Goliath and the Masked Rider/Golia e il cavaliere mascheratio/Hercules and the Masked Rider (1963)

‘Could you prepare a love philtre for my fiancee? Make her change her stupid and arrogant behaviour.’

In 16th Century Spain, an evil Duke plans to take the lands of his wealthy neighbour by marriage or by force. A soldier in love with the prospective bride teams up with a gypsy bandit queen to thwart his evil scheme…

Pity poor Goliath! The strongman was only four movies into his screen career when he was relegated to a side character in this lacklustre swashbuckler. Director Piero Pierotti fails to inject any sense of dash or dynamism into this riff on the all-too-familiar exploits of one señor Zorro.

Don Juan (Mimmo Palmara) returns from the wars to find that things have taken a turn for the worse at the hacienda of his lady love, Dona Blanca (José Greci). Her father, Don Francisco (Renato Navarrini), has promised her hand to troublesome neighbour Don Ramiro (Arturo Dominici), who has threatened war. The young lovers can’t control their passion, and Palmara is banished while Dominici takes delight in torture and mayhem with his increasingly disillusioned right-hand man, Captain Belasco (Ettore Manni).

Palmara links up with red-haired bandit queen Estellla (Pilar Cansino) after fighting her henchman Goliath (Alan Steel) to a draw in hand to hand combat. She also has an axe to grind with Dominici, who was responsible for the death of her husband. Palmara dons a scarlet mask and cloak to become Zorro wannabee the Masked Rider, and events develop on entirely predictable lines. There’s even a scene where Palmara and the band intercept Dominici’s courier Don Ruiz (Tullio Altamura), when he’s bringing Greci gifts from the dastardly warlord. Unfortunately, Palmara is no Errol Flynn, and the woods north of Rome ain’t no Sherwood Forest. Yes, the film hits just about every story beat you expect in a way that lacks any significant interest.

So where does legendary muscleman Goliath fit into all this? Well, he is simply one of Cansino’s merry men. He takes part in the small scale battles with Dominici’s guards and has three or four short lines of unimportant dialogue. It’s pretty clear that the character’s been inserted for name value only, probably into a production conceived initially without him. What’s not surprising is that when the film was retitled for a stateside release, Goliath did his routine name change to Hercules.

Perhaps significantly, around the same time, Steel appeared as Maciste (the Italian version of Hercules) in Umberto Lenzi’s ‘Samson and the Slave Queen’ (1963), originally called ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ and was also set in 16th Century Spain! As the two films shared the same producer, Fortunato Misiano, and were shot around some of the same locations, it’s quite probable that Steel was asked to hang around after one film wrapped to appear in the other. Perhaps he was contracted for another couple of day’s work.

Steel, real name Sergio Ciani, had started his Peplum career with a couple of brief showings in films starring the original Hercules, Steve Reeves. His impressive physicality rewarded him with more prominent roles in ‘Samson’ (1960) and ‘Fury of Hercules’ (1962), supporting American actor Brad Harris before he took up the reins of Maciste. After that, he went onto play Samson for real in ‘Sansone contro il corsaro nero’ (1964), Hercules for real in ‘Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma’ (1964), Maciste again, Samson again, Hercules again, and finally completed the full set as Ursus in ‘The Three Avengers/Gli invincibili tre (1964).

Dominici, who gives the best value here as the sneering villain, is probably familiar to most as the undead Igor in Mario Bava’s ‘La maschera del demonio/Black Sunday’ (1960) but had roles in many Peplum outings, including the original ‘Hercules’ (1957). Perhaps what’s most surprising is to see that director Pierrotti was on script duty with a couple of the mainstays of the Giallo thriller, which was to take Italian cinema by storm in the early 1970s. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi penned many of the best examples of that sub-genre, and Luciano Martino became well-known through his work as a producer with his brother Sergio usually in the director’s chair.

Little more than a lost footnote in the Peplum genre and the exploits of its musclebound heroes. Not worth your time unless you are a die-hard fan.

Goliath and the Rebel Slave/Goliath e la schiava ribelle/The Tyrant of Lydia Against the Son of Hercules/Arrow of the Avenger (1963)

‘I think you are the strongest and most unselfish man in the world.’

The opposing armies of Alexander the Great and his Persian enemies are camped on the frontiers of Lydia. The kingdom’s ruler plans to abscond with the contents of the royal treasury, so he sends emissaries to both camps as a distraction. The one chosen to visit Alexander is Lydian general and man of the people, the strongman Goliath…

More Peplum antics from Italy chasing the money wagon launched by Steve Reeves as ‘Hercules’ (1957). This film is the third in the short-lived ‘Goliath’ series, and here it’s former Tarzan Gordon Scott treading in the sandal prints of Reeves, who was in the first entry and Brad Harris, who’d appeared in the sequel.

The world is closing in on the city of Sardis. King Marcius (Massimo Serato) is already planning to jump ship while his generals and advisors have shouting matches in the throne room. Muscleman Goliath (Scott) is all for extending the olive branch to the noble Alexander (Gabriele Antonini), while his rival Artafernes (Mimmo Palmara) favours the Persians. It’s not a plot spoiler to reveal that Palmara, his Lady Macbeth, Zoé (Gloria Milland) and slimy politico Barbuk (Giuseppe Sortis) have already sold out everyone down the river to the Persians anyway.

Scott embarks on his quest while Serato busies himself rifling the royal coffers and placing the booty in a secret tunnel that leads out of the city. On the way to Alexander’s camp, Scott rescues blonde, blue-eyed Princess Corri (Ombretta Colli) by catching a team of runaway horses and stopping her stagecoach. OK, he actually fights off a gang of bandits that attack her caravan, but it’s the same difference—the two fall in love in the blink of a false eyelash and the twitch of a deltoid.

When he reaches the Macedonian tents, Scott finds that Antonini is indeed an honourable man and strikes a deal on behalf of his sovereign. However, he doesn’t know that Colli has reached Sardis in safety, and Serato likes what he sees, selling her on the idea of marriage to help protect the people. His wedding plans go south after a cup of poisoned wine, and Colli is accused of murder. It’s all a plot concocted by our villainous triumvirate, of course, and before you can shake a ceremonial spear, Palamara and Milland are firmly ensconced on neighbouring thrones, and Colli is on the execution list.

Director Mario Caiano’s film is a slightly unusual entry in the Peplum genre in that he chooses to emphasise character and plot over action in the first two acts of the film. This would be a welcome change of pace were it not for the fact that the audience is unlikely to care. All the story developments are signposted well in advance, and the characters are nothing more than the usual hero/villain archetypes. The love story between Scott and Corri is soppy and dull, and the entire cast struggles to make anything out of Gian Paolo Callegari and Albert Valentin’s lifeless script. Serato does seem to be having fun, but he’s gone too soon.

Scott usually infused his heroes with some humour and humanity, but here he just seems to be sleepwalking through his dialogue, although he perks up a bit for the action when it arrives. If you’re thinking that Scott had already tackled the role of Goliath twice before in ‘Goliath and the Vampires’ (1961) and ‘Goliath – King of the Slaves’ (1963), then that’s understandable but you’d be wrong. In the first film, he played legendary hero Maciste, and in the second, a character called Nippur, the original title of the film translating as ‘The Hero of Babylon’. In a similar free translation, the ‘Goliath’ in this film became a ‘Son of Hercules’ when the movie hit American shores.

Also appearing in the film are the Lost Kingdom Dancing Girls ticking off a gig at the Royal Court of Sardis in their never-ending tour and some long shots of big battles scenes, appearing courtesy of another movie. But perhaps this film’s finest moments occur after the escape of Corri and her handmaiden, played by Lea Lander. The two swap dresses to throw off the soldiers that pursue them, and the patrol duly picks up Lander and takes her back to the palace, leaving Corri free. This would be a plausible development if Corri were not a blonde in a white dress and Lander a jet-black brunette in blue, and the soldiers hadn’t had a clear view of them before they swapped outfits.

A sadly lacklustre Peplum adventure. Perhaps it’s not too much of a surprise that the next film in the series reduced Goliath to almost a bystander in his own movie.

Goliath Against The Giants/Goliath contro i giganti (1961)

‘It’s more difficult to understand a woman than to defeat an army.’

After a long campaign, Goliath and his army are looking forward to some peace, but instead they find out that their king has been muderered back home and a usurper is on the throne. A message concerning their return has already been despatched, so Goliath decides to try and outrun the courier by returning across the sea…

More muscleman adventures from Italy as US actor Brad Harris takes up the gauntlet from Steve Reeves, who had previously played the part in ‘Goliath and the Barbarians/Il terrore dei barbari’ (1959). This adventure was directed by Guido Malatesta and scripted by Arpad DeRiso, Cesare Seccia and Gianfranco Parolini, who was soon to become a prolific director of genre cinema and, according to some sources, worked uncredited in that capacity here.

After a bloody five-year campaign, victorious general Goliath (Harris) heads back to his homeland Beyruth, but the fighting isn’t over yet. Bad news came hard on the heels of the fruits of conquest;
good King Augustes lays dead back home, and usurper Bokan (Fernando Rey) has seized the throne. This intelligence comes too late; Harris has already despatched a messenge back with news of their victory and imminent return. Realising this courier must be intercepted, he commandeers a ship, selects a crew and sets out via the swifter ocean route.

Unfortunately, nothing goes according to plan. First, the ship is becalmed, and then Harris has to deal with young stowaway Antheus (Franco Gasparri). Stopping in for freshwater supplies at a deserted island, they find Princess Elea (Gloria Milland) staked out on the ground. Harris takes her aboard, but is she friend or foe? She does try to kill him with a snake but soon finds the big man’s noble character and his muscles to be an irresistible combination. Later on, it turns out that she had been duped into the role of assassin by Rey and his scheming mistress Diamira (Carmen de Lirio), convinced that Harris was responsible for her father’s death.

The voyage gets progressively more perilous as they are battered by a typhoon and attacked by a giant sea lizard. Harris defeats the monster, but the ship, and nearly all the crew, are lost. Washed up on the shores of Beyruth, our heroes escape in the nick of time from a tribe of Amazon warriors and finally reach their destination. But there’s still plenty of work to be done. Harris’ fight card fills up with Rey’s royal guard, a gorliia in the dungeon, some unfriendly lions and an extra couple of giant lizards. What about the giants? After all, they are in the movie’s title. Well, they do turn up eventually, about six minutes from the end of the film. Unfrotunately, they are not exactly impressive, being played by half a dozen burly blokes in beards and animal skins. When Harris briefly fights with a few of them, it’s obvious they’re no taller than him.

As you may have gathered, the story here is nothing special, simply being the usual ragbag of Peplum cliches. However, there are so many of them that they give Malatesta’s film its most significant advantage: pace. There’s little let up in the action right from the get-go when the audience is thrown straihght into the final stages of the five-year war. The sword play may not be the best, but it’s enthusiastic and the battle scenes have a good sense of scale, thanks to the impressive sets and the sheer number of participants. Coming at the beginning of the muscleman cycle, the production values are still relatively high and this does grant the film a stamp of quality lacking in some of the later examples of the genre.

It also helps that Fernando Ray is terrific value as the despicable Bolkan, although he’s so flaky its hard to believe that he could hold onto a throne, let alone steal one in the first place. Of course, he’s stuffing the treasury by levying exorbitant taxes on an increasingly rebellious population and holding games in the arena where even the winner gets an arrow through the neck. Why did he order one of his flunkeys to kill this nameless gladiator? No reason, just a bit of fun. When will all these usurpers, Grand Viziers and dark princes learn to employ a sensible tax policy anyway? Stop at a level just before the populace gets angry enough to do something about it, and give them reasons to blame each other for their collective poverty. Race and colour are usually reliable ones. It’s Government 101, really.

Some of the more familar elements of the genre are all present and correct too. Slaves are turning a big wheel (although it is attached to somethiing for once!) The Lost Kingdom Dancing Girls continue their never-ending tour with an appearance at the royal court. Guards on the steps of the palace uncross their spears when someone approaches and then cross them again once the visitor has gone through. Harris just wanders up behind Rey on his throne at the arena and puts a blade to his throat.

One of the film’s greatest strengths lies in its location work. There’s a beautiful sequence where our heroes walk across a desert and the valley of Janopah where the giants live is an impressive mixture of bleak crags and volcanic ash. The scenery is often spectacular, and the cinematography of Alejandro Ulloa helps evoke an ancient world, assisted by a stirring score from Carlo Innocenzi. Some of the monsters are somewhat immobile and don’t bear too close scrurtiny but director Malatesta sensibly doesn’t let his camera linger on them for more than a few seconds at a time.

Harris sports a short, blonde beard and a haircut with just a suggestion of an Elvis quiff. He is not very charasmatic here but still won the title roles in similar offerings ‘Samson’ (1961) and ‘Fury of Hercules’ (1962). Later on, he often starred for Parolini, once the latter became a full-time director. The two collaborated most famously on the ‘Kommissar X’ Eurospy films, and, by that point, he was more assured in front of the camera. He was also a martial arts expert who often choreographed fight sequences and toted a six-gun as Spaghetti Western heroes Django and Sabata. None of these skills was probably required for his occasional appearances in the 1980s on US super soap ‘Dallas.’

Malatesta was a writer and a director who worked in various genres before latching onto the Peplum craze with this film. ‘Maciste contro i mostri/Colossus of the Stone Age’ (1962), ‘Maciste contro i cacciatori di teste/Colossus and the Headhunters’ (1963) followed in short order. He also worked as a writer on ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963), which was inexplicably re-titled Slave Queen’ for the American market. Ventures into Eurospy territory came next with scripts for ‘Spies Strike Silently/Le spie uccidono in silenzio’ (1966) and ‘Operation Apocalyspe/Missione apocalisse’ (1966), and he returned to the director’s chair to deliver dreary, slow-burn caper ‘Mission Phantom/Come rubare un quintale di diamanti in Russia’ (1967). Two jungle adventures closed out the decade: ‘Samoa, Queen of the Jungle/Samoa, regina della giungla’ (1968) and ‘Tarzana, the Wild Woman/Tarzana, sesso selvaggio’ (1969), both featuring the up and coming Femi Benussi in the title role.

A somewhat formulaic and familiar outing enlivened by a swift pace and a budget that allows for a solid level of spectacle.

Goliath and the Barbarians/Il terrore dei barbari/Terror of the Barbarians (1959)

‘Leave that woman alone, you swine!’

After his hometown is sacked by Barbarians and his father killed, a young warrior vows vengeance and forms a small band of rebels to defend his homeland. When the Barbarians establish a fort in the area, the fight escalates, but things get complicated when he falls in love with the daughter of the fort’s commander and both the lovers struggle with divided loyalties…

More sword and sandal action from Italy with U.S. actor Steve Reeves following up his star-making turn in ‘Hercules’ (1958) and ‘Hercules Unchained’ (1959). Writer and producer Emimmo Salvi teams up with director Carlo Campogalliani to deliver the usual mixture of feats of strength, combat and adventure in a film that never strays too far from the ‘Hercules’ template, although there’s not a whiff of magic or mythology.

The Barbarian hordes led by King Alboino (Bruce Cabot) have swept across the land, looting and plundering without check for generations. Their latest target proves to be the hometown of woodcutter Emiliano (Reeves), who is off in the forest when the hordes descend. By the time he gets back, his father is dead, skewered by shaven-headed, pony-tailed Igor (Livio Lorenzon). Reeves bands the survivors into a guerilla group, who hide out in the hills, although he prefers to hassle the Barbarian troops solo, wearing an animal mask. These successful skirmishes earn him the name ‘Goliath’ and prompt the return of Lorenzon from Cabot’s court and the building of a stockade, commanded by Delfo (Andrea Checchi).

Out in the woods one day, Reeves helps a beautiful woman who has fallen from her horse. The two fall in love, of course, even though he’d probably rather be fighting and chopping wood. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that this dark-eyed beauty is Landa (Chelo Alonso), Checchi’s wild and spirited daughter. Worse is to follow when it’s revealed that Lorenzon plans to kill Checchi and grab both his command and Alonso for himself. So it’s time for Reeves to flex his muscles and ride to the rescue.

This is a very standard Peplum adventure that hits the expected beats and targets with predictable results. The plot is such a formulaic assembly of tried and trusted adventure tropes that nothing is ever in doubt, and each event and plot development is entirely predictable. There’s even a hopelessly contrived sequence where Reeves has to perform some feats of strength (labours, if you will) to avoid execution at Barbarian hands and go free.

Of course, the success or failure of such an enterprise falls heavily on the shoulders of the combat and action choreography and, here, it’s hardly inspirational. Some of the climactic battle footage is even speeded up in a desperate effort to infuse it with some level of excitement and, although there is a pleasing scale lend by the good number of extras, it still comes off as a little flat and under-rehearsed. The film did have budgetary issues, running out of funds entirely at one point. It was only the purchase of the U.S. distribution rights by American International Pictures that allowed production to continue.

The film does have some good points, though, principally thanks to some of the main cast. Alonso was a Cuban actress whose striking, exotic looks saw her take the title role in ‘Queen of the Tartars’ (1960) and play opposite Mark Forest in ‘Son of Samson/Maciste nella valle dei Re’ (1960), again for director Campogalliani. She also had a small role in Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ (1966). Her performance here as the untamed warrior princess is the best thing about the film. It’s particularly welcome in her scenes with Reeves, who fails to bring a great deal of personal charisma to the screen.

She also performs a couple of sexy dance routines, one around upturned swords, that both help to establish her character and most probably provided some enticing clips for the film’s trailer. Unfortunately for Checchi, her fierce performance was not just a good acting job. In one scene, he slaps her, and, unable to contain herself, the actress slapped him right back. Apparently, she blew several takes that way and had to have her hands tied together! When the cameras stopped rolling, the first thing she did was go over to him and return his latest favour.

Similarly, Lorenzon is an imposing figure and scowls and snarls his way through his villainous role with some relish. He’s ably supported in his black-hearted schemes by Svevo (Arturo Dominici), more familiar now from his work with director Mario Bava in ‘Caltiki, The Immortal Monster’ (1959) and ‘La maschera del demonio/Black Sunday’ (1960). He also appeared in several other muscleman pictures, including another run-in with ‘Goliath at the Conquest of Damascus/Golia alla conquista di Bagdad’ (1965).

It’s also good to see Cabot, who is best remembered these days as Fay Wray’s non-hairy boyfriend in the classic ‘King Kong’ (1933) and graduated to a long list of character parts in the later phase of his career. A supporting gig with John Wayne in ‘Angel and the Badman’ (1946) led to a life-long friendship and roles in many of the Duke’s later pictures, including ‘The War Wagon’ (1967), ‘The Green Berets’ (1968), ‘Chisum’ (1970) and ‘Big Jake’ (1971). His final role was as casino manager Albert R Saxby in the James Bond adventure ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971).

A mildly entertaining slice of muscle man heroics, enlivened by a stronger than usual supporting cast, but there’s little to make it stand out from the crowd.

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.

Odissea/L’Odissea/The Odyssey (1968)

Odissea/L’Odissea/The Odyssey (1968)‘You will be devoured last after I have eaten up all of your fellows.’

At the end of the Trojan War, the warrior Odysseus sets out on the journey back home to Ithaca. But he was angered certain of the Gods and the path is beset with mythological beasts, traps and sorceries. During the ten years that pass, his wife Penelope remains faithful, but she is surrounded by young princes who demand that she take one of them as her husband and new King…

Epic, almost seven-hour adaptation of Homer’s famous poem, made for Italian television by producer Dino De Laurentiis and director Franco Rossi. De Laurentiis had also been responsible for the feature version ‘Ulysses’ (1954) with Kirk Douglas but had always been unhappy with the compromises necessary to bring the story down to feature-length. This Italian-French-German co-production, however, delivers almost the entire tale intact.

It’s been a hard 20 years for Queen Penelope of Ithaca (Irene Papas). Not only did husband Odysseus (Bekim Fehmiu) fight in the decade-long siege of Troy, it’s now ten years later, and he still hasn’t returned. The royal court is filled with young nobles who are eating her out of house and home and demanding that she takes one of them to fill the vacant throne. Her son Telemachus (the excellent Renaud Verley) can do nothing but suffer the insults heaped on him by the prospective grooms, led by the insufferably arrogant Antinous (Constantin Nepo, aka Constantin Andrieu).

Odissea/L’Odissea/The Odyssey (1968)

‘Your dinner is in the bin.’

The frustrated Verley is persuaded by the goddess Athena to look for his father. So he hits the road to visit Troy veterans Nestor (Jaspar von Oertzen) and Menalus (Fausto Tozzi). Neither can give him any information, but Tozzi’s wife Helen (Scilla Gabel) tells of how Fehmiu scaled the walls of Troy alone to find her. Meanwhile, the man in question has washed up on the coast of Phaeacia. Thanks to the help of the young Princess Nausicaa (Barbara Gregorini) he’s been received at court by King Alcinioo (Roy Purcell) and Queen Arete (Marina Berti). After initially keeping his identity a secret, he reveals himself and begins relating the stories of his adventures.

It’s here that the most famous part of the poem begins, of course. Fehmiu has already told the smitten Gregorini about his seven years spent in the arms of goddess Calypso (Kyra Bester), so he begins with his crew’s temptation by the Lotus Eaters and goes on to their encounter with the Cyclops, Polyphemus (Samson Burke). This sequence was directed by horror maestro Mario Bava, and some sources claim that Bava also worked on the same scenes in ‘Ulysses’ (1954). However, others suggest there is no evidence for this assertion. Either way, it makes perfect sense for De Laurentiis to bring Bava on board, though, given his legendary ability with optical trickery and practical SFX.

Odissea/L’Odissea/The Odyssey (1968)

🎵So let them say your hair’s too long… 🎶

And Bava does not disappoint, delivering a substantial sequence that proves to be the highlight of the series. The scale of the giant’s cave is achieved with a combination of matte paintings and perfect camera positioning, aided by appropriately oversized props. Forced perspective and high angles emphasise the creature’s size and some quick cuts with a giant hand (very reminiscent of a couple of the same moments in ‘Ulysses’ (1954)) only serve to further the illusion, rather than dispel it. It’s a technical tour de force, assisted by the excellent performances of the cast and Carlo Rambaldi’s work on the monster’s face, although the latter has dated a little.

The rest of Fehmiu’s tale is more of a mixed bag in terms of filmmaking quality. The only major misstep is his visit to ‘keeper of the winds’ Aeolus (Vladimir Leib). Up until this point, the costume department has delivered flawless work, but here something went badly wrong. Leib and his entourage are saddled with silver Afro fright wigs and matching clothing. They look more like refugees from an Italian science-fiction picture of the period. It’s also worth noting that the six-headed Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis are omitted entirely; probably due to the technical difficulties of bringing them to the screen in a convincing way. However, on the bright side, we get a very memorable Circe, courtesy of the strikingly beautiful Juliette Mayniel.

Odissea/L’Odissea/The Odyssey (1968)

‘But you know I’ve always looked up to you…’

What holds the project together though, is some fine performances from the leading players. Fehmiu is excellent as Odysseus; brash and arrogant in the flashbacks to the start of his journey, but older and wiser in the telling of it. He even has doubts during his revenge on his wife’s suitors in the final act, something that his younger self would not have entertained. The actor is also plainly doing most of the sword combat himself. It’s not spectacular work, but it does avoid the over-choreographed unreality of more modern films, genuinely seeming more authentic to the period. And authenticity is a touchstone throughout the production, Fehmiu eating a meal with his fingers at the Phaeacians’ court (no cutlery in Ancient Greece, folks, not even knives!)

Dark-eyed Papas also makes the best of her role as the archetypal ‘woman who waits’ bringing a much-needed emotional edge to proceedings without overplaying her hand. It’s interesting to speculate why Silvana Mangano didn’t get that part instead. After all, she’d played the same role in ‘Ulysses’ (1954) opposite Kirk Douglas, and she was married to producer De Laurentiis at the time! It’s also curious that only Gabel’s beautiful Helen has her face whitened with makeup, because this was the standard practice for all noblewomen in Ancient Greece where the suntan was not socially acceptable.

Odissea/L’Odissea/The Odyssey (1968)

‘Not so fast, Mr Odysseus.,.’

Conversations between the Gods are kept to a minimum and rendered by offscreen voiceover accompanied by shots of statues. It’s not particularly satisfying, but it’s preferable to well-known actors making cameos on smoke-filled sets dressed in togas. Peter Hinwood apparently played Hermes, a half-decade before he found everlasting cult fame in the title role of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975). You’ll also recognise the young Gregorini in her debut role. A swift name change later and she was ‘Bond Girl’ Anya Amasova opposite Roger Moore in ‘Ths Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977) and another made her Mrs Ringo Starr. One of Gabel’s first screen credits was as Sophia Loren’s ‘swimming double’ in ‘Boy On A Dolphin’ (1957). Despite his memorable performance here, Nepo’s screen career was a short one. In real life, he was a celebrated Russian surrealistic artist whose best-known work is the wonderful painting ‘La Nuit de Walpurgis’. 

Other technical merits boost the production, including an elegant score by composer Bruno Nicolai and excellent location work. The exteriors were entirely filmed in the former Yugoslavia, and its empty, sun-baked coasts are the perfect setting for this sweeping tale of men and mythology. As well as its television broadcast, the series was condensed into a 105-minute feature called ‘The Adventures of Ulysses’, This went to theatres over the next couple of years and apparently contained nearly all of Bava’s contribution.

Minor quibbles aside, this is an impressively faithful attempt to recreate Homer’s original poem on the screen. Filmmaking is rarely this ambitious or so well accomplished.

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.

Ulysses (1954)

Ulysses (1954)‘These Greeks are tough, with stringy meat.’

The Princess of Phaeacia finds an unconscious man washed up on the beach. The stranger has no memory of his past life but proves himself strong, brave and honourable. The two plan to marry, but, on their wedding day, he feels compelled to return to the sea, and his memories begin to return…

Handsomely mounted, if necessarily abbreviated, feature version of Homer’s epic poem ‘The Odyssey’ which tells of Odysseus’ ten-year journey home after the end of the Trojan War (yes, it’s the same character). It was a passion project for producer Dino De Laurentiis who secured a global distribution list with Paramount Pictures and some important American talent, most notably international box-office stars Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn.

It’s been ten years since the end of the Trojan War and Queen of Ithaca, Penelope (Silvana Mangano) still waits for news of her husband, the warrior Ulysses (Douglas). Unfortunately, her house has been overrun by young nobles eager for her hand in marriage, and, more importantly, the kingdom’s throne. Her son Telemachus (Franco Interlenghi) is too young to be taken seriously by these suitors, led by the arrogant, forceful Antinous (Quinn).

‘I’m sorry, sir, but all the First Class cabins are already taken…’

Meanwhile, Douglas has been washed up on the island of Phaeacia and has caught the eye of the Princess Nausicaa (Rossana Podestà). He can’t remember who he is, or where he comes from, but, after proving his he-man credentials, Podestà can’t wait to get him to the altar. Unfortunately for her, he’s called to the sea on their wedding day and suffers a ‘Hollywood Amnesia Flashback’. We see him marshalling his troops inside the Wooden Horse inside the gates of Troy, outwitting the Cyclops Polyphemus and getting caught up in the machinations of the sorceress, Circe (Mangano, again).

During the 1950s, it became common practice for big American Studios to collaborate with their Italian counterparts. Income from US films had not found their way back home during the Second World War. These funds were now available to spend, making productions shot in European countries a desirable financial proposition. In particular, Italy had a thriving pre-war film industry and boasted the massive Cinecittà Studios in Rome built under Mussolini’s government in the 1930s. Biblical epics and historical adventures could be shot there at a fraction of Stateside production costs. ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’ as it became known endured for more than a decade before being sunk by the runaway production costs of the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor vehicle ‘Cleopatra’ (1963).

Ulysses (1954)

‘I’m sorry. Kirk, but I do think that extra hour under the sun lamp was probably a mistake…’

So, although it may seem strange at first glance to see major stars such as Douglas and Quinn acting alongside names unknown outside their native Italy, it made perfect sense from a financial point of view. If such working practices needed endorsement, this film provided it with a hefty take at the box office. Subsequent sources also give it credit as the springboard for the more fantastical elements of the Peplum genre personified by world-wide smash ‘Hercules’ (1957).

The film was not without its problems, though, with acclaimed veteran director GW Pabst quitting the project on the eve of shooting and original cinematographer Mario Camerini taking over as director. He was replaced behind the camera by the five-time Oscar-nominated Harold Rossen and, although it’s debatable who should get the plaudits, the film often looks quite gorgeous. There’s also some excellent work from the team of costume designers, including Barbara Karinska, a two-time Oscar winner for ‘Joan of Arc’ (1948) and ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ (1952).

Ulysses (1954)

It was always that last pint of the evening…

De Laurentiis was reportedly unsatisfied with the final film as he felt it abbreviated too much of Homer’s epic poem. This was inevitable with a runtime of only 104 minutes but, although the story is a little fragmentary at times, there’s some good work here from the team of seven screenwriters. Apart from director Camerini, this included famous American novelist Irwin Shaw and playwright Ben Hecht, who was once described as the ‘most prolific and highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood’. Their work is most impressive in the sequence with Circe, which combines elements of the Calypso episode, the visit to the Underworld, and the events which occur after the crew’s visit to Thrinacia. Still, De Laurentiis did have a point. There’s no encounter with the lotus-eaters, no visit to Aeolus, no Laestrygonians, and no Scylla or the whirlpool containing Charybdis. The film also shortchanges Telemachus, whose travels to find his father are entirely omitted.

Fifteen years later, De Laurentiis put things right by mounting a genuinely epic, almost seven-hour version for Italian television, ‘L’Odissea/The Odyssey’ (1968). Directed by Franco Rossi, it’s a notable achievement, especially on a small-screen budget. The highlight is the tour de force sequence with Polyphemus, the Cyclops. This was directed by horror maestro, and SFX wizard, Mario Bava and some sources give him credit for the same scenes in this film. Watching them back to back, there is some similarity with the cutting and the setups, and the SFX are similarly accomplished. However, the later version is noticeably superior from a technical standpoint, and some dispute his participation in the earlier film.

Ulysses (1954)

Kirk was always an easy gig for the costume department…

There are still some significant things to enjoy in this earlier version, though. Douglas brings his star power and likeable energy to the title role, although it’s notable that this is a Ulysses who does not need help from the Gods. He makes his own decisions and achieves victories through his wits and physical prowess rather than a reliance on divine intervention. However, this brings with it more than a touch of arrogance to the character, particularly when his selfish procrastination brings about his crew’s death.

There’s also the suspicion that the character has been tweaked somewhat to fit Douglas’ virile screen persona, specifically to provide plausible deniability for his associations with women other than the faithful Mangano, who has been waiting for him at home for 20 years. His convenient ‘amnesia’ allows him to romance Podestà without any subsequent guilt, and he gets a pass for his six-month dalliance with Circe too because, after all, she looks just like his wife, doesn’t she? Neither of these devices make appearances in the source material.

Ulysses (1954)

The ‘Robin Hood’ reboot remained in Development Hell…

Incidentally, the circumstances surrounding the making of the film became the inspiration for the novel ‘Il Disprezzo’ by Alfredo Moravia. The book was later filmed by Jean-Luc Godard as ‘Le Mépris/Contempt’ (1963) and starred Jack Palance, Brigitte Bardot and director Fritz Lang playing the ‘GW Pabst’ role as himself. Godard reportedly hated making the film and called the novel ‘a nice vulgar read for a train journey’. However, it remains critically lauded and one of his best-regarded films.

A vigorous, fast-paced run through the highlights of Homer’s epic poem. It won’t please purists or scholars but delivers an entertaining mix of mythology and adventure, even if it feels a little anonymous at times.

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.