Apparently, after the big international success of the first Steve
Reeves Hercules film (called, believe it or not, Hercules), sequels were
high on the agenda. And I believe
this was the first.
We open with some dead guy being carried by his bearers, through a jungle. They and a whole big army are taking him to this big temple in the jungle, where some nervous guy awaits their arrival. In the room with him is a pretty sexy lady, we’ll call her Va Va Voom til we get a proper name. Nervous goes to talk to her. “They’ve arrived,” he says, and she leaves her painting to go and see this arrival.
She slinks down to where the body has been brought and put on the floor, and she rubs her hands over this body, and the body…wakes up. I guess he wasn’t as dead as I thought he was, sorry for that, sorry, sorry everyone!
As he wakes up, the accompanying guards unsheathe their swords, and stab Nervous to death. He doesn’t like this but his protests don’t last long. And we fade to black, and get the credits. Over some galley slaves, we see that the composer is Enzo Masetti, and the Director is Carlo Savina. The story was by Pietro Francisci, based on the legends of Hercules and Omphale, from the works of Sophocles and Aeschylus. And in the four Hercules films I’ve survived, this one has screenwriter credits: Ennio de Concini and Pietro Franscisci are the lads to blame, while the song “Evening Star” was sung by June Valli, to Mitchell Parish’s lyrics.
More shots of folks on deck, some of them grim, some happy (I have the feeling they were supposed to be accompanied by credits, “Joe Doaks” as “Recklessius” or something). And the special effects were by Mario Bava! Wow.
And hey, another director credit! It’s the writer Pietro Francisci. Hey, he gets around. The helmsman orders the boat stopped, and the anchor dropped as they come to land on an island. The anchor turns out to be a huge boulder, thrown over by one guy with a beard. Any bets on who this guy is? Anyone?
Well, no matter, we fade out again and fade in on a covered wagon. Yes, just like from a western movie. As we watch some guys load the wagon, we hear narration. “This is the land of Attica, part of ancient Greece.” Someone (again with a beard) puts a huge trunk on the wagon. “What new adventures await Hercules in this, his native land?” Cut to a cool looking chick. “Many months ago, he set out alone, and now he returns with Iola, his bride. Accompanying Hercules and Iola to the city of Thebes will be, the young Ulysses, son of Laertes. Now, they must bid farewell to their comrades, who have shared their dangerous adventures of the last two years.” More footage of folks putting the covered wagon up and tying it down.
”Teefee, dauntless pilot of the Argonon,” says the narrator over some sullen guy. “Laertes, the restless ruler of Ithaca” (he is examining a bird cage). “Argo, who constructed the ship that served them all so well.” (Nice looking bearded guy.)
”You bring to Thebes the most beautiful girl in Jellco,” says Argo.
”She’s the one who put me in chains,” says Hercules, revealing a bit more than we wanted to know.
”I’d love to see if anyone could put him in chains,” says Iola, and the men chuckle. (Hey, it’s kind of the title.)
There’s some banter, Laertes is worried about Ulysses, and Ulysses says he’ll be fine, and Laertes gives the birdcage to Hercules and says, if anyone wants him (Laertes) to show up, just release one of these birds. Oh yeah, that always works. “Carefully tie a message to the leg of a pigeon, and he’ll bring it to me.”
”But what are you doing with my pigeons here!” says Ulysses, the scamp! “A present, they were hers, Penelope got them at Samos!”
”That’s true,” says Laertes, “and they’ll always fly back to Ithaca, no matter where you release them. When men discover that these pigeons can transport the news quicker than we can, you will see that the world will be very different.” I guess pigeons were an early version of the internet. Eww, I wonder what spam was like!
Teefee notes that pigeons are better to eat than listen to, and Laertes says that Hercules should take care of Ulysses. And everyone starts saying some serious goodbyes, and Argo gives Iola the lute of Orpheus. She’s very grateful and says she must practice. She requests that Argo give Orpheus her thanks, and he says he will.
Next, we hear some dialogue from the film, but it’s drowned out by this mysterious narration, which sounds like someone trying to dub Laertes. “Farewell, Ulysses. Heed the teachings of Hercules, because one day you—“ and he gets cut off as Ulysses gives him a hug, as if to say, “Stop narrating, you’re drowning everything else out.”
And the wagon with Hercules, Ulysses and Iola drives off. Hercules says they’ll be in Thebes by tomorrow, and Ulysses and Iola giggle and say they know all about Thebes, as they’ve been listening to Herc going on and on about it. They reveal that Oedipus is the king, and there’s a stadium and baths and all manner of splendor. They can, in other words, hardly wait to see this fabled land of stuff and things.
Hercules says it sure will be great, he doesn’t understand why the others are laughing and such-like, but the Thebans have great manners.
Just then, some Thebans ride by, raising a great cloud of dust which makes Herc and company cough, and in case we didn’t get the joke, Ulysses notes that these don’t seem like swell manners. But the music is ominous! There’s trouble brewing, I bet.
Hercules says that the riders were “Argives” which are bad warriors who like to kill and massacre and stuff, but Ulysses says the leader was a Theban. He asks if they can go faster to determine the answer to this (yawn) mystery. “I’ll show them!” Hercules says and he races the wagon.
Ulysses points out that Herc is now married, so he should drive safer. So Herc gives Ulysses the bridle and says he’s going to rest. So, now it’s kind of light-hearted, and no one cares about these warriors? What’s going on, movie?
Iola strums the harp and sings a song that doesn’t match at all what her lips are doing, especially noticeable in a big close-up. Herc smiles as he doesn’t get any sleep.
They don’t seem to be making any progress on catching up to those riders they were wondering about, but what the heck, now they’ve come to a part of the rode covered with bones! There are just bones everywhere, and the music tells us this is kind of not good.
And a guy appears and says anyone who wants to pass through here has to do whatever he (Anteus) says. Because he says so. So he jumps down and demands gold, and the horses from the wagon.
Iola calls back to Hercules, but he waves his hand and says, “Oh, I wanna sleep!” and lies back on the bed. One suspects he has a plan, but he’s not reassuring Iola or Ulysses much at all. Ulysses takes a swing at Anteus and Anteus throws him some distance. Iola again appeals to Hercules to save them, but Hercules again proclaims his weariness. (Me too.)
Anteus goes to the back of the wagon to see about this sleeping husband, figuring sleeping husbands are actually awake cowards. He tells Hercules that he’s taking his (Hercules’) wife for his own, and Herc plays along, much to Iola’s annoyance. Finally, Anteus touches Hercules and this sets him (Hercules) off. And in a couple of seconds, he beats the stuffing out of Anteus.
And it seems the fight is over, until Anteus starts laughing, and they start wrasslin’ some more. And it takes rather a lot of time, and it sometimes looks bad for Hercules, but come on, we’re not even fifteen minutes in, no movie could be that merciful.
So, it goes on for a while, and then goes on for another while as the same trick is played (Anteus seems knocked out, but then starts laughing).
Ulysses proves he has read Edith Hamilton as he notes that Anteus is the son of some god, and when he is on the ground, he is unbeatable. So Hercules picks him up and throws him in the ocean. “All right, yes, go on!” shouts the defeated Anteus. “But one day you’ll have to pass through my valley again!” I hate to point out that they know how to defeat him, so his threat is a bit hollow….
Anyway, now Herc and company are riding through a nice forest. Suddenly, some green clad robbers appear! It’s Robin Hood! Help!
Actually, it isn’t, it’s just some horses and wagons and some soldiers who look like the brief glimpse we had earlier of the Argives. Hercules stops the wagon, and just in time too, as a huge thunderstorm breaks out. Iola protests that she’s getting wet and Herc tells her to find cover as he starts taking stuff out of the wagon…for some reason. I guess these various things needed cleaning by the rain.
Speaking of which, when Iola runs toward the soldiers, and is rudely rebuffed, the rain seems gone. Until the lead guy says he likes her, and ought to “tame” her. At which point Herc shows up and tosses him into the rain. And Herc and Iola and Ulysses run past all the soldiers. We see the lead guy, now hatless, rubbing his evil beard and wondering what the heck is up with all these events.
”But wasn’t that Hercules?” says some random soldier, as we see a shot of the three of them disappearing into a tunnel.
And inside that tunnel, all three are laughing like loons. It must be the Tunnel of Laughing Madness! I mean, it’s that or a stupid movie.
Hercules tells the others to stop laughing when an old voice starts speaking. The old voice says that “you and Laeritees, my own children” plotted against the old voice to steal his kingdom, how “you and your brother” drove the old voice out of his kingdom, so now he has to stay in this damp cave and just be sullen. [Note: the pronunciation of Laeritees makes it kind of semi-clear that this is not the same as the guy, Laertes, from earlier.] [I hope.]
”Oedipus?” asks Hercules.
Well, the old voice asks who this is, and allows how he recognizes this voice, and it recalls happier times, and it must be Hercules (good guess).
Hercules pops up and asks what Oedipus is doing here, in this dank cave, adding, “You have left Thebes?” Gee, you figured that out?
He points at some guy and says he’s “Polynesius” and the guy kind of stiffly doesn’t answer, but he sure looks guilty about something. No matter, as his cameo is done for now and Herc resumes questioning Oedipus about this abandoning the throne bit.
Oedipus says it wasn’t his idea, his sons thought it best if he renounced the throne as a damp cave was just what his health needed.
Oedipus says that Polynesius and Layabout were supposed to rule in turn, one year after another, but apparently Layabout isn’t playing fair and refuses to give up rule now that it’s his brother’s turn. (Any parent could have predicted this, you know.)
Or something. This is really not clear. Hercules asks Polynesia, “What are you doing here? What do you want of your father?”
”Just to pardon us,” says Polynesia, but Oedipus isn’t fooled by this.
”I’m not going to be deceived! I know just what he wants. To get and keep the throne with the help of the Argives! The throne carries only tragedy! It can bring no happiness!” [Technically, Oedipus ought to be the voice of experience here.] “Your city will fall between these two brothers!” Oedipus tells Hercules. He then goes on to say that neither brother cares what happens to Thebes or its people, or its women people, as long as the fires of their ambition continue to be stoked. Actually, he said it worse than that, but I’m trying to improve my writing skills.
Hercules appeals to Polynesia, saying that he will force the other brother, Layabout, to honor the pact and let Polynesia rule for a year.
Okay, I think I understand this now. Layabout rules now, refused to give up rule after a year, so Polynesia raised an army of Argives to take the throne away, and he wanted his dad to say that was okay with him (the dad).
Anyway, Oedipus says neither son will listen to reason, so what’s the friggin point of anything, but Hercules isn’t down with this pessimism stuff and he says he’ll make everything okay again between the brothers.
Polynesia says okay, you have six days to do this, and the leader of the Argives (who was the bearded guy from the earlier scene) says that at the end of six days, they’ll march on Thebes.
And Polynesia starts to leave, and Hercules grabs him and says, “Hold on a moment. Say goodbye to your father!” Because Herc is half-god, so he knows the importance of manners (he mentioned that a while ago you may recall).
”Farewell, father,” Polynesia says. “I know you wanted sons like Hercules. But you deserved us!” Which has…got to be a really bad slap against someone. I’m just not sure who.
Anyway, he leaves, taking his Argives with him, up the steps of the dank cave.
None of this answers why Oedipus is in a dank cave, you know. Even if his sons are feuding, they could still find a nice apartment one would think.
Yeah right, anyway, we cut to the shot of a nice sunset or sunrise (I’m sure we’ll find out) and a voice says, “The time has come, Oedipus, the gates are opening for you.” And there’s a lightning strike, and some smoke and Oedipus takes every single step down a staircase while everyone watches. Gosh, that was so thrilling we have to fade out and fade in on Herc and company riding their wagon into town. Herc strides to go talk to the king, and some officious chap runs up expositioning like crazy about how no one can disturb the king when he’s undisturbable like this. Needless to say, Herc strides on without paying any heed.
The guy keeps talking and talking, but Herc keeps his heed right in his wallet and finally bursts in on the king as he’s looking at some tigers down in an arena of some kind. The king acknowledges Herc, barely, but is more interested in his tigers.
I’m more interested in the king’s odd face. It looks like a mask but I guess isn’t.
Hercules says he’s come to speak about the king’s brother, Polynesia. The king goes all sour and avers how he’d feed his brother to the tigers if the urge fell on him. We then get to watch some tigers being tamed. For rather a while.
Finally, the last tiger is apparently tamed, but as soon as the tamer does this kind of “I rule!” gesture, the tiger jumps him. An aide pronounced the man dead as the tiger goes to his cage.
The king of course doesn’t care, bemoaning the fact that “there isn’t anyone capable.” He notes that Hercules might make a good trainer, but Herc isn’t interested, he wants to annoy the king by bringing up Polynesia and Oedipus again. King asserts, basically, that he doesn’t think his brother would give up the throne, so he (King) won’t either. He also, in passing, notes that Herc has a cute wife. Uh oh, as they say.
Then, King tells everyone goodbye, as he’s leaving after all on a sea voyage, perhaps to find someone who can train tigers without dying. He laughs, tells everyone how much happier they’ll be now that he’s gone, and leaves. Well, that was sure easy.
”I don’t know what to say to all this,” Iola says, echoing my thoughts.
”Did you ever see a man so close to madness?” asks Ulysses.
”And the way he gave in to his brother, do you believe that?” asks Iola. If she’s asking me, I answer “No. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a plot.”
But some other guy says that Layabout is leaving because he has to, no other reason.
Some hours later, after I regained consciousness, fish became obnoxious. And some sad music plays when some down at heart folks leave through the tiger den, and some voice says that these are prisoners who may be tiger chow if they’re not careful.
And there’s a quick fade to Herc and Iola mentioning how they hate to be separated, but it’s for the good of all. And Layabout strides in, wondering if Iola is coming with him and Hercules, and…I must have missed a whole lot somewhere. Anyway, Herc says no, Ulysses is coming with them, and Layabout says he’s never heard of him, which sets Ulysses off like crazy and he starts listing the family tree.
Layabout says he’s not interested (I’m with him) and says that Hercules is supposed to tell Polynesia that his brother is off the throne and he can come and sit on it for a while. He then hopes that Iola will be well guarded, and he leaves laughing in a way that makes everyone uncomfortable. So, I honestly don’t know who’s supposed to be going where with whom.
Well, we cut to Herc and Ulysses riding across the very pretty countryside, for quite some way. Layabout is nowhere to be seen. I don’t know where he’s supposed to end up, but for now I’m gonna assume he’s still on the throne, ruling peevishly.
Hercules and Ulysses come to a stop in a place that has uneasy music, and Ulysses goes off to shoot birds with arrows, for food. Hercules goes to where some water is flowing over a cliff, and he starts drinking and a voice says, “These are the waters of forgetfulness, those who drink of them will forget all.” Of course, he’d already had a big ole swig by then, so too late you stupid voice. And Herc staggers around, and the horses run away, and Herc hears a voice.
Elsewhere, Ulysses brings down a pheasant but sees the horses escaping, and naturally wants to know what’s going on. So he runs back to Herc, who is stomping around, calling “Iola!” (So much for forgetting all, I guess.) He tells the arriving Ulysses that the singing voice is Iola, but Ulysses doesn’t hear anything. So Herc tosses him aside.
Herc tears off the side of the cliff, then collapses. Ulysses, alarmed by this, goes to the nearby creek to splash some awakening water on Hercules, but, looking up, he sees he is surrounded by soldiers (with red uniforms) on all sides. Nonetheless, he splashes the water on Herc’s chest, and in a rather…disturbing moment, he grabs and shakes Hercules’ breasts.
And the guards show up with a stretcher for Hercules. The leader asks Ulysses who he is, but in a rather clever touch, Ulysses pretends to be a deaf-mute! Why, I’m not sure, but it sure succeeds, and, uh, he’s captured along with Hercules. Still, I bet he has a plan! A good plan, too, I bet.
As he goes to follow after the departing Hercules, he looks at the red soldiers gathering some water from the Forgetful Fountain. And the Fountain kind of looks like a face! Hey, kind of cool. In a kind of Yeah Whatever sort of way.
And we fade to a ship on the sea. Hercules is still flaked out on a couch, with Ulysses nearby pretending to be asleep as well. And the lead red guard is planning to test Ulysses deafness to see if it is def. Fortunately, Ulysses was, like me, kind of awake, so when the Red Guard Chief threw his spear inches from Ulysses’ chest, he was able to fake still being asleep. Everyone laughs and Ulysses, once free from scrutiny, does a comical “Whew!” thing that I imagine had them rolling in the aisles in 1959. You know how old I was in 1959? Hey, good guess.
And more sailing. And finally, they reach land, and Herc (still asleep) is brought on his stretcher to a strange temple on this island.
And in the temple, another youth, like Ulysses, is telling his queen (who is pretty foxy) that the soldiers have returned. And the Queen, who has red hair, is playing with a cute little tiger cub, who must be only a few days or weeks old. Man, is it cute!
She rises to meet the arriving guards, and Youth says, “Don’t desert me, don’t desert me!” And she gets a closeup, and she kind of looks like a very thin Divine. And she deserts the guy anyway. So, he kind of skips to his feet and daintily follows after.
The Queen goes down the steps and bends over Hercules, who is identified as such by the leader of the Red Guards. When she looks at Ulysses, the Red Guard Chief dismisses him as “just a poor deaf-mute.” I still can’t get over Ulysses foresight. He must have read the script! I bet that’s it.
Youth comes down, protesting that Queen (“Oomfally” if I am hearing right) said she loved him, blah blah, as guys with swords advance on him. And he gets stabbed.
Those of you with really long memories will recognize the preceding as the very first scenes of this film, before the credits. Which means, argh, it’s going to start all over again and I’m in Hell after all!
Actually, we fade to sunlight, with Herc finally waking up, and having the worst hangover ever by the reaction. Whew, I’m not in Hell after all…much. And Hercules hears a musical saw and goes off to find where this might be. And, then, hearing some feminine giggling, he goes off to find that, and sees the Queen bathing in a stream, with all manner of maidens around. Yeah, he must be dreaming.
So, he goes off to find these maidens, and goes to the stream, but sees no one, and goes behind a waterfall, where there’s a hidden temple and a cave where a panty party is under way!
Ha ha, woke you up. Anyway, all the nymphettes leave, and he strides up to Queen (on her throne).
”There’s something I’d like to ask you,” he says.
”And what would you like to ask me?” says Queen, in her first dialogue.
”What’s happened to me? I don’t remember anything, not even who I am!” he says.
She asks if that’s important, and he admits, he can’t remember if it is or not. She then, apparently, has Ulysses brought before them, and asks Herc if he knows who he is. Herc says no.
”Think hard,” says Queen.
Herc affirms he doesn’t know who the kid is, so Ulysses is (presumably) returned to his dank dungeon. Herc protests more amnesia, and Queen asks if she honestly is expected to believe that Hercules doesn’t remember…that he’s the king of this place? And her husband?
This pretty much stops Herc in his tracks. One must admit, this would be a pretty big thing to forget. Just in case we thought this was small stuff, we get a ballet. They’re kind of semi-obligatory in Hercules films. Usually it’s a good excuse to go get popcorn, except every 1959 kid is thinking he’d going to see something more than scantily clad dancers teasing. On the other hand, maybe this was hot stuff back then. Here, in today’s modern world, it’s a good chance to check spelling and grammar and stuff.
Hercules avows how he likes being a king. “By the way, what’s my name?”
”What difference does it make?” Queen responds.
”Nothing,” Hercules admits. “It’s just, if you called me…”
”To me, your name is Love,” she says.
He accepts this answer. So I guess he’s King Love. And the ballet is over.
And we cut to some women sewing some tapestries. And one of the women is Iola! So we’re back in Thebes for the moment. And another woman asks what “this” is, in the bottom of some chest, and if it has some meaning? Apparently it does, as Iola runs off to weep bitterly in her copy of the script.
Everyone assures her that Herc a) has only been gone three days, so she says that b) tomorrow she’ll leave to find him.
And enough of her, we cut back to where Hercules fell under the spell of the Water Who Erases Memories But Can’t Speak Up in Time, and we pan to a scroll being rained on. I suppose I failed to mention that Hercules dropped this scroll when he was overcome by spells. Well, he did, now it’s a plot point.
Er, one assumes it, um, will be a plot point. We cut to Ulysses, being told by a guard that he is going to be put to work. Well, high time!
Turns out his work is to massage Hercules, which we already know he is good at, so it is a perfect fit. Hercules advises the lad that he should sleep during the day and be awake at night, as otherwise “you lose the best part of your life.” And of course, on cue, a bevy of scantily clad beauties enter the chamber. Ulysses notes that Hercules’ water is being poured by one of the jugs filled from the Water of Forgetfulness! Good spotting, Ulysses. I suppose the slight musical sting helped too, but this is honestly a good bit of work from Mr. U.
Hercules notes that “the night was made for love” and “the sun up there, dulls the senses.” Then he springs from his prone position. “Enough, I’m hungry!” Well, the gals know what that means, as they giggle and run away.
Ulysses spills the Forget Waters. “Clumsy! It looks like you did it on purpose!” says Hercules. Ulysses shushes him, then gets him some replacement water from the nearby fountain. Hercules drinks from these better waters.
”You are Hercules,” Ulysses speaks tentatively.
”What did you say?” Hercules inquires.
Ulysses sputters out several plot points regarding Iola, the tense Theban situation, and other important stuff. Hercules is rather nonplussed by these remarks, so Ulysses brings him a bit of iron and says, “Bend it. If you can’t, you’ll convince me!”
Hercules makes a couple of half-hearted tries but ends up bending nothing (ha to you euphemism fans). Just then the Queen shows up, so Ulysses hurriedly puts the iron thing back as she arrives.
He then scoots out the door as she strides up to Herc, and she asks how he’s been. He says he dreamt of her last night (awww) so that seems to mean, he’s nice even when under an evil spell. What a guy!
As she strides to the mirror (“I’m flattered,” she says), he says “Somehow I recall that you had a different face.”
”…prettier?” she asks pointedly.
”No, just different,” he answers in the worst way possible. “Blonde hair, sweet smile,” he goes on, digging his grave even deeper.
”So, you’ve begun to betray me in your dreams,” she says. Yikes-o-rama. Herc, just admit you have both feet in your mouth.
Instead, he tries the Old School defense. “Aren’t you afraid we’ll displease the Fates, and they’ll take their revenge on us?”
Well, the prospect of Fate is enough to make her melt and they start kissing away. And we cut to some ocean waves beating upon the shore, but don’t worry, this isn’t euphemism, this is real. Iola and some gal pals are looking at someone watching pigeons, and one gal pal notes that the black pigeon of the bunch is one she gave to Ulysses. Why, that must mean Ulysses is in trouble!
An old guy, who, if I really cared enough I’d confirm was King Laertes, says that he’ll depart right away to bring back Ulysses and Hercules, and he swears the ladies to silence (which they notably don’t confirm).
No matter, Laertes rides off to the rescue, through colorful stock footage, and each time we cut back to him, he has surrounded himself with new companions. He starts out alone, then there are some twins with him, then more people, until one imagines he has enough folks with him to found a small country or at least pony up some change for the toll roads.
And we get some more boat footage as Laertes and his new friends cross the vasty deeps to rescue Hercules, Ulysses and Iola. So, cough, maybe the gal I though was Iola in the important “pigeon scene” wasn’t actually her. I bet it ultimately doesn’t matter.
Cut to Layabout, who says he’s been abandoned again (he sure seems like a whiner). He is sure that Hercules saw his opportunity to get some wealth and he (Herc) grabbed that opportunity.
So, in other words, he was honest when he agreed to give up the throne? All it took was Hercules saying, “Hey, come on,” and he gave up? Boy, villains back then…losers.
He goes on to point out that Polynesia can set up his armies as he likes, and he, Layabout, will be a sitting duck, and it is ALL due to Hercules.
What was it he wanted Hercules to do for him? I’ve honestly forgotten.
Some guy says that if Hercules was dishonest, why’d he wouldn’t leave his wife behind, and Layabout says maybe Herc wants to break up the marriage. He then laughs his game show host laugh.
And he has Iola brought out as a prisoner. Layabout believes her refusal to be his gal is treason, but the fact is, she just can’t be without ole Hercules. Layabout isn’t impressed, to say the least.
Some unknown aide says, Hey, if you let her go to Hercules, that would be great for everyone.
Layabout doesn’t think so. He whirls around and grabs Hapless Aide. ”Must you talk so stupidly? You talk to me as if I’m prepared to take leave of my senses! Take the woman away,” he says in an aside to the guards.
Some Whoever guy says that’s inhuman and unjust and stuff. Layabout isn’t impressed by argument, in fact he orders the arrest of oh, anyone who disagrees with him. He also mentions that no one loves him.
There’s a lot of discussion (muttered) at this point, but no one seems seriously in danger of being slapped or kicked or stunned or anything.
Sure glad we had that whole scene. I mean it added so much (to the running time).
Back in Queenville, Ulysses is trying to use a file to grind down the bars of his cell, but he is finding this more difficult than he anticipated. He is not, after all, Hercules. He’s not even Aquaman. Hearing a noise, he hides just as Mr. Meanboat (the spear thrower on the boat) shows up to remind Ulysses that it’s time for him to give Herc his massage.
We get some comedy bassoon and pizzicato strings as Ulysses hides a string around the latch to his cell, so he can manipulate it later and thus escape, and thus make this stupid movie move a little damned faster than it insists on going.
Anyway, Ulysses knocks another goblet out of Herc’s hands before he can drink, but gets him a replacement. Herc is pretty annoyed by this, and also by the fact that Ulysses calls him, Hercules, “Hercules.”
But soon the name starts to ring some bells in the old Herc Belfry; Ulysses says it’s “too complicated to explain” but insists that not drinking the Forgetful Water is key. He starts to relate some of their shared history, and about how no one bothers him much in his cell, and then he starts going on into a flashback about some cave he found that had a statue of a guy with a spear in it. Ulysses reaction is a comical cowardly one. I’m using “comical” in a very broad sense. He goes further into the cave and sees more statues…who wants to bet they are all real people under a spell? He then spies some Egyptians removing a body from a bubbling vat.
Evil Queen is there and compliments the Egyptians on their cleverness, how she’s certain they’ll learn the secret of preserving life as well as people.
They brush off her compliments and ask when they can “get to work on Hercules.”
Well, Ulysses looks rather alarmed at this, but Evil Queen turns away without answering. I’m guessing, again, that all these “statues” are previously lured victims of the Evil Queen. It might be, might be that one of the ones we’ve seen was Youth, from the scene in the temple where he was killed. I don’t care. It’s time for the movie to be over.
Ulysses winds up his flashback, and Hercules wonders why he ought to believe this callow youth. He intends to repeat the story to Queen, but Ulysses points out that he’ll be killed to death if she finds out he can talk and hear and stuff.
Ulysses promises Hercules he won’t speak any more about anything, and Hercules picks up a lamp post, bends it into a U shape, and tosses it away. All without saying anything, but Ulysses seems pretty excited by this. I think it’s supposed to indicate Hercules is remembering stuff, as he couldn’t bend the metal thing earlier.
Hercules leaves, then comes back and bends the lamp back. He then leaves again. Be still my beating heart. Ulysses goes nutzoid at this display, leaping about and laughing like a loon.
Some Queen maidens show up and gaze at this…scene. He then goes even more loon-like and chases the women away, and they giggle like crazy and scatter.
Back with Herc, he’s relaxing by the riverside with Evil Queen and a bevy of Queen maidens. Hercules, still brooding over Ulysses and his fabulous tales, impatiently tells all the maidens to go away, which they do, wondering how they have offended.
”No one ever dared give an order in my presence,” says Queen.
Hercules laughs, says “Well, it’s only the first time!” and the two fall into each other’s arms. Ulysses, spying on this, gives a disgusted look, and then a horn calls.
It turns out this is the signal meaning someone has arrived on the island. Mr. Meanboat arrives and says it’s Laertes! He and some other Ithacans have arrived and want to stay a few days. Ulysses thinks this is swell, but Hercules doesn’t want to see anyone. Evil Queen says they have to at least be polite.
Hercules is all moany about how he’s being abandoned, and Queen says she’s just going to pay her respects and then she’ll be right back.
And elsewhere, Laertes is saying how they only brought mediocre gifts in exchange for hospitality, but that’s okay with Queen, as she’s booked them into her best suites. Her soldiers will lead them there.
She stops one of the Ithacans, Castor, claiming she’s seen him before. She asks him to stay awhile while she tries to remember where, and he’s amenable to this.
Hercules shows up just then, and Laertes is all, “Hey, Hercules, whazzap,” but Hercules is again confused by being referred to thusly. (His name is Love, remember.) Quickly catching on, some of the other Ithacans realize they must have been in error, and this guy isn’t Hercules after all, silly mistake!
Hercules is pretty steamed when they laugh about this (they said Hercules was a hero, so this guy couldn’t be him). He demands the Queen come right now, and all the Ithacans, seeing what is what, decide that would be a good time to retire.
Queen leads Castor over to where the Ithacan’s presents are, and she decides to wear a pearl necklace. She says that pearls have to be next to flesh to look their best, and so tomorrow “this necklace will be much more beautiful.” I’m just writing this to stay awake.
And fade out, fade in on an island vista, with a bunch of soldiers standing in a row on top of a cliff. We’re either saved or in big trouble. It would be great if they ran into the town and killed everyone, including Hercules. Hey, I know a great labor for Hercules: sitting through four of his movies. Yes, that would tax even his might.
Let me pause and mention here that I cannot imagine ever seeing another Hercules movie, ever, as long as I live. Four of them, more or less in a row, is pretty punishing, even though only the first one (about the Moon men) was really bad in most respects.
Admittedly, with historical figures there’s only so much you can do, but the kicker is this: we haven’t seen any of Hercules’ labors, which comprise the majority of his mythological tales! Not a one. Not even referred to obliquely. Oh wait, I guess there was Anteus.
So where were we? Soldiers on a cliff. In what is, I must admit, a rather neat shot, they’re in silhouette, slowly illuminated by the sun as the music rises. Seems this guy is Polynesia, last seen a decade or so ago (by the running time) and he’s lost his patience and is ready to attack Thebes and take everything for himself. His Right Hand Man (Bearded Guy) agrees that this is sure a swell idea, and they ride off to do battle. They have an impressive army, cleverly hidden behind a bend in the road.
In the city, Layabout is tasking his sub-generals with defense of the various gates of the city, so I guess Polynesia has less of a surprise than he thinks. But then, there’s loud clamoring of crowds outside, and Layabout is taken aback by this. It’s the country people, who want to take refuge in the city, but Layabout is against this and orders the gates closed. You see, he’s just so evil!
Elsewhere, a tiger roars and we see a young lady in a prison cell tugging at the bars. We pan and see bunches of other people (including Iola, I think—it’s been a while since we’ve seen her) sitting around not helping. And the gates are closed, amongst much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the country people.
And we see some soldiers skulking through some tunnels (oh not that again) and Ulysses peeking through his bars. Hey, I’d like a bar or two as well, preferably well stocked. As the soldiers leave, he uses his string to escape, but one guard is suspicified by this sudden moving of door mechanisms, and he draws his sword. I bet it’s Mr. Meanboat. Ulysses ducks out of sight.
And up on top, Hercules is rubbing his eyes the way people do when they’re just waking up or just realizing they’ve committed a crime. His mind replays the Ithacan’s banter about Hercules, the whole thing, just in case you were trying to wipe it out of your brain like me. He hears roaring laughter and looks at the fountain and its forgetful water.
In the prison, Mr. Meanboat decides not to investigate further, and we cut to Queen and Castor kissing up a storm. Then she stands up and tells him to leave. She has an incredibly short skirt.
He doesn’t leave though, but asks why he was asked to stick around.
”You would never understand,” she says.
”Really? But don’t you think it’s simple?” he asks. “You’re furious that I ask that. And it’s because you don’t know the reason for our visit.” He shakes his head, and stands. “No…and you won’t learn it from me.”
”Be quiet!” she yells.
”Why? You’ve had enough of me? I pity you now. Because you can never hold Hercules!”
Queen collapses and cries at this cruel, er, opinion (she has done pretty well so far, after all). “I curse the day he entered this palace!” she snarls, and guess what! Hercules is entering the very same palace at that moment. Is that a coincidence or what!
”You curse the day I entered your palace, [Queen],” he says, and she gasps. “I was able to pull the threads together!” he goes on. “At last I know who I am!”
He advances slowly toward the Queen, until Castor pipes up, “Don’t take revenge, Hercules!” No, let me!
Queen points out that Hercules won’t kill her, because he knows she loves him, despite all her efforts to keep love out of the house. The music makes a tender detour here (as Mr. Meanboat peeks through the curtains), so Hercules probably won’t kill her (besides, it’s 1959; heroes don’t kill women).
And he doesn’t, and she sort of kind of taunts him that he’ll never be able to take away the love the two shared, not even Iola can remove the stain upon Hercules heart! It’s kind of a taunt and kind of a plea for pity, all at the same time.
Queen says that she’ll make certain Hercules and Pals have a clear path out of the city, “but go quickly, before I change my mind!” Oh yeah sure, I believe this. Mr. Meanboat will probably cause trouble.
Man, that is one short skirt, but don’t get your hopes (or anything else) up.
And, the palace set now over, everyone leaves. And they go to where the Ithacans are. They’re in the midst of trying to prove, via logic, that Ulysses must be dead because he never calls and he never writes.
Queen, Herc and Castor enter, and Queen dismisses the guards so she can talk to the Ithacans alone. Hey, I just noticed, Queen has an off the shoulder dress that leaves the left shoulder bare, while Hercules has an off the shoulder toga that leaves the right shoulder bare! Why, that explains it all right there.
Oh, and let me point out that Hercules was once chained to the Queen through the memory sapping water, now that he is himself again, he is…unchained. Hercules unchained. Can we go home now? If not, I’d like some of that memory sapping water, to go, please.
So, everyone stands around a lot, and Hercules strides to the middle of the crowd, and the guards finally leave, and everyone looks like they’re just waiting for their cue. How do you say “Line, please” in Italian?
Queen twirls her skirt, and says, “Goodbye, Laertes, goodbye my Greek friends. Hercules will depart with you. Sandoni will accompany you to the landing.” And she leaves. Well, good thing her guards didn’t hear that hot info! Or they might have…uh…well, uh. Okay.
Laertes grabs the one remaining guard, shakes him a bit, and asks where “my boy” is, and it turns out, this IS his boy, Ulysses! Ha ha ha, that was…something.
But then Mr. Meanboat shows up, declaring that he has a score to settle, and he and his bully boys brush right past Queen to fight with the Ithacans. I thought for a moment this was beyond Queen’s control, but she exhorts her crew to kill everyone except Hercules.
Herc picks up a big table to use as a shield, and Ulysses kills Mr. Meanboat. Hercules throws the table at the guards and crushes them, then throws some Egyptian statues at the newly arriving guards and crushes them, as well, before they can get in some good fighting. But the Ithacans all wave their swords as the statues go crashing into the Queen men, as if they (the Ithacans) were somehow contributing to the victory. Isn’t it always the way, how people will try to grab credit?
The Ithacans (read: Hercules) make short work of the Queen guys, without losing a single guy; but the big toothed gates slam shut before they can escape. Hercules reminds Ulysses of “the story” that Ulysses was blabbing on about.
”By the gods, it’s this way!” Ulysses blurts, and everyone runs after him.
By the Gods, we’ve still got twenty-four minutes left to go! Granted, granted, that is way better than five hours. But it is not nearly as good as fifteen seconds.
Ulysses leads them past the garden of living statues, or whatever the hell they are, and Old Guy notes that there’s a pedestal all ready for Hercules to be a living statue on. Though I should note the letters seem to spell “Ernyiss” or perhaps “Frayiss.” Some kind of “yiss” no matter what. The Ithacans decide leaving is a good thing to do. Hey, maybe it says “Fankiss”! I’m changing my bet, anyway.
The guys all descend some stairs, and then notice that there’s another toothed gate, and it’s closing! It’s closing at glacial speed, but everyone is put into a panic anyway. Most folks jump, but one old guy says he’s too old to jump so he’s gently lowered the ten feet or so. Man, whatever takes up running time, I guess. I hope no one needs the restroom, or has a craving for ice cream. I already can’t stand much more of this.
Well, they lower him, and the other guys jump, and finally it’s just Herc holding those gates apart. Why, they might close, at any day! He jumps down, well before they close—whew anyway, you know—and notes that he hears the sound of the sea. Well, big whup, muscles, I hear the sound of my brain shutting itself off. Or maybe that’s the cats asking for treats. Either way, it’s a lot more hellish than the ocean.
We get a shot of the toothed gates closing, just to remind us, you know, that our heroes might have been in incredible danger, had they chosen to loiter much more fervently than they have.
And they exit the cave, and behold their vessel, moored off the shore. They’re all enthused about swimming for it, except Old Guy, who notes that he can’t swim. Hercules, amid much laughter, allows how he’ll carry the old coot.
And it’s the end, right? Please?
Oh crap. Twenty-one minutes left.
So, they all scamper through the waves toward the ship. And they get on the ship. A ship made of golden cheese.
Sorry, I must have fallen asleep and was dreaming. A ship—made of cheese! Why, that’s just absurd.
Anyway, we cut back to Evil Queen, watching the departing ship, and being all regretful and such like, as she did, after all, fall in love with Hercules, just ruining everything everywhere for her own future. And she gazes down at some smoldering coffin shaped tub, and the music swells, and she looks all regretful and stuff, and she flings herself into this coffin thing, and the music makes a bit of a swell, but we cut to life on deck as Laertes and Ulysses catch up on their bird-releasing tasks. They banter a bit but it is really so unimportant that I’m not even listening myself! La la la I can’t hear you, movie!
”The youngsters today think only about girls!” Laertes says.
”I’ll never be able to repay you,” says Hercules.
”Just go on being our friend,” suggests Laertes, and someone else mentions how everything is swell between them and stuff. And everyone except me laughs.
And if this movie had a kind mote in it’s dull, dusty soul, the words “The End” would appear imposed on a pretty sunset.
Hercules asks how long he was at evil Queen’s island, and someone mentions “twenty days,” and Hercules remembers how Polynesia would probably be pretty impatient by this point and want to slaughter and kill and commit mayhem to get his throne. The music turns a bit tense now, to remind us that while Hercules was dicking around being amnesiac, other people were having a rough time of it.
Like me, for example.
Also, Iola. Hercules bellows that he’s been tricked by the Gods, and his wife is in the hands of “that madman.” Which one?
Thinking quickly, one of his pals says, “Hoist sail,” and the boat is off. Though the sail doesn’t seem to be doing the same work as all the rowers. But to his credit, Hercules is right there rowing with them. Of course, since he’s a strong as 528 regular guys, I bet the boat just goes in circles.
And we cut to the outskirts of Thebes, where Layabout is watching some soldiers approach. He’s up on the walls, and this guy reads how Polynesia demands that Layabout give up the kingdom and go into exile, in exchange for which he will not be killed and things.
Layabout looks totally amused at this, so he’s not going to help to shorten the movie. The rotter!
Anyway, he says “No way” but in a lot more words. Then he has Iola and some other women brought to the top of the wall, because Hercules’ pals are loyal to Polynesia, so he’s going to be mean to them.
Eerily echoing John Steiner’s Jaffar, Layabout clenches his fists and intones, “Hercules…by the Gods you’ll suffer!” Warming to his theme, he goes on. “Your woman is going to provide a spectacle for us…til the day I get you!” O….kay. “She’ll be held for the tigers! And the others?” He spreads his hands. “Stand back now!” he barks.
”Here’s my answer, Polynesius,” he says, ignoring the fact that he has already answered. “Look at your supporters. And you!” He points, and does the Maniac Shoulder Roll. “You’ll be next. Yes, you’re next!” He slowly brings his hand back, and says, “There!” and everyone but Iola is pushed off the wall.
I guess I should point out that this is a pretty tall wall, so a fall from this tall wall would maul all. Sure enough, we see some sacks dressed in clothes plummet to the earth and lay still. Iola faints.
Layabout laughs like a maniac, easily outdoing Jaffar. I never thought that was possible, but I still hate this movie.
Cut to Hercules, in the twilight, seeing the bodies of those who fell from the wall. Some voice somewhere says that if Hercules returns to Thebes, then Layabout will kill Iola, “she’ll die before your eyes, Hercules,” and the advice is thus to not go back to Thebes. But if I know Layabout, he doesn’t have any patience and will kill Iola out of fidgetiness sooner or later. Might as well get it (the movie) over with.
Everyone pledges solidarity with ol Herc, but he says, “Let me alone.” Sheesh, whatta grouch!
And we cut to Polynesia and his generals planning how to take over
the city, and not happy with any of the plans put forth.
Blah blah blah yak yak yak.
A messenger arrives from Thebes. It’s a guy who brings a proposal that is, “Let Polynesia and Layabout fight a duel and settle things that way.” He has a scroll which he whips out which lays this scheme out in detail.
Oh, and of course, everyone trusts that Layabout will keep his word, right? Right? Are we clear that he’s evil and won’t? Because, and I say this sincerely, I am tired of typing words that aren’t “The End.”
Well, everyone agrees that a duel sounds just swell. And we cut to Hercules wading through a creek. He comes to a wall with a grate in it. In a bit that is pretty stupid, even for this movie, he dives underwater and bends the bars of the grate and goes through. Why didn’t he bend the bars above the water? That would be too intelligent, and this movie is trying for a clean sweep.
Following after Herc are a bunch of Ithacans who ignored Herc’s request to leave him alone. One of them seems to be Ulysses. But they all slip through the Hercules opening, and soon follow him as he runs up some steps. Some Theban guards say, “Wasn’t that Hercules?” but the Ithacans throw trash cans at these guards and then beat them up, so no tattling appears to be the modus operandi. That’s Latin you know.
Again, the Thebans are totally defeated while the Ithacans suffer no casualties. Good thing the Ithacans are peaceful, because if they wanted to conquer the (known) world there’d be no stopping them.
Hercules, meanwhile, has stopped by another grate. Man, the man just can’t catch a break. There are grates everywhere. This one looks, suspiciously, like part of a tiger cage, and there’s a part above that looks, suspiciously, like a place where a decadent maniac could enjoy how he has trapped Hercules for tigers. I’m just sayin’ is all.
Man…I hate being right. As soon as he stepped through, the gates locked and a bunch of Theban hooligans appeared and began to laugh. And the tiger was released.
And there’s a fight, and Hercules kills the tiger, but no matter, there’s another one. And Hercules kills that one, too. This time he gets some scratches though. And a third tiger.
But the Ithacans took the other stairs and start killing all the Thebans who are laughing, and Ulysses shoots the last tiger.
And Hercules knocks down a big door, and frees all the slaves who were to be tiger food (no more tigers, now). Herc wants to know where Iola is, and the head slave says they convinced her to flee “last night” as they knew Layabout would kill her.
But we cut to some other part of the palace, where one of Balding Guy from way earlier taunts Iola about how she escaped and then was recaptured by the other side (the Polynesia side). Thanks for the recap, Balding Guy.
Iola tells him, “as long as I’m respected, Hercules won’t kill you.”
He tosses aside his helmet in a meaningful way. “I prefer to risk that,” he says, signing his death warrant in indelible ink. And he starts man-handling her.
But enough of that, wouldn’t want to wake you up or nothing. We cut to that very tall wall where some folks took a fall. And some guys with horns blow a fanfare.
And back to the place where Balding Guy and Iola were. Balding Guy now has a fresh scar on his cheek. “I don’t forget these things, you see!” he says. “You’ll pay double for this, I warn you! And for once, the great Hercules isn’t here to help you! You just wait here,” he tells her, “and I promise you, I’ll be back later!”
And we’re at the promised duel bit, where Layabout and Polynesia are preparing to have a chariot joust at one another, with the winner being the one not poked through by a javelin.
And there’s another fanfare and the two ride at each other. And they throw their spears at each other, in turn, but both spears shatter against the respective other guy’s shields. That means it’s a tie, I guess.
So it’s on to round two. I hate you, movie. This time it’s axes. Yawn. Polynesia throws his at Layabout’s shield, like a decent sportsman, but Layabout actually manages to (somehow) crash Polynesia’s chariot. I say, deuced bad sportsmanship, what? Never join the club with manners like that, what ho.
Anyway, Polynesia’s horses ride off, and Layabout swerves his chariot in a kind of “I am soooo the winner,” way, then he decides to get off his high horse and face Polynesia on foot, sword to sword. So there’s a sword fight.
We still have six minutes to go. Polynesia manages to wound Layabout, but being a wuss or some damnable thing, doesn’t just kill the blighter but, get this, looks concerned. Layabout redoubles his attack. And he strikes Polynesia with, uh…it would seem to be a fatal wound to the shoulder. And Layabout starts laughing like the unhinged lunatic he is.
He then proclaims his victory, and as everyone cheers, he staggers a bit and falls down. I would love it if they were both dead. I’d love it if everyone was dead. End credits, please.
One of Polynesia’s generals (who wants to bet it is Balding) rolls Layabout over with the point of his sword. Layabout turns over to the sound of metal chairs being dropped. Now there’s a man of character!
Anyway, it sure looks like the brothers are dead. Oh thank you, movie, for another plot line resolved to no purpose. You need to find another job, movie.
Hercules and his pals show up on the stands, and the general, who does turn out to be Balding Guy, taunts Hercules that Iola is in his house now. “And I’m going there!”
And Hercules just kind of stands there, like, I totally respect the script.
And some soldiers are either breaking down or setting up siege mechanisms.
”Well, look at that,” says some soldier on one side or another. “The Thebans are abandoning their defenses.” I guess they’ve had enough of this movie too.
”They must be surrendering the town,” says his pal.
It looks to me like they’re preparing to lay siege to some other town, but who cares what I think? Instead, the gates burst open and Hercules and all his pals ride out, and fight with the bad soldiers, and Hercules crashes the siege towers and there’s fighting like crazy everywhere. And some more fighting, as the Good Guys (whoever) defeat all the Bad Guys (yeah right) without a single Good Guy casualty.
So now Hercules can go beat up this villain who showed up in the last ten minutes of the film. The cad! He deserves to be smashed into oblivion.
And guess what! He was. Hercules upended one of the siege towers, and it fell right on Balding Guy. And he died, and everyone thanked the heavens.
And more battle footage, but I am guessing that the tide is turning toward the good guys, whoever the hell they might be at this stage in the game. Go, good guys! And boo, bad guys! Rah rah rah!
Some guy shows up and looks at the bodies of the two brothers, who are now on fire for some reason that I missed. (It might be a funeral pyre.) He talks about how they, and dad Oedipus, offended the gods and so they burned a lot and had bad luck, and here’s hoping all the bad luck left with them when they died.
And Iola comes out from behind a statue, and Hercules come up behind her, and notes how she’s suffered a lot because he’s an oaf and a doof and a bad egg and SMACK oh yeah, the Gods did all this. And, he says, there’ll be more.
She hopes they’ll withstand the trials to come. “Somehow, the Gods will be kind if we just love one another.”
And they kiss and go into each other’s arms and come on The End, come on, and…well, we don’t get The End. But the film ends anyway. Thank the Gods for being merciful!
So: four films about Hercules. As mentioned, they don’t do much other than touch on any of his legendary labors.
Considering the fact that the Hercules of legend had twelve labors, you’d think you could get enough story for four movies. But boy, have we seen a lot of repetition. The Evil Queen falls in love with Hercules, but only for her own evil agenda; someone either drinks, or is about to drink, a drugged drink; there’s always an old wise guy, and usually a daughter or two. People are deceitful like crazy. Someone loses his memory or personality. And there are bits that have no relation to anything, they’re just there to take up running time. Running time? More like standing still and lying down time.
Of the four, this one annoyed me the most with its diversions. In fact, I’d say the whole film seemed to be made up of nothing but diversions. We had Evil Queen, and her plans with the Egyptians—all brought to naught because Laertes showed up. That was easy. We had the two feuding brothers, who killed each other in a duel—another easy one. Anteus was beaten also pretty easily. It’s as if all of these storylines were chopped out of a weekly television series, and strung together into “feature film” length.
It’s funny, as Ken Begg says, that a good movie never seems long, no matter how long it is, while a bad one can stretch out the shortest times until “hours can seem like days.”
With Hercules Unchained, it’s not as if any of these story lines were bad, per se. There were just too damn many of them, and none of them were developed at all beyond, Oh, here’s some plot. Okay, we’re done. Here’s some more plot.
This one had the potential to be the second best of the Hercules films I’ve struggled through. The production values are much better than any of the others, the photography is nice and colorful, the sets are lavish and believable, the action scenes are pretty decent. It’s obvious someone spent some money on this thing.
It’s that damn plotlessness, that’s what doomed it.
So, Hercules films. The best of these four was Hercules and the Captive Women. Best may be stretching it a bit, but it was somewhat fun and kept moving nicely. The worst was Hercules Against the Moon Men. There wasn’t anything in second place, so Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon ended up in third place, with Hercules Unchained in third-and-a-half place.
I hope it is a good many years before I see another Hercules movie. Either that, or I’m drunk.