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.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)‘You have inherited a king’s throne because your father has passed on. I killed himself myself in battle.’

The kingdom is in the grip of a horrendous drought, and the Queen of Mycenae demands ever-increasing levels of tribute from her subjects, including pretty young virgins to be sacrificed to the god Moloch. Is there no-one who can lead the people in rebellion against her tyrannical rule?

The Hercules movie that isn’t. Of course, 1960s American audiences were used to the exploits of every Italian muscle man being relabelled with the big man’s name on stateside release, be they Goliath, Samson, Ursus or Maciste. However, this one is an even bigger confidence trick. All we have here is a hero who casually adopts the ‘Hercules’ name when on an undercover mission in the enemy camp. Sure, he’s strong and heroic, but he’s not even pretending to be the legendary Greek demi-god. What a complete swizz.

The city of Mycenae has risen from the ashes after perishing in a fiery inferno. On that day of destruction, the young, pregnant Queen Demeter (Rosalba Neri) promises the dying King to turn the people back to the worship of the Earth Goddess. Fast forward a couple of decades, however, and she’s still got them sacrificing young virgins to the evil deity Moloch, who lives in the caves underneath the city. This so-called god is really her grown up son (Pietro Marascalchi) who is so hideous that he needs to hide in the shadows and wear a metal wolf mask to hide his ugliness! He wiles away the long hours strangling the sacrificial girls or using them as live targets when he fancies a bit of practice with bow and arrow. Everyone has to have a hobby, I suppose.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Hello, girls!’

The neighbouring cities are planning to get together in open rebellion, but the leaders of one fo them tips their hand too early and bring down the wrath of Neri’s army. Their King is killed, and the Princess Deianira (Jany Clair) is taken prisoner. Fortunately, Mycenean good guy, lieutenant Euneos (Michel Lemoine) takes more than a passing interest in her welfare. Meanwhile, forces from nearby Tiryns are riding to their rescue, led by the heroic Prince Glauco (Gordon Scott). But they arrive too late so Scott formulates a plan to attack Mycenae from both inside and out, taking the role of one of the slaves offered in tribute to Neri so that he can infiltrate the city.

On arrival, he catches the eye of the imperious monarch immediately, probably because he’s calling himself Hercules and every evil queen in history can’t resist falling for the muscles of the big man. She offers him a job as captain of part of her royal guard with probable fringe benefits to follow. Unfortunately, things go awry almost immediately when he stops chief lackey General Penthius (Arturo Dominici) having his way with Neri’s goody-two-shoes stepdaughter, the Princess Medea (Alessandro Panaro). Thrown into the dungeon and the inevitable gig at gladiator school, it’s up to Scott form and alliance with Lemoine, foment a rebellion among the populace and find a way to get the city gates open to let in the cavalry.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘I’ve had enough of this wowdy webel sniggewing behaviour.’

This is very much an undistinguished ‘sword and sandal’ picture that has only a few points of interest to note. At first glance, it appears there is some budget here, which gives a decent scale to the climactic battle scenes. However, most of this footage is taken from director Giorgio Ferroni’s previous film ‘The Trojan War/La guerra di Troia’ (1961). The swordplay involving the principals is energetic and well-choreographed, though, with Scott convincing in both the action scenes and the quieter moments. Neri also makes for a deliciously evil queen, both as a young woman in the opening scenes and as a more mature version two decades later, which, considering she was only in her mid-twenties at the time of filming, indicates her talent as an actress. But both the leading roles are one-dimensional, and the script doesn’t give either performer much material to work with.

What’s most curious, though, is the last twenty minutes of the film. Up until then, things have been pretty grounded. Yes, there’s been talk of the Earth Goddess on the one hand, and Marascalchi being the embodiment of Moloch on the other, but no real indication that it’s any more than talk or local superstition. Then the Goddess seems to take a hand, sending a lightning bolt down to strike the sacrificial knife of high priest Asterion (Nerio Bernardi) that he’s about to use on Panaro in the public square. Maybe that could be written off as an amazingly lucky coincidence, but, then again, there’s what happens in the final act in the dusty catacombs beneath the city when Scott goes to confront Marascalchi.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Hit it, baby!’

Despite hating feminine beauty because of his deformity, the living god does keep a harem of young lovelies in his man cave. They seem to be under a spell of some sort, and their job is apparently just to play the drums! Anyway, when the forces of good invade their domain in the final scenes, these beauties revealed to be supernatural creatures of some sort, bringing down the roof by running about a bit and making coloured smoke appear. Weird. Especially as we never see them again afterwards. Marascalchi seems to have powers as well, making the floor collapse beneath some soldiers that are threatening him with spears. However, he seems to forget all about these abilities when he fights with Scott. The two clash with conventional weapons and then take part in an extended wrestling match. Scott even manages to hit him over the head with a table. Twice! It’s all a bit confusing really…

Scott made his film debut in ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ (1955) as the replacement for Lex Barker in the long-running series about the exploits of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Lord Greystoke. Five more appearances in the part followed, including ‘Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure’ (1959), which remains one of the best of the Ape Man’s outings and also included a young Sean Connery in a significant supporting role. When his time in the jungle was up, Scott moved straight into Italian muscleman pictures with ‘Maciste contro il vampiro’ (1961) which was also known as ‘Goliath and the Vampires’ or ‘Samson vs the Vampires’ – take your pick. He’d starred in almost a dozen similar projects before he made it to Neri’s basement to face off against Marascalchi. Toward the end of his career, he finally got to play Hercules for real in the pilot for an aborted TV series that was later released to theatres as ‘Hercules and the Princess of Troy’ (1965).

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Your monstrous ugliness breeds monstrous hatred. Good! I can use your hate.’

Neri became a mainstay of cult cinema in the 1960s and beyond, with starring roles in many horror pictures and Giallo films after several featured supporting roles in the Eurospy genre. She’s probably best remembered as ‘Lady Frankenstein’ (1972) or for Silvio Amadio’s ‘Amuck!’ (1972), but she always brought a quality of performance and natural screen presence to her roles, even if many of them were not deserving of her talents. Director Ferroni made some feature films in the 1940s but did a lot of documentary filmmaking before making a comeback with the visually impressive and strangely fascinating ‘Mill of the Stone Women’ (1960). Unfortunately, it seems that he never fulfiled the promise he displayed with that film, and it’s disappointing to see his name attached to a product like this.

The film was picked up for American distribution by Walter Manley productions but placing the blame for the cheating title at their door would be a mistake. The film’s original, Italian release title was ‘Ercole contro Moloc’ which literally translates as ‘Hercules Against Moloch’. The American print at least has the decency to place that in brackets after ‘The Conquest of Mycenae’ title, which, although it could be regarded as a bit of a spoiler, is far more accurate at least. However, little care was taken with the English dubbing; dialogue doesn’t match mouth movements in any respect and the voice acting is of a very poor quality. Panaro’s lines are delivered in a frightfully posh English accent that makes it sound like she’s been to a very exclusive finishing school and spends her days at garden parties thrashing the servants. It’s hilarious, of course, but it doesn’t help with serious investment in the story.

A minor footnote in the history of the Peplum film and precious little to do with Hercules.

Segretissimo/Top Secret (1967)

Segretissimo:Top Secret (1967)‘You swing too, don’t you?’

An ex-Nazi flying ace escapes a Russian prison camp and defects to the West. Doubts as to his real identity mean he is kept under observation, but he’s allowed access to his family’s estate. Once there, he retrieves some important documents and disappears. American agent John Sutton is tasked with tracking him down, but soon finds himself entangled in a complex conspiracy, involving more than one beautiful woman…

Ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott finds himself reprising his turn as this week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ only a couple of months after taking on the role for the first time in miserable time-waster ‘Danger! Death Ray’ (1967). This time, the spies’ tour takes in Casablanca, Rome and Naples as he wrestles with the usual low-budget mixture of guns, girls and gadgets (but without the gadgets). This is yet another Italian-Spanish co-production, which ticks all the usual boxes over a brisk 90 minutes. However, there is a difference. lt’s supposed to be a spoof. If that sounds like a criticism, it’s not. The problem the film has is that it’s not any more outlandish than many other Eurospys of the time that were playing it (relatively) straight!

The story opens with our main villain (Antonio Gradoli) escaping from the barbed wire of the Red Army camp. Although it’s a perfectly reasonable sequence, it makes absolute no sense in terms of what follows and raises many questions that the film simply ignores. The jailbreak is certainly staged, at least to some extent, but if Gradoli is supposed to be a Russian agent then why is he planning to sell the secret documents to the highest bidder? And just who are all his confederates? They seem to be a large and well-organised criminal organisation. More importantly, what are the secret documents anyway? There are a lot of them in big boxes but we never find out! All this is probably part of the joke, of course, but, despite a couple of obvious gags and some wacky noises on the soundtrack, the film often seems to be no more a comedy than many other examples of the genre.

Segretissimo:Top Secret (1967)

‘So whatever did happen to Jane?’

However, on the bright side, Scott is a personable hero and shares an easy chemistry with leading lady Magda Konopka, which makes you wish their romantic banter had been sharpened and more heavily featured. She’s more than just the usual eye-candy as well, and there’s an inventive sequence where the two search each others’ hotel rooms at the same time. She can also put on a jacket while making a U-Turn in a truck on a busy highway. A very specific skill, but quite impressive!

Elsewhere, there seems to be a rather odd in-joke about smoking. Characters frequently start to light up before throwing their cigarette away when something happens. It’s so frequent an event that it’s obviously deliberate, but the significance of it is rather baffling! The more obvious gags see Konopoka stealing a truck from a service station with a tiger in the back (referencing an old Esso advertising slogan) and Scott interrupting a film crew shooting a movie called ‘Agent Secret 0077′.

Director Fernando Cerchio had a long career in cinema, working on comedies with veteran Italian star Toto, Westerns, Peplum (including ‘Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile’ (1961) with Vincent Price) and ‘ll Marchio Di Kriminal’ (1968). Konopka appeared as comic book villainess ‘Satanik’ (1968), had a supporting role in Hammer’s ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth’ (1970) and did some guest slots in UK TV in shows like ‘Department S’ and ‘The Persuaders!’ This turned out to be Scott’s last film, although the reasons for his retirement are unrecorded. He lived on until 2007 when he died of heart issues at the age of 82.

A cut above the usual Eurospy shenanigans. Not assisted by the predictably poor English dubbing, but a little more fun than most of its kind.

Goliath and The Vampires/Maciste Contra Il Vampiro (1961)

Golioath and The Vampires (1961)‘And from a serpent, born in the depths of the kingdom of evil, sprang a monster that nourishes itself on human blood to generate an army of automatons.’

Goliath’s home village is attacked and burnt to the ground by the minions of supernatural sorcerer, Kobrak. All the young women are carried away, including the muscIeman’s betrothed, so he sets out in pursuit on a mission of rescue and vengeance.

The international success of ‘Hercules’ (1958), with Steve Reeves, kick-started a huge wave of Italian muscleman pictures, which only began to lose its momentum toward the middle of the 1960s. The character of mythical strongman ‘Maciste’ had first appeared in silent Italian film ‘Cabiria’ (1914), which told the tale of a slave with superhuman strength who rescues a princess from human sacrifice. Apparently, it was loosely based on a novel by Gustave Flaubert, who’s somewhat more notable work was his debut novel ‘Madame Bovary’ published in 1857.

After taking his first bow, Maciste went from strength to strength, starring in 26 more silent pictures, the last of which came out in 1926. A revival followed in 1960 with ‘Maciste In The Valley Of The Kings’ (1960), which led to another 24 films, of which this example was the second. When these films were released stateside, the character was always renamed; variously as Samson, Goliath, Atlas, Ursus, Ulysses, Colossus, and even Hercules himself (just to confuse things a little more!)

The plot this time around (and on most other occasions if we’re brutally honest) sees our musclebound hero (Gordon Scott) pitching his deltoids against an evil ruler (in this case, one of supernatural origin) who has assumed control of a kingdom and its throne. He must rescue a virtuous, too-trusting blonde (this time it’s Leonora Ruffo) whilst going up against a dark-haired femme fatale with too much eye makeup (usually a Queen of some sort, but in this case the villain‘s right-hand woman Gianna Maria Canale). Of course, she falls for the big lug and his biceps, and makes the ultimate sacrifice to prove her love for him.

Cue Scott fighting with lots of guards in the vi|lain’s zombie army, using only his bare hands and large rocks/pieces of wood, which could probably be more accurately described as polystyrene. Some of these action scenes are borderline inept, with Scott seemingly needing assistance from a bystander to lift a large table during one fight in a tavern. I’m not sure about the trooper’s uniforms either; all those large spikes look to be in definite contravention of applicable Health and Safety regulations. We also get the inevitable dancing girls at court (all gauzy veils and genteel swaying), our heroes getting lost in a sandstorm, and a plucky kid (Pacco Vidouzzi) who can’t stay out of trouble. Pretty much no cliché is left unturned.

Scott was an American who had taken over as ‘Tarzan’ in the MGM series in the early 1950s, but his tenure as ‘King of the Jungle’ had expired with ‘Tarzan the Magnificent’ (1960), so a move to Italian muscleman flicks was almost inevitable. Heroine Ruffo starred in several similar projects, including Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World'(1961), and was also very fetching in sci-fi ‘guilty pleasure’ train-wreck ‘2+5: Missione Hydra’ (1966). Canale had actually appeared as the Queen of the Amazons in Reeves‘ ‘Hercules’ (1958)  and top-lined Riccardo Freda’s ‘I Vampiri’ (1957), the first horror movie made in Italy since before the Second World War.

Goliath and The Vampires (1961)

Goliath hadn’t quite got a handle on the Pole Vault event…

But spare a thought for Jacques Sernas as the King of the Blue Men (no percussion instruments involved). The year before he’d appeared in Felini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960) and had been one of the main players in Robert Wise’s historical epic ‘Helen of Troy’ (1955), where he co-starred with Stanley Baker, Brigitte Bardot and Sir Cedric Hardwicke!

Co-director Sergio Corbucci is far better known for spaghetti westerns, particularly Franco Nero’s first appearance as ‘Django’ (1966). He also delivered another well-regarded example of that genre with ‘The Big Silence/The Great Silence’ (1969). Amazingly, this was a ‘Dino De Laurentiis Production’ long before the Italian mogul got his name above the titles of such major international hits as ‘Serpico’ (1973), ‘Death Wish’ (1974), ‘King Kong’ (1976), ‘Flash Gordon’ (1980) and ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982), among many, many others.

This is production line sword and sandal nonsense with the added gimmick of sorcery and a little touch of bloodless horror.

Danger!! Death Ray (1967)

Danger!!_Death_Ray_(1967)‘No, I just like running around on roofs. It relaxes me.’

Enemy agents gatecrash the secret demonstration of a lethal death ray and kidnap the scientist responsible. Special agent Bart Fargo is assigned to bring him back but runs headlong into bullets, babes and bother as he tries to complete his mission.

Lame Spanish-Italian Eurospy snoozefest with ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott as this week’s cheap James Bond wannabe. All the usual clichés are present and correct: the deadly thingy which can’t be allowed to fall into the wrong hands, the overworked agent getting another mission when he’s supposed to be going on holiday, the tired sexist innuendo that gets everything in a skirt to get out of it and straight into bed, the rounds of poorly-staged fisticuffs, the unconvincing chase that ends up with an empty car plunging 20 feet off the road into a ball of flame. Yes, we’ve seen it all before and delivered with far more energy and style than this.

Danger!!_Death_Ray_(1967)

‘Yes, I have a brand new sports car as well. Just what are you trying to say?’

It’s impossible to convey just how deadly proceedings are; the formula of guns, gadgets and girls trotted out in such a dull, arbitrary way that keeping awake becomes a real challenge to even the most hardened lover of bad movies. Scott is a good looking lead, but coasts through the insipid script without even the knowing smirk of Tony Kendall, Mike Connors, or any one of the other dozens of hunks who ran around Europe in the 1960s doing Bond on a budget.

Actually, this was Scott’s penultimate film but whether he simply retired or the offers stopped coming is unrecorded. Certainly this film can’t have done his career any good, but perhaps he simply got bored with the whole business; I wouldn’t have blamed him after this.

Director Gianfranco Baldanello hid behind a pseudonym, as did most of the cast when the film was released in the U.S. The only really memorable thing here is an early sequence involving a toy helicopter landing on a plastic submarine in  someone’s bath. It’s possibly the worst miniature work ever seen on film. Looks closely and you can see the sub being pulled along by a piece of string!