Film Review: Hercules (1958)

Also known as: Labors of Hercules (worldwide English title)
Release Date: February 20th, 1958 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci, Gaio Frattini
Based on: The Argonauts by Apollonius of Rhodes
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Gianna Maria Canale, Fabrizio Mioni, Arturo Dominici, Mimmo Palmara, Lidia Alfonsi, Gina Rovere

Embassy Pictures, Galatea Film, O.S.C.A.R., 104 Minutes, 98 Minutes (DVD cut)


“Immense and immortal was the strength of Hercules, like the world and the gods to whom he belonged… Yet from letter men he learned one eternal truth – that even the greatest strength carries within it a measure of mortal weaknes…” – title card

There are so many Hercules and sword and sandal movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I’m glad I saved the best (and first) for last.

This is also the most famous of the old Hercules films because it starred Steve Reeves and its success launched a film series and countless ripoffs because the Italians don’t care about copyright laws.

While this is mostly a competent film and fairly okay for what it is, I still find it slow and kind of boring for most of its duration. The action scenes and the finale are decent for 1958 standards but there isn’t much here that is memorable other than Reeves, himself, and that iconic scene of him using the chains to pull down the pillars with his godlike strength.

The sets and the overall look and design of the production are better than average and I mostly like the lighting but the cinematography is pedestrian, as is the shot framing. While films were generally less artistic and lacking visual experimentation in the ’50s, I kind of expect more from the Italians, who have a certain atmospheric panache when they’re really trying. But this feels like a big action movie playing it safe and therefore, it feels sterile and uninspiring.

I guess people had less standards for these sort of things back then and this motion picture was a big enough hit to keep the sword and sandal genre going. Well, until the Italians and Spanish figured out that they could make westerns for a lot cheaper and get a bigger return on investment. But these films were the bread and butter of Italian and Spanish studios before the three Sergios came along a few years later.

Hercules is an alright movie. I don’t see it as a game changer or all that interesting but it did make a mark that propelled Steve Reeves to superstardom and took sword and sandal cinema to new heights in popularity.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Italian Hercules and other sword and sandal movies.

Film Review: Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

Also known as: Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (original Italian title), Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (original English title), Hercules Conquers Atlantis (UK), Hercules and the Haunted Women (alternative title)
Release Date: August 19th, 1961 (Italy)
Directed by: Vittorio Cottafavi
Written by: Vittorio Cottafavi, Sandro Continenza, Duccio Tessari, Pierre Benoit, Nicolo Ferrari
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr., Armando Trovajoli
Cast: Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin

Comptoir Français du Film Production (CFFP), SpA Cinematografica, 101 Minutes (original Italian cut), 94 Minutes


“Uranus… to rule over all!” – Androclo, Re di Tebe, “What you say is blasphemy!” – Ercole

After seeing about a half dozen (maybe more) of these Hercules films, as well as other sword and sandal schlock, featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, they all sort of blend together in my mind. It almost doesn’t matter that this is the most recent one that I watched, most of it already got flushed down the memory hole.

I mean, if anything was truly a dime a dozen, these Italian sword and sandal flicks would take the cake. While there probably aren’t as many of them as there were spaghetti westerns, which took over when these died out, the quality is generally pretty poor. This film is not an exception to the rule and other than dudes yelling about Uranus the whole movie, there’s not much worth remembering.

Hercules in this outing was played by Reg Park, birth name Roy Park because he’s surprisingly not Italian. In fact, he was an Englishman and won Mr. Universe in 1951, 1958 and 1965. He also played Hercules four times. Most importantly, though, he was an idol and mentor to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Park couldn’t save this movie, however, but what Mr. Universe has ever saved a film apart from Schwarzenegger?

This is a pretty mundane and monotonous movie where a whole lot of nothing happens, other than a buff dude solving problems by lifting heavy things.

Overall, this is a pretty standard Hercules picture, which means there’s not much to give a shit about. If you feel compelled to watch it, just watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Italian Hercules movies, as well as the other sword and sandal pictures of the era.

Film Review: Hercules Unchained (1959)

Also known as: Hercules and the Queen of Lydia (English literal title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci
Based on: Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Primo Carnera, Sylvia Lopez

Lux Film, Galatea Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes


“I’m so sleepy, I can’t seem to keep awake!” – Hercules

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always loved to showcase old sword and sandal movies of the worst quality. Actually, nearly everything in the genre is of poor quality. However, you knew you were getting into something special when one of MST3K‘s sword and sandal selections was a Hercules movie. Okay, maybe not special… more like, slightly better but still not good.

At least this one stars Steve Reeves, the true Hercules of his era and the only one that really mattered in that iconic role.

While this isn’t as good as the first Reeves’ Hercules, it is better than nearly everything that came after it. Still, it’s a fairly crappy motion picture that doesn’t do much to capture the imagination and makes one wonder why these style of movies were so popular. I mean, at least in the ’80s there was ConanRed Sonja and my personal favorite, Beastmaster. But those were actually sword and sorcery movies and not sword and sandal ones. I guess sorcery pairs better with sandals on the big screen. I certainly enjoyed James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom, as a villain, much more than the many harlots and weirdos that Hercules got tangled up with.

This film is pretty boring overall. It’s less interesting than the zanier stuff like Hercules Against the Moon Men and it doesn’t have a cool Hydra like The Loves of Hercules. It may be a hair better than both of those due to Reeves giving the film some legitimacy but to be honest, these films all sort of blend together in my mind as a big stew of sand where Steve Reeves’ face occasionally pops up.

Hercules Unchained isn’t a painful experience, it is just a really dull one.

And it is also shitty enough that I must run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.” That’s a bit harsher than I thought but the machine never lies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Steve Reeves’ first Hercules movie.

Film Review: The Loves of Hercules (1960)

Also known as: Gli amori di Ercole (Italy), Hercules vs. The Hydra (US TV title)
Release Date: August 19th, 1960 (Italy)
Directed by: Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia
Written by: Luciano Doria
Music by: Carlo Innocenzi
Cast: Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay

Contact Organisation, Grandi Schermi Italiani, Paris Interproductions (PIP), 98 Minutes


This horrendous Hercules film is featured in the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s not like we couldn’t see this coming, right? I mean, what would a revival of MST3K be without another awful Hercules film thrown on the docket? To be honest, just about every Hercules film that I have seen from the 1960s came to my attention courtesy of MST3K.

Like most Hercules flicks, this thing is a pretty boring dud. It isn’t interesting, the story is thin and weak and the acting is crap. It does have some nice sets though, even if they generally look cheap. Some of the landscapes and overall cinematography is well done, especially for a motion picture of this quality.

There is one fantastic sequence in this movie. It is fantastic because of how bad it is but it is the sort of bad that makes you really smile.

You see, at one point, Hercules is pitted against a Hydra. What makes this awesome, is that the Hydra is a giant stationary thing with three large heads that just bob up and down. Their eyes glow, as their mouths emit some smoke and a ball of fire once in awhile. The Hydra also has pretty inarticulate paws but that doesn’t stop Hercules from climbing under one and acting like it is crushing him and tearing his bronze muscle man flesh. The Hydra looks like a mechanical monster from a funhouse ride or a Mardi Gras float.

Other than the Hydra, the movie is really dull and pointless. For whatever reason, the Hydra shows up in the middle of the film, instead of being the big finale. So after the Hydra is defeated, you get another 45 minutes of boredom. But at least this is nowhere near as bad as sitting through the long sandstorm sequence from Hercules Against the Moon Men.

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: Hercules Against the Moon Men (1964)

Also known as: Hercules vs. the Moon Men, Maciste vs. the Moon Men
Release Date: June 27th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Giacomo Gentilomo
Written by: Giacomo Gentilomo, Angelo Sangermano, Arpad DeRiso, Nino Scolaro
Music by: Carlo Franci
Cast: Sergio Ciani (billed as Alan Steel), Jany Clair, Anna Maria Polani

Comptoir Franais du Film, Nike Cinematografica, Governor Films Inc., 90 Minutes


Hercules Against the Moon Men is just one of 17,000 Hercules movies to come out of Italy in the 1960s. Back then, there were an average of 212 Hercules movies released per week because Italian studios could make them for under a thousand lire, which was roughly $2.12 in American dollars. Usually the cast was just paid in jerky and donkey rides and they got to wear the height of Italian cinema fashion, which were typically togas made out of old sails from Mediterranean shipwrecks.

This film, however, stands apart. It introduced a sci-fi element in that Hercules found himself pitted against an evil robot warlord from the moon. Of course, Herc also had to deal with an evil sorceress and giant rock men but it was the alien robot that really pulled the strings of evil throughout this insipid picture.

The film is famous for being riffed harder than normal on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Their biggest issue with the film is the seemingly endless sandstorm that takes up the last quarter of the film. It is an awful and tedious sequence made up of people aimlessly wandering through it over and over again on the same small set. Its just people, covering their eyes, slowly wandering through the dusty air. It is a sequence that is equally ugly and boring. It is maybe, the worst climax in the history of action and adventure movies. By the time the film finally gets out of the sandstorm, you find yourself waking from a nauseous daze only to have the film pretty much wrap up: leaving you with nothing but hatred and disgust. Few are able to experience this movie and still have their souls intact.

Hercules Against the Moon Men is bargain basement filmmaking at its absolute worst. I’ve seen hieroglyphics that have had a bigger budget and were more exciting. This movie is worse than getting crabs in your eyelashes.

Rating: 2/10