Hercules The Avenger (1965)

Hercules The Avenger (1965)‘His soul has not yet entered the nether regions.’

Hercules’ teenage son is seriously injured in a hunting accident. A jealous goddess takes the opportunity to punish the legendary hero by sending the boy’s soul down to Hades, and he has to travel to the underworld to retrieve it. Meanwhile, the goddess encourages her own son to take Hercules’ place on Earth…

It’s Hercules’ Greatest Hits! Yes, rather than create an entirely new film, director Maurice Bright (real name, Mauricio Lucidi), lifts almost 40 minutes of Reg Park’s two previous appearances in the title role and stitches them together with a wrap-around story instead. Although this sounds like a recipe for complete disaster, the adventures of Hercules were always somewhat episodic, so it’s not as woeful an exercise as you might expect.

When we join Hercules (Park), he has settled down to the quiet life with wife Deyanira (Adrianna Ambesi) and his eager young blade of a son, Xantos (Luigi Barbini). These early scenes would appear to have been filmed specifically for this project as neither Ambesi nor Barbini had appeared in either of Park’s other two appearances as Hercules and there’s no technical tomfoolery placing them all in these scenes together. In total, Park’s new footage amounts to just over 10 minutes and a lot of it is in these establishing scenes.

Hercules The Avenger (1965)

‘I’m sorry but Christopher Lee wouldn’t come…’

Once Barbini has been injured after his chariot trips on a rabbit hole (or something), it’s up to Park to hightail it for Hades to get his soul back. He does this, thanks to the voyage from ‘Hercules Conquers Atlantis’ (1961) and the labours he completed in Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1962). Eventually, more footage is used from the former as this film incorporates its fiery climax.

Meanwhile, Queen Leda of Syracuse (Gia Sandri) has a problem. Recently widowed, she’s now besieged by princes from the surrounding kingdoms who want her hand in marriage. It’s nothing to do with love, of course, it’s just a matter of territory, and she wants none of it. It’s a situation strangely reminiscent of Penelope’s plight when waiting for Odysseus’ return after the fall of Troy but, if you have to steal from somewhere when making a Hercules picture, why not from Homer’s Odyssey? Anyway, on the advice of the local Oracle, Leda seeks out Hercules, instead of just hanging about. However, with the big man away from home, she has to settle for Anteus (Giovanni Cianfriglia) who is the second strongest man in the world. He also happens to be the son of the mischief-making goddess who is messing with our hero and a nasty piece of work.

Hercules The Avenger (1965)

‘Not in a million years, mate.’

Sandri makes the best of it, and the two join forces, telling everyone that Cianfriglia is Hercules himself. This is quite obviously a blatant lie because, right from the beginning, the man is such an utter bounder. He slays Sandri’s handmaidens to protect his identity and pretty much assumes control of the kingdom, levying ridiculous taxes to fill the palace coffers. Of course, this will not stand and, when Park returns from his little trip, it’s time for the real thing to bring the pain to Hercules 2.0

Expectations are bound to be low with such a ‘copy and paste’ kind of project, but it works surprisingly well. Principally, this is because Lucidi is using footage from undoubtedly the best two Italian ‘Hercules’ films of their time. Arguably, there still hasn’t been anyone better in the role than Park even after all these years. Also, Lucidi (who, not surprisingly, is also credited as the editor), utilises the footage wisely. The story makes sense, and the joins aren’t too noticeable.

Hercules The Avenger (1965)

‘I have the strangest feeling of deja vu.’

Cianfraglia’s impressive physique brought him roles in action movies and Peplum from the late 1950s onwards. To begin with, he was mostly uncredited, and this was certainly his first significant role. His breakthrough came as crime-fighter SuperArgo in two movies based on that character. Appearing under the name Ken Wood, he tackled supervillain Gérard Tichy in ‘SuperArgo Against Diabolicus’ (1966) and then went head to head with more physical opposition in ‘SuperArgo and the Faceless Giants’ (1968). He played several second leads in Spaghetti Westerns, but, by the 1970s, he was often playing uncredited heavies as well. Still, he remained busy and was still showing up regularly in genre cinema in the 1980s, with roles in ‘Road Warrior’ knock offs and action flicks like ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983).

Of course, this is nothing but a cheap cash-grab and was never going to be anything else but, considering its origins, it hangs together surprisingly well if you’re in a forgiving mood.

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 and the Tyrants of Babylon/Ercole contro i tiranni di Babilonia (1964)

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (1964)‘I have heard tales of this legendary hero who is usually involved in superhuman undertakings far away.’

The rulers of Babylon are angry when the demi-god, Hercules continually disrupts their slaving expeditions. Although they don’t know it, they have unwittingly kidnapped the Queen of the Hellenes, and the muscleman is on a mission to liberate her from their evil clutches…

The 17th ‘official’ Hercules film that came out of Italy in the wake of the international success enjoyed by Steve Reeves in the title role. It was a loose, disconnected series of features with many different producers and several studios cashing in on the sudden craze. This time around the muscleman appears in the form of American actor Rock Stevens whose brief sojourn on the Tiber was to be followed by far greater success back in his homeland.

The ancient kingdom of Babylon is under the rule of a triumvirate; oldest brother, Assur (Tullio Altamura), bald warrior, Salmanassar (Livio Lorenzon) and their beautiful sister, Taneal (Helga Liné). Much in the manner of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’, their dead father has left the kingdom to all three of them to rule together and, although they don’t agree on much, they do agree on one thing: the kingdom needs slaves and lots of them. So, they are less than pleased when news comes back that their hunting expeditions are being broken up by one man (Stevens). Incredulous, they send top warrior (and Liné’s bedwarmer) Behar (Franco Balducci) to deal with it. Unfortunately for him, Stevens easily defeats the raiding party using an assortment of paper-maché rocks and his paper-maché club.

Meanwhile, our evil siblings get a state visit from Malik, King of Assyria (Mario Petri) who offers a fortune in gold for all their female slaves. Apparently, they are needed to repopulate his kingdom, but the trio doesn’t believe him. Liné gets him to her apartments for a private interview (not difficult, what guy wouldn’t?) and slips some truth serum into his wine. Then the secret’s out: Esperia, the Queen of the Hellenes (Anna Maria Polani) is doing slave duty below stairs, and he plans to force her into marriage so that he can add her kingdom to his own. Meanwhile, Stevens is on his way to Babylon (courtesy of a highly unlikely piece of business with a carrier pigeon), and everyone has cottoned on to his true identity as the legendary Hercules.

This is a rather feeble and generic Peplum adventure taken from the end of the cycle when Hercules and his heroic contemporaries had racked up over 50 big-screen adventures between them in the space of about seven years and, inevitably, the formula was wearing pretty thin. The main variation was the presence, or not, of any fantastical or mythological elements, and this comes down in the latter category, despite some half-hearted attempts to pay lip-service to the supernatural. Liné’s character is referred to as a sorceress, but it’s very half-hearted. All she really does is slip Petri that mickey and fool around with a ring at the climax, which seems to do precisely nothing.

Still, there are some things for the aficionados of the genre to enjoy. Our regal siblings spend as much time and effort trying to outwit each other as they do tackling the threat posed by Stevens. Their murderous plots and counterplots are reminiscent of the Roman court intrigues in Robert Graves classic novel ‘I, Claudius’ and, of course, George R R Martin’s much-later ‘Game of Thrones.’ This is the film’s most enjoyable aspect, although it does take the conflict out of our hero’s hands somewhat. Stevens doesn’t really have to deal with the villains; in a world where almost everyone double-crosses everyone else, he can pretty much leave them all to get on with it!

There’s also a ‘tribute’ to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Spartacus’ (1960) when the nasty Lorenzon devises a way to identify the hidden Queen amongst the female slave population. He has all of them tied to stakes out in the sun and gives them no food or water. After a while, Polani can’t take what’s happening to her sisters in bondage and declares herself, only for all the others to make the same declaration. Rather than carry on with the torture, Lorenzon simply shrugs his shoulders, admits defeat and sends them all back to the slave quarters. On the debit side, a lot of the climactic footage is lifted from Robert Aldrich’s biblical epic ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (1962) and other crowd footage was probably sourced from there, or other projects.

After starting his career on television in the US, Stevens went to Italy and made a quartet of Peplum pictures, of which this was the first. Returning home, he reverted to his birth name of Peter Lupus for professional purposes. A regular gig as Willy Armitage on the iconic network show ‘Mission: Impossible’ followed. The show ran for seven seasons, and despite producers attempting to replace him midway through with Sam Elliott, he stayed with the show until it ended in 1973. Afterwards, he found getting work difficult but he did resurface as Nordberg on Leslie Neilsen’s much-loved (if quickly cancelled) comedy half-hour ‘Police Squad!’ Of course, when the show was resurrected as the ‘Naked Gun’ film franchise, his role was taken by O J Simpson.

Director Domenico Paolella was a journeyman in Italian cinema, like many his output slavishly following the trends of the time. After a start in documentary filmmaking, by the 1960s, he was delivering pirate movies and swashbucklers before moving into the Peplum arena with ‘Maciste contro lo sceicco/Maciste Against The Sheik’ (1962). Once that cycle had run its course, he moved into Eurospys with the hopelessly muddled ‘Agente S 03: Operazione Atlantide’/‘Operation Atlantis’ (1965), made a couple of Spaghetti Westerns and ecclesiastical dramas which were, perhaps unfairly, marketed as part of the brief and rather bizarre ‘nunsploitation’ craze. He did reassemble much of this cast, including an under-used Arturo Dominici, for an another underwhelming Peplum ‘Goliath at the Conquest of Baghdad/Golia alla conquista di Bagdad/Goliath at the Conquest of Damascus’ (1965).

Liné should be a familiar face to fans of cult cinema, appearing in dozens of genre pictures in the 1960s and 70s, sometimes in roles unworthy of her abilities. At times, she was relegated to surprisingly minor roles, but, by her account, she accepted everything she was offered because she needed the money, even working as far afield as Mexico. She’s probably most recognisable to most from the title role of Amando de Ossorio’s ‘The Loreley’s Grasp/La garras de Lorelei’ (1972), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She starred in several of the better Eurospys including ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) and ‘Special Agent Lady Chaplin’ (1966), the two films featuring super villain ‘Kriminal’, and in ‘Nightmare Castle’ (1965) with Barbara Steele. She also appeared in Gialli such as ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), made pictures with Euro-horror star Paul Naschy and even played opposite the Man in the Silver Mask in ‘Santo vs. Doctor Death/Santo contra el doctor Muerte’ (1973).

Despite some points of interest, this is a distinctly minor chapter in the adventures of Hercules, and probably only really for hardcore fans and completists.

Ercole, Sansone, Maciste e Ursus gli invincible/Samson and the Mighty Challenge (1964)

Samson and the Mighty Challenge (1964)‘I don’t like bullies even if they are the children of Zeus.’

Hercules saves a young woman from drowning and immediately falls in love with her. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of the Queen of Lydia, and her heart already belongs to another. Hercules is tricked into performing various labours while palace soldiers fetch Samson to fight him…

Good-natured action spoof on the Peplum genre with the legendary demi-god ending up not just matched against the Biblical strongman but also facing musclemen Maciste and Ursus. The fact that the results are more dull than funny is down to a padded script that fails to demonstrate much in the way of wit or invention.

Slacking between jobs, Hercules (Alan Steel) pulls his horse up at a crossroads when the disembodied voice of Zeus gives him a choice. Take the left-hand path to virtue or the right-hand path to pleasure. Despite his daddy’s suggestion (accompanied by a lightning bolt!), Steel goes right, heading for the kingdom of Lydia which is supposed to be filled with beautiful women. On the way, he stops to perv over some of them who are swimming in the sea but intervenes to save Princess Omphale (Elisa Montés) when she gets trapped in a net. Rather than be grateful the sulky little brat seems a bit put out, especially when Steel declares his love for her to mum Queen Nemea (Lia Zoppelli). It turns out she’s already in a secret Romeo and Juliet relationship with Inor (Luciano Marin) who is the son of troublesome hill chieftain, Lico (Livio Lorenzon).

Samson and the Mighty Challenge (1964)

‘Where have those bloody builders gone now?’

Right away, Zoppelli and her chief advisor Nino Dal Fabbro encourage Steel’s amorous attentions, hoping to use him to rid the kingdom of Lorenzon and his violent tribe. Meanwhile, dwarf Arnaldo Fabrizio helps the young lovers by taking the place of oracle Astra (Hélène Chanel) during an important ceremony and making his own proclamation: that Steel must find the strongest man in the world before he can tie the knot.

This rival is Samson (Nadir Moretti), and soldiers are sent to fetch him, encountering violent drunk Ursus (Yann Larvor) and the helpful Maciste (Howard Ross) on the way. Even though this section of the action is dragged out for far too long, it does feature probably the funniest idea we get; that Moretti is henpecked by wife, Delilah (Moira Orfei) and is desperate to go on the trip. She’s having none of it, of course, and cuts his hair while he’s asleep in the best Biblical tradition.

Samson and the Mighty Challenge (1964)

‘You’re lucky it’s only your hair that’s getting the chop!’

When the four strongmen finally come together for the melee at the finish, it’s likely that most of the audience will not be too engaged. It’s an amiable enough adventure and Steel (real name Sergio Ciani) gives us a Hercules far more in the easy-going vein of Reg Park than the usual wooden mythological hero. The other legendary heroes comic banter mainly consists of Ross and Lavor bullying the now-weakened Moretti while he whines and waits for his hair to grow back. It’s not particularly pleasing even if director Giorgio Capitani thankfully resists the urge to turn the physical humour into crude slapstick. The fact that the film was re-titled as ‘Samson’s Mighty Challenge’ in the English-speaking world is a bit of a puzzle, considering that the character spends most of the time without his superhuman strength and only really engages in the action via a poorly-choreographed brawl with Ciani at the climax.

Ciani played almost exclusively in Peplum from 1959 to 1964, portraying Samson and Maciste in various films, which were often re-dubbed and re-titled as ‘Hercules’ vehicles in the United States. However, he had already played the demi-god officially earlier that year in ‘Hercules Against Rome’ (1964). After the Peplum cycle ended, he appeared in early Giallo ‘A… For Assassin’ (1966), and appeared sporadically throughout the 1970s, mostly in Westerns, before retiring at the end of the decade.

Samson and the Mighty Challenge (1964)

‘Let’s get ready to rumble!’

Of the other strongmen, both Moretti or Larvor only had brief film careers, but Ross was far more successful. After working with horror maestro Mario Bava on Western ‘Savage Gringo’ (1966), the director went on to cast him in his later Giallo ‘Five Dolls For An August Moon’ (1970). Throughout the rest of the decade, Ross appeared in other examples of that genre such as ‘Naked Girl Murdered In The Park’ (1973) and ‘The Killer Reserved Nine Seats’ (1974). He also had roles in mob movies such as Fernando Di Leo’s well-regarded ‘Il Boss/Murder Inferno’ (1973), was the male lead in ‘Werewolf Woman’ (1976) and in the following decade linked up with director Lucio Fulci for the controversial ‘The New York Ripper’ (1982) and ‘Rome 2033: The Fighter Centurions’ (1983).

This is an amiable romp that parodies the Peplum genre at the end of its life. However, neither the production nor the comedy displays a great deal of quality.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun/Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)‘My mother is dying. A big rock fell on her.’

The legendary hero Hercules is shipwrecked on a strange shore after a terrific storm out at sea. His crew are all dead, and he’s met by a guard of hostile soldiers. Assistance arrives from a group of Inca warriors, and he learns that their land has fallen under the rule of a usurper whose followers practice human sacrifice…

In a sense, this was the last of the ‘stand-alone’ official Hercules series that had been kicked off by the international success of the 1958 film of the same name starring Steve Reeves. Yes, there were three subsequent films, but the first found the demi-god sharing the spotlight with fellow musclemen Samson, Maciste and Ursus. The next was primarily a re-edit of two previous films in the series starring Reg Park and the last was produced initially as a pilot for a television show. And, yes, this project does betray the telltale signs of a dwindling budget and dipping production values.

We join Hercules (Mark Forest) on the coast of South America, washed ashore after an apparent storm out at sea. All his men have drowned, but the bad news doesn’t end there. He’s barely had time to catch his breath before he’s under attack. Some Inca warriors come to his aid (I guess everyone was just hanging at the beach that day) and the bad guys are quickly dispatched. Getting the lowdown on local politics doesn’t take long and, within minutes, Forest has pledged his allegiance to his rescuer: Prince Maytha (Giuliano Gemma), son of the deposed King Houscar (José Riesgo).

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Stop slacking you lazy bastards!’

First on the agenda is preventing the sacrifice of Gemma’s sister, the Princess Hamara (Anna-Marie Pace). She’s due to go under the knife of the High Priest (Giulio Donnini) of villainous despot King Atah Ualpa (Franco Fantasia). Gemma is happy to entrust the task to Forest because he’s known him for an hour or two. By the time Forest and his warrior crew arrive in the city of Tiahuanaca, the shindig is in full swing. For once, the dancing girls on their endless tour of the world’s lost civilisations haven’t got the gig. Instead, there’s a troupe of male dancers in blue feathers and skull masks shaking their thing.

Luckily for Forest, high priest Donnini loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice and takes so long about the ceremony that Forest has plenty of time to snatch Pace from her pink feathered table and make a clean getaway. He covers their escape by bringing down a column in the secret tunnel. This could have backfired and buried everyone, of course, but I guess the big man understands all about load-bearing walls and architectural stuff.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Tell you what. I’ll be Doug McClure if you’ll be Caroline Munro.’

Back at the rebel village, Forest gets nearly all the credit for the rescue (I guess the other guys fighting were pretty superfluous) but, despite this victory, Gemma isn’t keen on taking the fight to Fantasia. His forces are badly outnumbered, even with some of Fantasia’s army fighting in another part of the kingdom. This isn’t good enough for Forest, however, who completely undermines the Prince’s authority in front of the whole village by suggesting an attack. Intelligence will make their warriors worth five of Fantasia’s men, he promises. He doesn’t explain how, but he does invent the wheel, so that’s ok. It’s possible that this was an in-joke by the scriptwriters, who may have been referencing earlier series entry ‘Hercules In The Vale of Woe’ (1961), which was a time-travelling spoof that used the same plot device for comic effect.

Forest has the villagers building siege towers, but his contribution to the work consists of offering the odd bit of helpful advice and hanging around with Pace instead. She’s looking after a shoulder injury he’s sustained, but it’s clear that she’d rather be looking after another part of his anatomy. The drippy romance between Forest and Pace may get consummated offscreen as director and co-writer Osvaldo Civirani cuts from their first kiss to a herd of stampeding llamas. Well, it makes a change from a burning fireplace, I suppose.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Can you hear the llamas starting to gallop?’

But it’s at this point that we start to get a hint of trouble. Financial trouble. The villagers hold a party to celebrate the upcoming battle. The entertainment is a solo dance performed by a woman with a few men as her back-up. What’s wrong with that, you may ask. Well, for a start, it lasts for about six and a half minutes, and the cutaways to Gemme and Pace are tight close-ups. Forest attends courtesy of what looks like shaky b-roll footage, and he seems to be looking the wrong way! There have been a few strange editing choices up to this point, but many European films are recut for American release and sometimes with little care or attention. It’s worth mentioning the English language dub, as well. Quite obviously, no-one was in possession of the original script as the dialogue is often clunky and has characters repeating the same information to the extent that sometimes verges on the comic.

There’s also a strange subplot concerning a young boy that’s adopted by the tribe after Hercules lifts a big rock from where it has fallen on the lad’s dying mother. At the time, this seems important, and later we see him following Forest around the village as if they’re joined that the hip. But he never appears again, furthering the impression that some scenes are missing or were never filmed. Events culminate with the storming of the city, of course, and it’s pleasing to report that this is carried out on quite an impressive scale with plenty of extras and action. Unfortunately, the stunt work is uninspired, and some of the combat looks more than a little lethargic.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

The Mardi Gras was in full swing.

Where the film really scores, though, is with the costume design by Mario Giorsi. Fantasia and his Queen (Angela Rhu) wear magnificent, tall headdresses with a skull motif and lots of colourful feathers, and even the despot’s guards are decked out with feathered helmets that reach for the ceiling. The sacrificial ceremony is a riot of bright, vibrant colours thanks to Giorsi’s work, lending the scene a real style and echoing the work of horror maestro Mario Bava on ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). Perhaps it’s a condemnation of the rest of the film’s technicians to highlight this one area to such an extent, but the work is head and shoulders above what else is on offer. Literally!

The film was producer, director and co-writer Osvaldo Civirani’s debut in those roles and, given that, he delivers a respectable picture. There are problems and signs of possible budgetary issues, but it’s still serviceable enough. He teamed with Forest again on ‘Kindar The Invulnerable’ (1965) and delivered acceptable Eurospys ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) with Roger Browne and ‘The Beckett Affair’ (1966). Later projects included several Spaghetti Westerns, a series of comedies with popular double act Franco and Ciccio and crime thriller ‘The Devil with Seven Faces’ (1971) with Giallo mainstays Carrol Baker and George Hilton.

Hercules Against The Sons of the Sun:Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964)

‘Sorry, kid, who are you again?’

Incidentally, Italian cult favourite Rosalba Neri is listed by some sources with an uncredited appearance as ‘The Queen.’ Well, there’s only one role that fits that description in the finished film and that most assuredly is played by Rhu and not Neri. It’s possible she may have been initially on the picture and left for some reason and still appears in long shots but that’s unconfirmed. However, her list of credits is always going to be open to some interpretation. Reportedly, sometimes she would send her cousin along to play small roles she had been contracted to do when she couldn’t be bothered!

An acceptable enough muscleman outing that leaves the viewer with the impression that some of its flaws were probably down to adverse circumstances.

Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma (1964)

Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma (1964)‘I forgot that the military man is not subtle; he thinks with his sword.’

A village blacksmith will almost superhuman strength is contacted by a childhood friend who is now handmaiden to the Emporer’s daughter. She fears that there is treachery afoot in the Palace and that unscrupulous forces are about to attempt to take the throne by force…

By 1964, the Italian muscleman craze started by Steve Reeves’ turn as ‘Hercules’ (1958) had just about reached the end of its course. This was the 14th such film featuring the legendary Greek hero, and over 40 other movies had featured identikit strongmen, such as Samson, Goliath, Ursus and Maciste. A lot of those had also been rebranded with the ‘Hercules’ tag when released in the United States. So it’s hardly a great surprise that director Piero Pierotti’s effort brings nothing to the table but a succession of tired, old Peplum cliches.

Hercules (Sergio Ciani, billed as Alan Steel) is working as a village blacksmith a few days ride from the city of Ravenna, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire. Apart from the occasional attack by bandits, he’s living the quiet life, despite being constantly pestered by the teenage Erika (Simonetta Simeoni) whose romantic interest he doesn’t understand because his brain isn’t one of his more fully developed muscles. News comes that childhood friend Arminia (Dina De Santis) needs him in the big city. She’s worried that the ambitious Filippo Arfus (Daniele Vargas) is planning to assassinate Emperor Gordianus (Carlo Tamberlani) and marry his effeminate son to her mistress, the Princess Ulpia (Wandisa Guida). He’s also got a window of opportunity as the loyal General Triano (Mimmo Palmala) is off on tour fighting the Goths.

Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma (1964)

‘No thanks, luv, I only popped in for a swift half…’

Arriving in the city, Ciani joins forces with comedy relief innkeeper Lucilus (Tullio Altamura), and they infiltrate the Palace through the predictably convenient (and surprisingly spacious) secret passage. De Santis gives them the lowdown, but it’s too late; Vargas has already put his plan into motion, and Tamberlani has departed for the Elysian Fields. Our hero rescues Guida in the nick of time and hides her in his village. Unfortunately, the experience has given her temporary amnesia, and Vargas has already seized the throne. But the return of Palmala after a successful campaign provides the opportunity to take it back.

Such a generic plot, predictable story development and faceless characters leave little to discuss. However, there are a few, scattered points on interest. For a start, this is not Ancient Greece; it’s Ancient Rome. Hercules may be associated principally with Greek mythology but, to be pedantic, that’s actually Heracles, even though they are basically the same character. Both are credited with completing the legendary ‘labours’, after all, so it’s no great surprise that he switches origin from movie to movie from Greek to Roman and then back again. Also, Ciani isn’t really playing that character anyway. In some throwaway dialogue at the start of proceedings, we learn that he is supposedly the reincarnation of Hercules because every few generations a man born in this particular village will inherit the demi-god’s strength. This cheerfully brief and vague exposition does serve to inform audience expectations; however: no Gods, no monsters, no mythology.

Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma (1964)

‘I have a wery good friend in Wome called Biggus Dickus…’

What remains is a poor effort in many departments. Ciani looks the part, but lacks personality, Guida makes some ‘interesting’ acting choices, and Vargas’ men are probably the most poorly trained combat troops ever to make up a Praetorian Guard. In fairness, the English dub track does the cast few favours, but it provides one of the few genuinely entertaining moments in the film. When Vargas seizes power on the steps of the Palace, the troops proclaim him their leader with the possibly the most unenthusiastic ‘Long Live the Emporer’ ever heard on film. If he has to rely on their loyalty, then his days are numbered. Also, rather brilliantly, our main villain’s character was originally named Filippo Afro! They should have kept that in for the American release!

But we do have to talk about the last act. The climactic conflict sees the opposing forces meet on the battlefield. It’s a ‘do or die’ struggle for the throne of the Empire. Only most of these soldiers look suspiciously they are busy appearing in another film. Yes, we do see Vargas and Palmala go up against each other, but they are only sharing the frame with about a dozen other combatants. Palmala does discuss things with his generals in a tent, which makes a nice change as few military leaders in these films ever bother with something as unimportant as battle tactics. However, he never shares the frame with a significant number of his men, and neither does Vargas. Also Ciani takes almost no part in the final conflict, at all. Yes, before the battle begins, he turns over a catapult manned by a small cohort on a bridge which is strategically crucial, but, after that, he only appears in the final 20 seconds of the film. And that’s just a shot of him riding off into the sunset with a cheery wave!

Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma (1964)

‘It’s alright for you, I’m boiling in this getup…’

Ciani began his career as Steve Reeves’ body double in films like ‘Hercules Unchained’ (1959) and ‘The Giant of Marathon’ (1959) before his elevation to a more significant role opposite Brad Harris in ‘Samson’ (1961). He snagged the role of Maciste for ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963) which was retitled as ‘Samson and the Slave Queen’ in the U.S. An appearance as Goliath followed the same year in ‘Golia e il cavaliere mascherato’ (1963), retitled ‘Hercules and the Masked Rider’ stateside and then as Samson in ‘Sansone contro il corsaro nero’ (1964), which was retitled as ‘Hercules and the Black Pirates’ for export purposes. So, a legitimate appearance as Hercules was probably inevitable! Further appearances as Maciste and Ursus followed, as well as another as Hercules in ‘Ercole, Sansone, Maciste e Ursus gli invincibili‘ (1964). Once the muscleman genre died out, he made fewer appearances on the big screen, including the rather poor Giallo ‘A…for Assassin’ (1966), but worked reasonably steadily before retiring at the end of the 1970s.

Somewhat threadbare Peplum from the beginning of the end of the Italian Hercules cycle.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)‘In all my life, I have never witnessed a more frightening spectacle.’

As he lays dying, a murdered king charges two of his subjects to find his old friend, Hercules. The kingdom and his daughter are now at the mercy of his unscrupulous nephew, and there is no-one else he trusts to safeguard their future. The legendary hero comes running, but he finds himself pitted against black magic and a group of mythical golden giants…

Dan Vadis returns after ‘Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l’invincibile (1964) to flex his considerable muscle and battle the forces of darkness for director Alberto de Martino and cinematographer-producer Pier Ludovico Pavoni. Pleasingly, the film retains the mythological aspects employed in Vadis’ first outing, and this helps make the viewing experience more enjoyable than some of the other films in the unofficial series.

The story begins in the thick of the action. Soldiers loyal to the King’s nephew, Milo (Pierre Cressoy) are busy raising a village to the ground, but their fun is short-lived when the monarch himself makes the scene. King Pandeone (Gaetano Quartararo) is not amused by Cressoy’s antics and exiles him from the kingdom, only to find himself at the business end of a spear, courtesy of a nod from his brother’s son. With his dying breath, Quartararo charges villager Erlone (Jacques Stany) to fetch Hercules. Stany finds Vadis on the banks of the Hellespont where he’s building a temple to Hera. The big man is happy to answer the villager’s call for help; after all, it doesn’t look like he’s getting very far with his construction project.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

‘These Olympic exhibition events just keep getting weirder…’

Meanwhile, like all naughty little boys, Cressoy has gone to ‘fess up to mum, Pasiphae, played by Moira Orfei. However, as she lives in a cave and is a mistress of the Black Arts, she’s not inclined to be too harsh on the poor lad. Instead, she helps him out with a present; a sacred knife that can summon the Seven Sons of Juno’s sister. These guys may not be sparkling conversationalists but they are handy in a scrap and are certainly trendsetters with their bald heads and all-over gold paint jobs. But first Cressoy has to keep up appearances, so he organises a tournament where the kingdom’s mightiest warriors can compete for the hand of the late King’s daughter, the Princess Ate (Marilù Tolo).

Things start well for Cressoy, with his lieutenant Gordio (Howard Ross) making the early running, but then he’s challenged by arrogant visiting Prince Abdur (Pietro Capanna). The two face-off and fight in a pretty unique chariot vs horse match-up within the small arena. This proves to be the most exciting sequence in the picture, and the action is still impressive by today’s standards. It’s especially remarkable, given that it’s clear that the two actors are doing the vast majority of the stunt work. Sure, doubles may have been employed for the long shots, but there’s little doubt that it’s Capanna and Ross who are displaying considerable skills of driving and horsemanship. It looks genuinely dangerous when you bear in mind that the health and safety precautions were probably somewhat less than stringent.

Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole (1964)

🎵 Purple Haze in my brain… 

Despite this exciting exhibition, the mourning Tolo looks like she’d rather be anywhere else, but then Vadis turns up to fight the winner. A few words from our silver-tongued slab of muscle and she suddenly perks right up, particularly when he saves her life from an attack by deadly rubber spikes during their joint lap of honour. The subsequent drama revolves around possession of the sacred knife and the ability to unleash the golden giants. Naturally, Vadis goes up against them a couple of times, and the actor had to do his own stunts as there was apparently no-one large enough to double for him! Thankfully, he acquits himself very well, and the fights are surprisingly well designed and executed. Vadis also seems far more comfortable with dialogue than in his previous appearance in the role, and the clean-shaven face was a wise grooming choice.

The English dub seems typically confused about whether this is the Roman or Greek incarnation of the mythical muscleman; one minute he’s hanging out at the Hellespont (Greek), the next he’s the son of Jove (Roman). It also refers more than once to the seven golden warriors, although there only seems to be six of them. It’s fair to speculate that the film may have had a lower budget than previous entries in the series. The sets are on a smaller scale, and there are fewer extras to populate them. Still, director de Martino keeps things moving at a brisk pace and delivers a reasonable level of action and adventure.

The attempts to cure her insomnia were getting a little out of hand…

Unlike many of his type, Vadis managed a reasonable roll of credits after the craze for muscles had passed. Regular appearances in Spaghetti Westerns led to a supporting role in ‘High Plains Drifter’ (1973) and further Clint Eastwood projects such as ‘The Gauntlet’ (1977) and ‘Any Which Way You Can’ (1980), among others. He even featured on an episode of hit network TV show ‘Starsky and Hutch.’ Most of Tolo’s first leading roles were in ‘sword and sandal’ flicks, possibly because of her passing resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor who starred in ‘Cleopatra’ (1963) around that time. More than Vadis, however, she went onto a varied and prolific film career. She took the female leads in Eurospy pictures ‘Espionage In Lisbon’ (1965), ‘To Skin A Spy/Avec la peau des autres’ (1966) and ‘The Big Blackout’ (1966) and followed those with Giallo films such as ‘Trumpets of the Apocalypse/Murder By Music’ (1969), ‘Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast it’ (1970), and ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972). She also worked on one of horror maestro Mario Bava’s excursions into the Old West – ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970) – and with Richard Burton on ‘Bluebeard’ (1972). She also starred in many other Italian movies of the period before retiring in the mid-1980s.

A slight cut above the usual muscleman antics and the last of the Italian Hercules cycle of any real quality.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l’invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)‘Who has thrown my soldier into the pit of slime?’

Out for a quiet afternoon stroll, Hercules saves an innocent young maiden from a rampaging lion. Local custom usually dictates that he can marry the girl in such circumstances, but she’s a Princess, and her father demands that he slay a dragon before he will consent to the match…

The twelfth entry in the Italian cycle featuring the legendary hero Hercules finds his labours handed to Dan Vadis, and producer-director duties given to cinematographer Alvaro Mancori billed as Al World. Although the heyday of the muscleman craze had obviously passed, the film still boasts decent production values and professional execution.

After carrying out some casual tree surgery, Vadis is wandering about the forest when he’s alerted to danger by the screams of the pretty young Teica (Spela Rozin). She’s nipped off for a quick skinny dip in a nearby river, only to find there’s a roaring lion on hand to break up the party. Quite why she’s so scared is a bit of a mystery (are lions good swimmers?), but Vadis weighs in anyway and strangles the beast to death with his bare hands. The action is quite neatly accomplished, although it does highlight the problem of Vadis’ hair colour. Sometimes it’s light and bleached; at other times it’s almost black. It was probably an attempt to match up with his fight double, but why not get the stuntman to change his hair? And the little blonde beard he sports was probably not the best idea.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘Take the first left past the temple and the second right past the Cyclops cave and you can’t miss it…’

Anyway, Vadis recuperates from his wounds in the local village and gets a visit from King Tedaeo (Ugo Sasso) and his entourage. Sasso explains the local custom and why Vadis doesn’t qualify as his son-in-law unless he takes care of that pesky dragon that’s been bringing down real estate values in the local neighbourhood. Vadis and Rozin are in love, of course, and the big man readily agrees. The original version of the film may have established a passage of time by this point, however, in the dubbed version it appears to be almost immediately afterwards. This makes the couple’s devotion to each other ridiculously sudden and unconvincing. To be fair, killing a lion with your bare hands and saving her life is quite probably a swift way to a young girl’s heart, but I can’t see it working for most men as a romantic technique.

So, after accepting the hand of Rozin as a bribe (you really do have to question Sasso’s parenting skills!), Vadis is off to see the local Prophetess (Olga Sobelli, billed as Sand Beanty!). She informs him where the dragon’s at, gives him a magic spear to kill it and mentions the powers of the beast’s tooth, which she wants for herself. Having already got the weapon, he blows her off and leaves with her curses ringing his ears. Vadis dispatches the beast and harvests the bicuspid in question, even though there is a distinct possibility that the creature is appearing courtesy of another film. After all, not many dragons have a golden fleece as part of their home furnishings.

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘You must tell me the name of your hairdresser.’

But, as in most films of this kind, there’s more than one task on the hero’s job list. While he’s away killing the dragon, the village is raised to the ground by warlord Kebaol (Ken Clark), and Sasso and Rozin are taken to the kingdom of the evil Queen Etel (Carla Calò). Hooking up with sole survivor of the massacre, and cowardly comic relief, Barbar (Jon Simons), Vadis must journey there to save his beloved and bring about the end of Calò’s reign of terror.

Yes, this is just another reworking of very familiar story elements from films of this kind, but there are a few variations. Of course, there are a lot of slaves who need liberating, we see the ‘lost city’ dancing girls on their never-ending tour, and Calò has built her residence inside an active volcano (how did she get the necessary permits?).

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

The Javelin final had reached a crucial stage…

However, her only initial interest in our musclebound hero is having him torn apart by elephants in the arena (or in the throne room, actually; I guess it does double-duty). She does warm up to him after he saves her life though (guys, it always works!) but, just as predictably, he’s not interested. Why? Because she doesn’t ‘have eyes the colour of periwinkles’! (Kudos to the US dubbing crew for that one!). Everything ends in the predictable boiling cauldron of liquified strawberry jam (sorry, hot lava), but the audience is likely to experience more fun getting there than with most of the other entries in the series.

This certainly isn’t a very high-quality piece of storytelling, but it is more fun than a lot of its contemporaries. Vadis certainly looks the part and is decent in the action scenes, although he does look amiably bemused in a lot of the dialogue exchanges. I guess there could have been a language barrier with the Italian cast and crew? He signed on for ‘Hercules vs. The Giant Warriors/The Triumph of Hercules/Il trionfo di Ercole’ (1964) nevertheless. The most interesting aspect of the story probably revolves around Simons’ comedy relief. Yes, he’s incredibly annoying in the early stages and remains clumsy and nervous throughout but, by the last act, he’s engaged with the action and performing an active part on the side of the angels. Not often the comic relief gets a character arc in any kind of film!

Hercules The Invincible/Ercole l'invincibile/The Sons of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (1964)

‘Blimey, I could just murder a pint right now…’

Vadis was of Greek descent; born in China under the name of Constantine Daniel Vafiadis. He’d served in the US Navy was a member of Mae West’s ‘Muscleman Revue’ in the late 1950s, before breaking into film with the assistance of fellow bodybuilder Gordon Mitchell. After the strongman films petered out, he transitioned into Spaghetti Westerns and later was a familiar face in small roles in some of Clint Eastwood’s big hits of the 1970s, including ‘The Gauntlet’ (1977), ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ (1978) and ‘Bronco Billy’ (1980). The work dried up after that, and he was found dead in his car in the desert in June 1987 after an accidental drug overdose.

There wasn’t a great deal of life left in the Italian muscleman genre by this point, but this is still an undemanding and vaguely enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.

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.

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)‘A man who is impassioned by a beauty like yours is a foolish one indeed.’

A monstrous sea beast is attacking boats and murdering the fishermen of Ithaca. Legendary strongman Hercules and a crew of brave warriors track down the creature during a storm and kill it but are shipwrecked on a strange shore. While attempting to reach the nearest seaport to obtain a new ship, the comrades are taken prisoner by the authorities when Hercules is mistaken for the rebel Samson, who has a price on his head…

More of the further adventures of the Greek muscleman and champion of justice. This series entry came courtesy of writer-director Pietro Francisci, who had helped to send the ‘sword and sandal’ movie global by unleashing Steve Reeves as ‘Hercules’ (1958). After that film became an international sensation, the Italian film industry went Peplum crazy, churning out more than 50 similar adventures over the next half dozen years featuring not only Hercules, but identikit heroes like Samson, Maciste, Goliath and Ursus. The same actors often played more than one of these characters and, to confuse things even more, nearly all the movies were rebranded with the ‘Hercules’ name when released in the United States. However, this one is the real deal.

Hercules (Kirk Morris, real name Adriano Bellini) is perfectly content hanging around at the court of the King of Ithaca. He spends his time chucking the discus about, hanging with young friend Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico) and making whoopee with his beautiful wife, Leria (Diletta D’Andrea). But there’s something rotten in the state of Ithaca, or at least offshore, and it’s not dodgy tax havens patronised by the greedy super-rich. No, this is a more tangible blot on the seascape. When the locals turn up at court with another tale of a murdered fisherman, Morris takes action, asking for a ship, a crew and a star to sail her by. D’Andrea is not pleased, believing that it’s just an excuse for Morris to go off on more of his tiresome adventures, but Morris adamant: Moby Dick is going down.

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)

‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!’

Unfortunately, things go a bit pear-shaped when Morris and his merry men catch up with the creature. Morris manages to snag it with a harpoon, but it’s not the monster that’s the problem, it’s the weather. And it’s this scene which tells us what kind of ‘Hercules’ film we’re going to get. We don’t see anything of the monster but a shadow in the water and the raging storm is just a meteorological phenomenon, not the work of the Gods. Mythological elements are entirely absent from this story which ties in with the tale of the biblical strongman, Samson, instead. Of course, it’s the goofier aspects of these films which are their most entertaining aspect today, so this is not particularly good news.

The stranded Morris and his companions begin their cross-country trek with just one aim in mind: getting back home. Luckily, Cerusico managed to save the carrier pigeons they’d brought along as a precaution, so they can still send messages back home. This plot device leads to several scenes of D’Andrea and the court receiving these avian telegrams which, although they do allow for the Ithacans to make a last-minute appearance as the cavalry, are pretty much just there to pad out the running time. Meanwhile, Morris has strangled a lion and been misidentified as rebel Samson (Iloosh Khoshabe, billed here as Richard Lloyd). This means trouble with the local authorities, specifically King Seren of the Philistines (Aldo Giuffrè) whose men have burned a local village and killed the populace in an earlier scene. Although not graphic, that sequence is surprisingly nasty, with men and women crucified to the front of their houses before everything burns.

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)

‘I do think t’s time you had a haircut, dear…’

The real power behind the throne, though, is Giuffrè’s man-eating queen, Delilah (Liana Orfei). She persuades her king to send Morris after Khoshabe with his crew held behind as hostages, thus setting up the battle that we’ve all come to see. Of course, she goes along for the ride so that she can make a move on our hero, but he’s having none of it. After all, he’s a married man! The fight between Morris and Khoshabe does prove to be one of the high points of the film. The two go at it in the ruins of a deserted temple and, yes, the slabs and stones don’t look like they have all that much weight, but it’s still a fun sequence. Francisci choses to shoot from low angles as well; a clever idea as it emphasises the size and stature of the protagonists. In terms of action, it’s only rivalled by the climactic temple collapse during the big finish.

There is nothing particularly special about this entry into the Hercules catalogue. Morris has the looks and physicality for the title character but brings little to the role in terms of personality. This was a switch of roles for him as his previous filming assignment had been his second appearance as Samson in ‘Sansone contro i pirati/Samson Against the Pirates’ (1963). He’d also played Maciste three times by this point, once in another crossover movie ‘Hercules in the Valley of Woe’ (1961). But the acting honours here definitely belong to Orfei, who play seductive and sexy one minute and penitent and pleading the next when the tables have turned. We can certainly see why Khoshabe starts thinking with his trousers, rather than his head. Although it’s probably not a relationship with much of a future if the bible is an accurate record.

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses/Ercole Sfida Sansone/Hercules Challenges Samson (1963)

‘We got shipwrecked killing a sea monster. Have you got a phone we could use?’

Everything here is workmanlike and professional enough, but, without the mythological elements, it’s nothing to write home about. The action is competently staged, there’s some scale to the battle scenes, and the landscape is appropriately barren and desolate. Look closely, however, and you can’t help but notice that the Philistine soldiers are wearing what appear to be German helmets from World War II. Khoshabe also throws a lot of spears, their flights accompanied by ever-weirder sound effects, which may have been added when the film was assembled for US release. Francisci only directed twice more, but one of those projects was the wonderfully silly ‘2+5: Missione Hydra’ (1968) which makes up for in giggles what it lacks in every other department.

All in all, a very standard sword and sandal adventure that’s unlikely to live long in the memory.