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Film / Hercules (1958)

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"I've been abandoned by the GODS!"
Hercules, voicing an oft-repeated phrase

A 1958 Italian Sword and Sandal film based upon the mythical Greek hero. It featured Steve Reeves in the title role and made him an international star. The movie draws material from the Twelve Labors of Hercules, throwing in some of Jason and the Argonauts as well. The film spawned one sequel with Reeves, Hercules Unchained, and several more with other lead actors.

Hercules (aka The Labors Of Hercules)

Demigod Hercules travels to Iolcus, where he is to become a personal trainer to Prince Iphitus, heir apparent to the throne of the city. Along the way he rescues the lovely Iole, who it turns out is Iphitus' sister and Princess of Iolcus. Iole tells Hercules of the night her father, Pelius, ascended the throne when his brother the king was killed; it is suspected that Pelius himself was involved in the previous king's death.

Hercules arrives in time to overhear a prophecy concerning the true heir to Iolcus' throne, then takes to training Iphitus. Iphitus, for his part, is quite arrogant and self-indulgent; but he gets his when he overestimates himself and takes on an escaped lion — and quickly gets chomped. Hercules dispatches the lion, but not in time to save Iphitus, and is left humiliated because he failed to protect the prince.

Enough of that, the Greek Oracle tells him, sending him off to his next "labor" for the gods. Hercules objects, wanting to be normal even to the point of renouncing his immortality. In the meantime, a young man named Jason arrives in the city, claiming to be the son of the late king; he proposes to fetch the Golden Fleece — a royal heirloom with which he can prove his identity — and Pelius gives him leave to do so, but secretly sends his henchman along to sabotage the voyage.

The crew of Jason's ship the Argo engage in a few mini-adventures on their way to retrieve the Golden Fleece. They make a pit stop at an island inhabited by Amazons, where they all fall in love — and where they are almost killed. Eventually they make it to the hiding place of the Fleece, where Jason must fight a dinosaur guarding the Fleece. The Fleece, it turns out, has a message written on it, in blood, yet!, declaring Pelius responsible for the death of his brother the king, but asking the gods to forgive him and forbidding traditional vengeance.

And so the Argo returns to Iolcus. But the henchman has done his job well; upon arrival the Fleece is missing, and Pelius charges Jason and his crew with treason. Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts fight Pelius' royal guard and get the upper hand (especially when Herc topples part of the palace on top of them) and kill the henchman. Seeing his undoing, Pelius confesses to Iole and poisons himself.

Jason takes his rightful place as King of Iolcus, and Iole marries Hercules.

Hercules Unchained (aka Hercules And The Queen Of Lydia)

Based very loosely upon the myth of Hercules and Omphale, the second movie's teaser introduces us to Femme Fatale Omphale, who skates through the male population like a hot knife through warm butter — and then has them killed when she's done. The film proper starts with newlyweds Hercules and Iole, along with Herc's young sidekick Ulysses (and yes, he is that Ulysses), arriving in Thebes to begin new adventures. They are immediately set upon by Anteaus, son of the Earth Goddess, but Herc quickly defeats him by dumping him into the sea.

The heroes are diverted from their destination of Thebes, and arrive at a cave where dwells Hercules' old friend King Oedipus, who has been deposed; turns out he turned over the throne of Thebes to his sons Eteocles and Polynices on the grounds that they share rulership; Eteocles is currently ruling and refuses to step aside, and Hercules is sent in to negotiate. Eteocles acquiesces rather abruptly, and Hercules brings the news to Polynices.

Or, rather, he attempts to. Along the way Hercules drinks from an enchanted well and loses his memory; he and Ulysses are captured by the royal guard of Queen Omphale. We learn here that the enchanted well is how the Queen acquires all her men; she tells the amnesiac Hercules that he is her husband, and that Ulysses (who is pretending to be deaf/mute) is just a servant. As Hercules basks in royal luxury in Omphale's palace, Ulysses snoops about and eventually discovers just what Omphale does with her discarded "husbands" — she hires Egyptian taxidermists to create a Wax Museum Morgue of her conquests — and sends a messenger pigeon back to his family in Ithaca; in the meantime, he attempts to help Hercules regain his memory, to no avail.

Meanwhile, Iole is arrested, for no apparent reason, by Eteocles, who has rescinded his decision to turn over Thebes to his brother. With no word from Hercules, Polynices brings his army and lays seige to Thebes, and his general takes custody of Iole. The two brothers agree to settle their differences with a duel to the death — which ends with both their deaths.

Meanwhile, Hercules finally regains his memory just as his companions arrive from Iolcus. But Omphale doesn't give up that easy, and the heroes must battle their way to freedom. Realizing that the time he lost with Omphale means that Thebes has gone to civil war, Hercules must come up with a plan to sneak into the city, stop the warring factions, and rescue Iole.

As stated above, there were several subsequent films detailing the various exploits of Hercules, but not necessarily in the same continuity as Reeves' films given the wholesale replacement of the entire cast of characters, save Herc, in each new film. In fact, as it turns out, many of the subsequent "Hercules" films were originally centered on other mythical strongman heroes such as Maciste and the Biblical hero Samson, who were renamed to "Hercules" when re-dubbed for American distribution; for example, Hercules Against the Moon Men is originally a Maciste film. Meanwhile other Hercules films, like The Loves of Hercules, are actually Hercules films but were produced independently from this film series. For this reason, not to mention for purposes of relative brevity, this page deals mainly with the two films of the Reevesverse.

    Mystery Science Theater 3000 versions of Hercules Movies 

These movies provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Intelligence: Steve Reeve's Hercules (in the first movie, anyway), at least when compared to the original myth. He is presented as levelheaded and somewhat insightful, and poses philosophical questions. He also ferrets out The Corrupter Eurysteus in short order, though not yet figuring him to be a mole.
    • This carried on to a few of the other Italian-made Hercules movies, such as Hercules In The Haunted World (whose director, Mario Bava, worked on this film's lighting and cinematography), where Hercules is again shown to have impressive problem-solving skills on top of his superhuman strength.
  • Avengers Assemble: Upon receiving Ulysses' distress pigeon, Laertes rounds up the Argonauts to mount a rescue mission.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Antaeus.
  • Bowdlerise: A lot of family friendly changes. For example, Hercules doesn't kill Anteus in a brutal way. Matter of fact, Antaeus is a Graceful Loser, once Herc throws him in the ocean; he just laughs and sends them on their way, promising they'll meet again.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Hercules. Ironically, this happens in the first film, not in the second. Furthermore, he remains Chained by Fashion.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: At the beginning of Unchained, Ulysses is a Plucky Comic Relief guy who can't fight to save his life. (He's portrayed as a smart, inventive young beginner, and he's improved in archery since the first film where Herc gave him some basic pointers.) In the middle of the movie, he's pretending to be a deaf Non-Action Guy, which puts him beneath the guards' notice and allows him to eavesdrop freely. When it comes time to escape Omphale, the gloves come off and Ulysses personally dispatches the captain of Omphale's guard.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: When he sees that Hercules is being fed bottled water from the enchanted spring, Ulysses contrives to knock over and spill his goblet at every opportunity. Herc notes that it doesn't look like much of an accident — especially when Ulysses has to perform a flying leap all the way across the room to do it.
  • The Corrupter: Eurysteus wastes no time spreading dissention amongst the Argo's junior crew, especially when the senior crew go ashore on the Amazon island while they themselves have to remain on board. Herc is suspicious from the start.
  • Cultured Badass: Orpheus is a scholar, teacher, poet and minstrel, and goes into boistrous battle alongside his companions.
  • Damsel in Distress: Iole, in Unchained, is arrested and threatened by Eteocles, and later held hostage by Polynices' general.
  • Dead Man Writing: The dying king of the first film had just enough time to write an incriminating message about his brother — in his own blood.
  • Demoted to Extra: Most of the Argonauts suffer this, to one degree or another, in Unchained; Laertes and Aesculapius are the only ones who have sizable rolesnote . Argos and Tifi have a few lines in the opening scene, and Castor has a scene where Omphale tries to seduce him; meanwhile, Orpheus and Pollux don't get a single line of dialogue between them.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: In the dub, after Iphitus is killed by the lion and everyone shuns Hercules for "allowing" him to get killed, he goes to the Oracle and tells her that his strength is a curse and wants it gone so he can understand the feelings of mortals. Doesn't make much sense, does it, especially when he keeps using his strength throughout the movie. Because in the original he says his immortality is a curse that he wants gone so he can understand mortals better.
  • Dull Surprise: The Captive Women's Hercules' reaction to the vision of Androcles. Summed up, it's basically: "o_O"
  • Dumb Muscle: (Purportedly) Averted with Hercules:
    Ulysses: My father says you put strength ahead of everything; but I know you want us to use our forces only to serve our intelligence!
  • Easy Amnesia: The Waters Of Forgetfulness. Further, it's laser-guided; Herc forgets his identity, his friends, his history, even forgets how to use his own strength — but he still remembers Iole's face (if not her name).
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Omphale may be a dangerously seductive Black Widow who has led many men to their doom, but even she respects Sacred Hospitality.
  • Evil Laugh: Eteocles is particularly fond of this.
  • Femme Fatale:
    • Omphale; see Wax Museum Morgue.
    • To a lesser extent, the Amazons in the first film; they didn't want to kill Jason and his men, but were ordered to do so by their priestesses.
  • Fetch Quest: Jason's quest with the Argonauts drives the plot for the first film's second half.
  • Follow the Leader: Unlike most Italian genre films, Hercules wasn't a Follower in its particular genre (Sword and Sandal), but rather the Leader (or at least near the front of the pack).
  • Guile Hero: Ulysses. Not a surprise at all considering, again, he is that Ulysses.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Zig-zagged; at the start, Hercules is the toast of Iolcus and the hero of every young man in the city; but after Iphitus' death and the king's public denunciation, he becomes pretty much a pariah. Ironically, the city elders (who at first were bemused and annoyed by the effect Herc was having on the local youth) are the only ones to really stick with him after this.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: Ulysses introduces himself to Hercules as "Ulysses, son of Laertes."
  • I Just Want to Be Normal, says Hercules to the Greek Oracle:
    Hercules: I want to live like every other mortal man; it's my prayer to have a family! I want children of my own!
  • Jerk Jock:
    • Iphitus in the first film; Polynices' General in the second.
    • Also Herc himself in the second film, to an extent; he won't defend his wife from Anteaus but reacts when Anteaus attacks him directly - but more likely he was just waiting for the right moment to catch Anteaus off guard and kick his ass. Other than that Herc's a genuinely nice guy (especially when compared to some of the myths). A straighter example would be Herc during his amnesiac spell, during which he's notably more self-centered and irritable.
  • Kick the Dog: During a confrontation with his brother, Eteocles orders the execution of a pair of innocent, helpless maidservants, purely as a show of power.
  • Living Dinosaurs: Jason has to fight what looks like a ceratosaurus guarding the Golden Fleece. It's probably supposed to be a dragon, but it looks distinctly dinosaurian.
  • Lovable Coward: Aesculapius. Being The Medic and an old man, no one expects him to get in a fight — though he does manage to whack an enemy or two over the head if they wander within arm's reach.
  • Love Potion: The Waters Of Forgetfulness, sort of; they don't make one fall in love with Omphale directly, but they sure do make it easier for her to manipulate him.
    • Also, Genius Bonus, when the horses drink the waters of forgetfulness, they forget their training and run away, now wild horses.
  • MacGuffin: The golden fleece.
  • MacGuffin Guardian: The fleece is guarded by a giant creature resembling a theropod dinosaur.
  • Male Gaze: When the Amazons first capture Jason and Co., the camera inserts a shot of the gals in formation with their bare legs perfectly posed.
  • Mate or Die: The reason the Amazons didn't want to kill Jason and his men — well, besides the fact that they legitimately fell in love. The priestesses thought differently.
  • The Mole: Eurysteus, Pelius' henchman, in the first film.
  • Mr. Fanservice: The late great Steve Reeves, a popular body builder who'd been dabbling in acting for a few years (and almost shot to fame as Samson in 1949's Samson and Delilah before pulling out due to a dispute over his physique), shows off his mighty frame in various toga styles.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Too many to list.
  • Mugged for Disguise: At some point in Unchained Ulysses manages to knock out and steal Omphale's captain of he guard's cape and helmet offscreen.
  • Mythology Gag: In the original myth, Hercules was a slave to Omphale and wove tapestries for her. In Unchained, his line "I pulled together the threads [of my memory]!" seems to be a reference to this.
  • No "Arc" in "Archery": Averted in detail during the first movie when Hercules rattles off a string of variables that an archer has to consider before firing.
  • Plot Coupon / Public Domain Artifact: the Golden Fleece.
  • Second-Person Attack: Hercules punches a bear multiple times through the POV of the animal, complete with ridiculous strobe Hit Flash effects.
  • Sidekick: Ulysses.
  • Stock Sound Effects: The roar of the dinosaur guarding the golden fleece is very familiar.
  • That's No Moon: That's no hill, it's a dinosaur!
  • Wax Museum Morgue: Omphale's preferred method of divorce.
  • Word Salad Title: "Hercules Unchained"; as stated above, the chaining (and subsequent unchaining) of Herc happens in the first film — although it's most likely meant to be metaphorical (to wit, he refers to Iole as "the one who put me in chains"; later, he is 'unchained' during his affair with Omphale).