Film Review: Jail Bait (1954)

Also known as: Hidden Face (alternative title)
Release Date: May 12th, 1954
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Alex Gordon, Ed Wood
Music by: Hoyt Curtin (as Hoyt Kurtain)
Cast: Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Clancy Malone, Herbert Rawlinson, Steve Reeves, Lyle Talbot, Theodora Thurman, Bud Osborne, Conrad Brooks (uncredited), Ed Wood (voice, uncredited)

Howco Productions Inc., 71 Minutes

Review:

“Plastic surgery, at times, seems to me to be very, very complicated.” – Dr. Boris Gregor

While this isn’t as painfully dreadful as Glen or Glenda, it is still one of Ed Wood’s worst films.

Being a fan of the guy’s work, as bad as it typically is, as well as an avid film-noir buff, I couldn’t pass up seeing Ed Wood try to tackle the style. Granted, this is pretty much exactly what you would expect. However, it lacks the charm and spirit that is apparent in some of his better known cinematic duds.

The story is actually really similar to the blockbuster ’90s film Face/Off. It sees a criminal switch faces with someone else in an effort to avoid the authorities.

Granted, this came out more than 40 years earlier than Face/Off and the premise wasn’t believable in the ’90s, so the ’50s take on the gimmick is even wonkier.

The film, as should be expected, is terribly acted, terribly shot, poorly written and is littered with a dozen or so other problems.

The only actors of note are Ed Wood’s then girlfriend and frequent collaborator Dolores Fuller, his other friend and collaborator Conrad Brooks, as well as future Hercules Steve Reeves.

The movie is noir at its core but it dabbles into areas where Wood was more comfortable like science fiction, horror and exploitation. This was heavily inspired by the TV cop shows like Dragnet but it hardly even lives up to the worst episodes of ’50s cop dramas.

Still, it’s hard to truly hate on an Ed Wood film, as the guy truly believed in himself and tried his damnedest to become a serious filmmaker.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Ed Wood films or low budget crime pictures of the ’50s.

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)

Review:

“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 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

Review:

“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.