Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I. HERCULES AND THE REALM OF COLOUR 1958-1964



There seems to be a minor gap in between Macistes’ early outings and his rebirth in glorious cinemascope.

Apparently from sources I have noted, in between Ercole/Macistes’ arrival in colour ‘Maciste all ‘Inferno’ did resurface and played in theatres with a different score. This seemed to spark the public’s admiration of peplum once again.

Already by 1953 the Italians’ made a version of Spartacus, Spartaco directed by Riccardo Freda, this generated admiration and bubbled up ideas for further ventures whether based on Christian mythology or otherwise.

As in the days of the silent era the Italians re-valued their trailblazing heritage and looked back for inspiration.


Over in the
United States there had also been a ‘boom’ of beefcake ‘musclemen’ magazines achieving a small culture phenomenon. The magazine was a first in the vein of ‘Men’s’ Fitness’ we have in society today, but less ‘artificial’.


This provided aspiration to become the pin-up and admiration of the physique by some young men, and a masturbatory aid to the other proportion the ‘beefcake’ market was aiming at clandestinely.

This was another patron factor as too why the peplum became so prodigious overseas.

Such representations of practically ‘demi-god’ physiques, slotted in nicely with the sword and sandal backdrops.


Each separate peplum adventure when born was predominantly based on one central character from mythology. Very often the lead would stay the same but a new ‘muscleman’ would take over the guise and in a way kept a ‘freshness’ despite the consolidated format and eventual worn-out formula.


Each actor, no matter how wooden, seem to give their all, this ‘stamped’ their ‘identity’ over the strongman hero. They make it theirs and on occasion, and in certain films this truly bursts through.

In 1958
Italy cinematically ventured into territory it had been to before and brought forth ‘ La Fatiche di Ercole’. The film was loosely based on ‘The Argonautica’ the ancient poem by Apollonium of Rhodes. The mythology is very contradictory to the literal indeed but in a way creates an admirable hybrid that doesn’t scant on the thrills or the spectacle.

Steeve Reeves was cast as the titular ‘Ercole’ character where physically, aesthetically and charismatically he footed the bill nicely. Reeves was said to have been cast on the directors daughters recommendation after being aware of his pin up status and popularity already Stateside.

La Fatiche di Ercole was a pre-eminent success and brought in plenty of Lira but it wasn’t only Europe that was beginning to benefit from this treasure trove of ancient revivalism.

An American producer Joseph Levine also was enamoured by what he saw and immediately acquired the rights to ‘La Fatiche di Ercole’. Unfortunately the name ‘Ercole’ wasn’t marketable so therefore Ercole (another pseudonym for Maciste - they are generally one and the same) became ‘Hercules’ – the demi-god, half son of Zeus.



What Levine done next was too saturate the distribution circuit with ‘Hercules’ prints that were flogged to numerous amounts of picture houses in America. He also then went mad with promotion and marketing and watched as the dollars rolled in. Hercules was a stateside smash.


Directed by Pietro Francisci and heavily influenced visually by that alchemist of colour Mario Bava it was no wonder the adventure dropped jaws and became the new big screen onslaught of peplum / sword and sandal epics. That may not have had the huge capital of the yanks with their spectacular interpretations of Christian mythology i.e. ‘The Ten Commandments’ but what they did have was ingenuity in creating the epic on very small scale. More than often they succeed.


As ‘Hercules’ whipped a froth at the box office so ‘Ercole e la
Regina di Lidia’ (1959) pulled in similar Lira and crowds, this was a virtual sequel to the original continuing the adventures of Hercules, Ulysses and Hercules’ wife Iole.


Eventually Steve Reeves gave way to Mickey Hargitay who gave way to
Reg Park etc,etc and so the legend continued for 6 years with over 150 films of this kind being made for the adventure thirsty audiences. Some contained monsters, some contained fantasy, some were dramas, some were boring but overall wonderfully entertaining.

Despite the challenges Hercules always won through despite his strength being an equal curse and blessing as it does have a tendency at times to fly right off the handle without using his brain. Nothing changes really as you see people like that today though much uglier and pathetic than Hercules could ever be or ever was.

As well as Hercules we were introduced to other ‘lead’ heroes, Goliath, Ursus, Perseus and even Romulus and Remus all had guest appearances on the big screen. It was also ‘periods’ in mythology/Greco-roman history that fascinated directors too so other mythological epics were brought to life with the advent of the big screen and spectacular (if not inexpensive) effects.

A batch of varied mythological based films considered unappropriate for cinema release were eventually selected and screened on American Television. The films were re-titled under their new ‘Sons of Hercules’ banner, Ursus, Perseus and Goliath movies only available to European audiences were given a whole new lease of life using a new, then anyway, form of media.

These also had a catchy little theme tune that must have kids racing in from the garden or from slumber to view these tales of ancient chivalry in their Saturday Morning slots.

In 1964 peplum bowed out and had really exhausted itself.

The movies still played drive-ins and thrilled crowds to approximately the mid 1970’s in the states and gained a cult following.

Its’ momentum can still be seen echoing in modern times with films like ‘Gladiator’, ‘Alexander’ and ‘Troy’ springing to mind. These also are predominantly sword and sandal epics that manage to pamper to the machismo in most men and awe all genders with their technological accomplishments.

With the advent of DVD we can now have the chance of viewing this little ‘thrills’ once again, however poor England has failed abysmally and have shamefully come up with nothing for the U.K Region 2 distribution.


What a crying shame. There are those who think Jason and the Argonauts was the only cinematic one of its’’ kind - that is a tragedy Greek or not.


The other outlet is
Europe where, according to many recommended sources the best DVD print versions are available. Unfortunately a vast majority in Europe only exist in their original Italian Language with either French or German subs, or overall dub.


America has a decent choice of peplum (though not as many as I thought – legally) and at times it really is playing Russian roulette with the choice of print you get, It does look as though the higher the price the better; in most cases.


Another obstacle is the different titles these have been marketed under making the possibility of getting the same movie twice remote but probable.


Throughout the reviews that follow I will try and feature a link to ‘best source print’ that I can recommend.

On occasion it has been a put up with or pay out scenario but thanks to companies that give a toss such as Kino, Something Weird Video and Fantomas DVD have released some beautiful representations of how this genre should be seen.

I also feel it is an outrage that these haven’t been networked more often, I would, for a change, rather be treated to sword, sandals and slayings on a Sunday teatime then ‘Cor look at that crumpet!’ current trend of ‘sitcom movie’ ‘fillers’ for a Sunday after the pub.


This sort of comedy is hilarious in my opinion and is not in dispute here, but one is getting to say the lines before the actors now, so I feel some change should happen. Oh another thing popular is the constant schedule clog of ‘elderly approved’ black and white dross which also could rest for an age.

I appreciate the 'carry on' type of films are an integral representation of British comedy but I feel are relied on too heavily to fill in Sunday teatime scheduling gaps. When you consider what has not been shown that is available, especially peplum, you question why? Why are these not gracing Brish T.V screens and U.K Region 2 DVD releases.

Surely these ‘peplum’ movies shouldn’t be that expensive to procure? It could appeal to all ages, being a thrill for children and the mature alike. It beggars belief why there have been know examples of such a ‘family’ friendly slot.

I doubt whether someone will have the sense to clean up these little gems and release them in all their lurid splendour. So big shame on you all! Channel 4?

In this first ‘checklist’ I have covered as many Hercules films as possible and will also aim to include their various pseudonyms. This will help the potential collector/enthusiast and make the uninitiated wonder why these haven’t been available to them previously.

What I have done is ‘compartmented’ each mythological entry in it’s’ sub-genre.

I have done this as I feel this will assist in the collectors’ hunt for such titles and too highlight to the non-collector what vast amounts (not all – some are boring crap) of decent entertainment they have been deprived of. European entertainment has yet again been overridden by the absolute bollocks imported from the dominant states.

We can only but hope that one day these will surface to thrill family audiences once again.


Next we will list the Italian Hercules films. I will provide 'reputable' links when it comes to review so get the credit cards handy and override any 'fear' of fraud, unless the site is 'dubious' you will be perfectly safe if overseas ordering is needed. Don't forget to mark the DVD's as a 'gift' this way it avoids customs charges.

Until next time may Venus cast her blessings on you all.




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