Martin Scorsese and your old international cinema teacher will talk for days about the Neo-realism movement saving Italian cinema. While those are the movies the snobs remember, the genre that made the Italian filmmaking industry go into overdrive was the Peplum or Swords and Sandals epics. Italy had plenty of ancient ruins to put into the background of movies so it made perfect sense. Thus it was time to start dressing up the locals as their ancient relatives. Steve Reeves wrapped his muscle man body in a little fur for Hercules and ruled the international boxoffice in 1958. This set off a massive rush as hundreds of Biblical and mythological films were launched. For most of the ’60s, there was a toga shortage in Rome. The Hercules Collection brings together six films that feature variations of the mythological figure during the genre that dominated Italian filmmaking.
The Loves of Hercules (1960 – 93 minutes) scores highly for the fact that it stars Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield. The attractive couple’s greatest collaboration would be Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order SVU. This is a bit of epic fun for the couple. Hercules (Hargitay) is away from his village when an invading army pillages the place. Making things worse is his wife being slain. As he seeks his revenge, he comes across Queen Deianira (Mansfield). She takes the blame, but the Gods protect her from Hercules anger. They hook up and go after the real bad guy and the Hydra. The three headed monster is rather comical since it looks like a Rose Bowl Parade float. There’s a nice bit about a wicked queen who turns her lovers into trees. There’s a lesson in there about wood.
The Trojan Horse (1961 – 104 minutes) takes place during the final year of the nearly decade long war to free Helen of Troy. The Greeks just don’t want their woman living in Troy. Steve Reeves plays Aeneas, but he’s pretty much a Hercules variation. He’s a strong guy who knows how to kick ass. John Drew Barrymore (Star Trek) proves a worthy opponent as Odysseus. The real star is the giant horse statue with a secret surprise inside.
Medusa Against The Son of Hercules (1962 – 90 minutes) is an extreme cheat as the narrator really opens up what sort of men can be the sons of Hercules. You can be his son or Hercules can just say you’re his son. Perseo (Richard Harrison) is one who just got called a son. Or the American importer of the film gave Perseo the honor so it’d fit with the title. The strong military leader has to get his troops ready to battle Medusa. The monster looks like a Corman creation from an AIP movie that ate too much spaghetti.
The Conquest of Mycenae (1963 – 98 minutes) gives us Gordon Scott as Hercules. The star of Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure knew how to look good without a shirt. There’s a bit of weirdness when it comes to gladiator fights that include choosing women. There’s even a touch of human sacrifice in order to get rid of a drought. This epic has plenty of fighting and hot Italian actresses in togas to distract from any plotholes.
The Triumph of Hercules (1964 – 90 minutes) stars Dan Vadis (For A Few Dollars More) as the legend. This time he has to battle seven giants. The opponents look like gold statue men with neck braces. They aren’t really that big. It’s a visual treat to see them battle with their clunky motions. Most of the time Hercules must deal with a pompus jerk in a Carolina blue toga.
Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun (1964 – 87 minutes) makes Hercules (Mark Forest) an international traveler as he ends up in South America. There in the rain forest, he must save a princess from being sacrificed to the Inca Sun God. This is the greenest of all the Hercules films in the collection. The film seems to hint at the upcoming wave of Italian movies dealing with South American cannibals. But nobody gets eaten on screen. Hercules’ mouth can barely keep up with his dubbed dialogue.
The massive tidal wave of Hercules movies from Italy was both a theatrical blessing and a curse. It put a lot of people to work, but it was nearly impossible to book them in American movie theaters. However their was one place that didn’t mind a massive stockpile of movies of the same genre: television. The six films featured here were imported into various packages and sold to UHF stations across the USA. Small television sets that used antennas made bad dub jobs less distracting to home viewers. Dads couldspend Sunday afternoon laid out on the sofa watching muscle men work out with swords. The Hercules Collection is a perfect throwback to those ancient days.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are pan and scan since they are the dub versions that were made for American television back in the ’60s. The quality varies since they seemed to be treated as rough as Hercules. The image still brings back that old UHF feel. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. Nothing will match up when it comes to lips and words.
No bonus features.
The Hercules Collection chains up six epics from the ancient world of Italian cinema. The mix gives plenty of muscle bound actors including the iconic Steve Reeves.
Timeless Media Group presents The Hercules Collection. Starring: Steve Reeves, Jayne Mansfield and Gordon Scott. Boxset Contents: 6 movies on 2 DVDs. Released: October 14, 2014.