Sunday, August 27, 2006

XII. LE FATICHE DI ERCOLE (HERCULES) (1958)


Le Fatiche Di Ercole (Hercules)

Year;
1958

Director & Writer; Pietro Francisci
Country; Italy , Spain and France
Duration; 107 mins [Italy] 98 mins (U.S.A) Original ratio: 2.35:1
Available; DVD Region 2 Concorde version
Colour * 4/3 (1:78:1)*English / German Dub*
Alternative;
Hércules - Portugese title Hércules - Spanish title Hercules - US title Labors of Hercules - English language title Les travaux d'Hercule - French title O Triunfo de Hércule - Portugese title Die Unglaublichen Abenteuer des Herkules - West German title Los viajes de Heracles - Spanish title Voittamaton Herkules - Finnish title

The Players;Steve Reeves [Ercole/Hercules]Sylva Koscina [Iole]Fabrizio Mioni [Jason]Ivo Garrani[Pelias]Arturo Dominici [Eurysteus]Mimmo Palmara [Iphitus]Lidia Alfonsi [The Sybil]Gina Rovere, Luciana Paoluzzi, Lilli Granado [The Main Amazons]Gianna Maria Canale [Antea]Afro Poli [Chironi]Aldo Fiorelli [Argos]Gino Mattera [Orpheus]Andrea Fantasia [Laertes]G.P. Rosmino [Esculapius]Gabriele Antonini [Ulysses]Willi Colombini [Pollux]Fulvio Carrara [Castor]Aldo Pini [Tifi]





The first of the colour Hercules films, ‘Le Fatiche di Ercole’ spawned a legion of mythological epics when the spirit of peplum was revived in this period.

Since Maciste finished his adventures in 1926, the period lulled for over 30 years. In between Maciste all’ Inferno was resurrected in the 40’s/50’s and was re-released Stateside. The popularity and interest was generated again and influenced the Italian filmmakers to look at their historical past, in film, to resurrect a hero and all his pseudonyms.

Bava focuses his attention on the cinematography aspect of ‘Le Fatiche…’ and uses his scrumptious methodology of using vivid primary colours to stylishly beef up the visual action sequences. Presenting cost effective beauty so synonymous with his films, praise be indeed. It works so well especially combining talent with Pietro Francisci’s direction which keeps up the pace and lifts the characters of ancient literary epics off the page and onto the screen.

It was on the recommendation of Francisci’s daughter that Steve Reeves was cast as the titular hero. Reeves' is the ‘perfect’ Hercules, facially hirsute and with a body the envy of most he was catapulted from gracing the pages of Men’s physique pictorials to the visual perils of ancient history. He can be a bit wooden at times but show me a bodybuilder who isn’t.

The supporting cast is also another blessing as the chemistry between all is well balanced even thought the history and mythology seems an amalgamation of the most popular of Greek epics. The first half of the movie seems an interpretation of the 12 labours of Hercules and the latter focuses on Jason and The Argonauts.

Ulysses bonds a friendship with Hercules which continues, thankfully, onto the sequel ‘Hercules Unchained’ as well as Iole, the female ‘interest’. Ulysses brings light relief to the adventure but Iole, on occasion, grates on your nerves and hinders the flow of the film. Koscina’s interpretation is not too blame as she makes the lead fully her own but it is the way the script uses her as a ‘convenience’ or for a bit of ‘padding’ that can annoy as equally as her whingeing.

Hercules is best foot loose and fancy free in my opinion. He doesn’t fair too badly though as he conveniently loses his memory and has a dalliance with a Lydian Queen in the next adventure.

The later movies have Hercules as a single man which manages to pave the way for all sorts of derring-do. Some brilliant examples of peplum are where Hercules is pitted against vampish female tyrants who fall in love with him and at times this ‘dilemma’ forms the nucleus of the plot.


It also demonstrates another ‘weakness’ for our demi-god reminding us he is mortal too and has mortal feeling. He has also quite a temper if fused and acts headstrong at times, to the detriment, on occasion, of his followers. It is due to this that results in fatal tragedy in the first movie.

Le Fatiche di Ercole’, begins with Iole, Princess of Iolcus losing control of her chariot. Bless the gods as she blunders into Hercules territory. He rips the roots from a tree and thrusts it in the way of the mobile pandemonium, grinding everything to a halt.

We learn that Hercules was on his way to Iolcus anyway where he has been asked to educate Iphitus, Iole’s brother, on the arts and skills of Olympic feats and other testimonies of male strength. Iole tells Hercules that Iolcus is unstable due to the recent theft of the Golden Fleece and a brutal murder and wants to flee the place.

At Iolcus Hercules meets King Pelias father of Iole and Iphitus and also makes an impact on the civilians of the city through his athletic displays of super strength. All is not well however as Hercules begins to learn of corruption and skulduggery afoot in the kingdom and later during a life and death struggle is indirectly responsible for the death of the Kings son.

Due to this Hercules is challenged by King Pelias to face the Cretan bull for penance and to win the ‘wavering’ heart of Iole who by now he has fallen in love with. Hercules survives the task but there a further complications, in order to return the throne back to its former glory and too right wrongs Hercules teams up with Jason and the Argonauts and sets sail on an adventure to redeem justice. Through uncharted seas the ship sails until it stops at its first destination an island full of Amazon women…………

Despite the heady mix that will have historian purists frothing at the mouth, what we are presented with is a great epic re-write that feeds our imagination. So the story behind the character has been tweaked and twisted but at least we have faces to names which, as I have found, makes research into the true myth much easier.

Hercules has it all for those seeking b-movie thrills that doesn’t mind the sacrifice of fact for fiction, this is entertainment after all. There are some flaws, the Golden Fleece and the ‘guardian of the fleece’ are poor sfx even by the standards of the time but are only passing blemishes.

Stateside and in Europe this movie made cinema cash tills ring frenziedly and immediately produced a sequel, considered by some just as good-if not better, than the original.

Procure this as a double bill with its sequel from Amazon.de , the best version (and it's uncut I am lead to believe) can be bought from Amazon.fr under the title 'Les Travaux d’Herculebut does not have the extra feature movie or the gatefold poster.

Another downer is that this review version is missing some footage to make it more '90 minute' marketable.

It's down to the individual really as neither print is as remotely bad as anything in the USA I have seen (avoid if possible) but at least stateside there is the option and the opportunity, in the United Kingdom there are no releases or versions - now there is a surprise !

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