhing under a nasty spotlight and fighting a big hairy bloke. He also has some combat with a group of flesh-eating pygmies in a chucklesome fight sequence which is the highlight of a string of totally inept action scenes.

Yes, this is actually a ‘Hercules’ picture in all but name, with a slight emphasis on science fiction rather than classical mythology. Mitchell flexes his pecs, shows Cortez ‘how to live’ (yes, you know what that means), Lupi scowls and shouts ‘take him away’ a few times, and everyone walks around in silly togas (apart from Mitchell, of course). Another highlight is a puzzling and hopelessly stilted ceremonial dance performed by Cortez and a couple of flunkeys, which I found pretty hilarious. Either she was no dancer or the choreographer had dropped some acid. You decide.

The Giant of Metropolis (1961)

‘I think he’s been too long under the sun lamp…’

Mitchell was a bodybuilder with a handful of unbilled credits when he went to Italy to ride the wave created by Steve Reeves and the global success of ‘Hercules’ (1959). This was Mitchell’s first starring role and he overacts terribly, although none of the rest of the cast were likely to win any awards either.

Mitchell had yet another hurdle to overcome: he didn’t speak any Italian. Instead, he recited dirty limericks during his dialogue scenes, knowing the correct lines would be dubbed in later! Given that the film was then released in the States re-dubbed, it’s inevitable that words and mouth movements rarely coincide.

Unbelievably, given such dubious beginnings, Mitchell went onto a long and very varied film career, appearing in ‘Fellini’s Satyricon’ (1969), John Huston’s ‘Reflections In A Golden Eye’ (1967) with Marlon Brando and slightly less prestigious productions such as ‘Julius Caesar Against the Pirates‘ (1962), ‘Evil Spawn’ (1987) and ‘Bikini Drive-ln’ (1995). Watch any Italian film from the 1960s and 70s (particularly a Western) and there’s a good chance he’ll make an appearance!

Unbelievably, it took six scriptwriters to come up with this particular slice of lunacy but I am so glad that they did. Seriously bad, but seriously entertaining as well.

2+5 Missione Hydra (1965)

2+5 Mission Hydra (1965) ‘Now you will show us, or you will be sorry as I will kill you.’

Scientists investigating a mysterious incident at a remote location find a buried alien spacecraft. Not only does the alien commander want help with repairs, she also needs some new crew and she doesn’t believe in asking for volunteers…

Italian 1960s space opera that was edited, dubbed and released in the U.S. (as ‘Star Pilot’) to cash in on the ‘Star Wars’ boom in the late 1970s. It’s almost inevitable that some coherence would be lost in those circumstances, but little excuse for the complete chaos of the final third here.

Things begin reasonably enough with the researchers out in the wilds with their Geiger counters and other geegaws. The only flies in the ointment are some enemy secret agents (they’re not Chinese we’re told, just Oriental!) Also Chief Professor Roland Lesaffre has brought along his beautiful young daughter (Leontine May). These scientists and their beautiful young daughters, eh? She’s kooky and a ‘free spirit’, and yes, that’s pretty annoying, but some personality goes a long way with this dull bunch. And she does have very nice legs.

Luckily, conflict with the alien commander (Leonora Ruffo) is just around the corner. She’s a bit of a babe too; all red wig, short skirt and go-go boots and the Prof’s young assistant takes a shine to her at once. Meanwhile, May is making goo-goo eyes at hunky Mario Novelli, who’s too busy concentrating on his spaceship duties to notice. This is all unremarkable, run of the mill stuff, a little dull but acceptable enough, given the time it was made and the probably limited resources the filmmakers had at their disposal. But then the aliens take off for home with our heroes on board and everything cheerfully falls apart.

For a start, I was under the impression that the film was set in the present day, but when they get into orbit, outer space seems awfully crowded. This is thanks to footage from ’Gorath’ (1962) and ‘The Doomsday Machine’ (1972/1977?) We also see some of the cast from the latter, the presence of which may have given rise to the confusion relating to that film’s completion date and release.  Obviously, none of this was in the original Italian version but has been stapled on by the U.S. distributor. Probably with the idea of using the footage in the trailer as well.

Having escaped the Earth forces (not difficult when they’re in a different movie) the aliens communicate with their leader, the ubiquitous Gordon Mitchell, who gets about 30 seconds on a TV screen, this fulfilling his contractual obligation to be in absolutely every Italian movie made at the time.

2+5 Mission Hyrda (1965)

She noticed that he hadn’t bothered dressing up for their first date.

Damage to the craft means in-flight repairs, which results in a spacewalk for Novelli, which he carries out without the aid of a space helmet or safety cable. But it’s all fine because he has help from an off-screen trampoline. The stars in the background seem be moving about a bit too, which is weird. It’s probably due to some unusual optical space anomaly, rather than because they were lamps hung on wires as some unkind commentators have suggested.

Unable to return home, they stop on a rocky world, where Ruffo and May wear body stockings with feathers covering their naughty bits, and we get a bit of ‘this Earth thing we call kissing.’ Indeed, it’s seems as if personal relationships have developed at quite a pace. But they can’t stay long as they are attacked by some joke shop apemen and there was a U.S. film editor with a large pair of scissors getting very impatient. There’s some muddled message about the dangers of Nuclear weapons when Ruffo returns home to find her planet has turned into a model city with some houseplants growing on it. Then the credits roll with the future of humanity – and alien kind – left in the hands of this motley lot. I guess at least the males of the party won’t need much encouragement to start repopulating the universe.

Without interference from the U.S. distributor, this would still have been a pretty poor enterprise and, at its full length, rather tiresome. As it is, the cuts and dubbing do lend the film a certain wacky charm, once you get through the first half. Enjoyably naff.

Fenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen (1968)

Fenomenal_and_the_Treasure_of_Tutankamen_(1968)‘By the way, I’m Mike Shevlove, the only daughter of Homer Shevlove, the canned meat king,’

A gang of ruthless criminals plan to steal the golden mask of Tutankamen when it’s on display in a Paris museum.

Dire 1960s cross between a heist thriller and a Superhero tale, with the story bogged down in a swamp of tedium long before it’s even reached the halfway point. Fenomenal himself is part of the problem. He may be a super crime-fighter, who takes on the bad guys, but he’s just not very interesting. He wears an all over black body-stocking to protect his secret identity, and uses martial arts moves that are unconvincing at best. He doesn’t have any gadgets. He doesn’t have a secret base. God, he’s boring.

The opening sequence sees him taking on some smugglers on a yacht and, although the combat is not well-choreographed, it does look like we might be in for some sub-’Diabolik’ (1967) thrills at least. Not so. After a trawl through the resulting newspaper headlines, it’s on to the heist of the golden mask. It’s lengthy and remorselessly dull. There’s no invention in it, and the twist at the end is hardly earth-shattering. One of the chief crooks is American actor Gordon Mitchell, an ex-body builder and a familiar figure in Italian cinema after dozens of appearances in sword and sandal films and low budget Westerns. He even appeared in a Fellini film for a change of pace!

Mostly this is just a trudge through lots of dull location footage. The Eiffel Tower crops up persistently, presumably just to prove that they actually did film in Paris. There’s even a dialogue scene filmed on it for no other discernible reason. By now, the persistent cooing of girlie singers on the soundtrack has becomes actively quite annoying, and the lack of any action, stuntwork or interest has become all too apparent. This is the sort of film where the sailors featured at the start were all wearing stripy t-shirts and white trousers. Yes. It’s that sort of film.

Rather surprisingly, this was the first full directorial assignment of Ruggero Deodato, a man who became notorious for ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ (1980), which was allegedly ‘banned in 50 countries’. Perhaps the very first ‘found footage’ movie, it allegedly showed a deadly real life encounter between a documentary film crew and a tribe in the Amazon. Deodato had the principal actors contracted not to appear in anything else for a year after the film came out to further the illusion that it was real, but this backfired when the film was seized by the authorities on obscenity charges, and he was charged with murdering them! The actors had to appear in court to get the charges dropped. On a less happier note, the animal slayings in the film were real and this still makes it controversial today.

Fenomenal_and_the_Treasure_of_Tutankamen_(1968)

‘You’d better not be thinking of a sequel…’

Back in the considerably less dangerous world of Fenomenal, it’s charisma vacuum Mauro Palenti who must bear most of the blame; he produced and starred. He chalked up less than a dozen career credits, ending up in Euro-Erotica, such as ‘In Love With Sex’ (1973). Co-star Lucretia Love played the title role in revenge flick ‘Zinabel’ (1969), which Palenti also produced. Perhaps he was involved in travelogues as well, given the amount of ‘local colour’ that made it into the final cut here.

By the time Fenomenal’s secret identity is exposed at the end of the film, it’s not really much of a surprise to anyone. And l really didn’t give a wotsit anyway.

Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (1974)

Frankensteins_Castle_of_Freaks_(1974)‘The monster is loose! They’re heading for the caves!’

Count Frankenstein rescues a Neanderthal Man from an angry village mob dressed like extras from a Robin Hood movie and brings it back to life. Meanwhile his daughter arrives for the holidays and an evil dwarf plots a deadly revenge against him…

A curiously old fashioned monster mash with mild nudity and sex added. The Count is played by Rossano Brazzi – once the lead in ‘South Pacific’ (1958)!! – who plays with things which man must leave alone but actually becomes just as keen on playing with his daughter’s best friend (Christina Rucker). Unfortunately, his servants are more interested in their own lustful pursuits than helping him out. Gordon Mitchell’s hunchback Igor enjoys rough sex with the housekeeper and dwarf Michael Dunn cops a feel of a young girl they’ve just repatriated from the local boneyard. Mitchell was a bodybuilder who had started in Italian muscleman films and gone on to work with Fellini. Dunn had acted with Lee Marvin, Rod Steiger and Vivien Leigh but was now stuck in horror cheapies like this and the horrible ‘The Mutations’ (1974)

'You lookin' at me?'

‘You lookin’ at me?’

The presence of Neanderthal men is a pretty unusual element. Apparently they’ve been living in local caves and, as the Count assures us, their existence is completely plausible. When Dunn is thrown out of the castle for deviant behaviour, he befriends one of the caveman and names him Ook. The big lug is played by the splendid Boris Lugosi (possibly not his real name).

Later on, the Count’s daughter and her friend turn up for a skinny dipping session in an underground pool fed by mineral springs. This scene is obviously included solely for purposes of advancing the plot. 

In the end, it all jumps and skips to a rushed and messy conclusion with a torch bearing mob straight out of the 1930s. In fact this is really just a hodgepodge of lots of elements from those Universal horrors thrown together with some sex added for the trailer. It doesn’t even make a lot of sense; it’s cheap, tatty and a bit tasteless.

Director Robert Oliver was trading under a false name (as many of the cast were); he was actually producer Dick Randall, who went on to achieve cinema immortality with ‘The Clones of Bruce Lee’ (1981).

Buy ‘Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks’ here