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Hercules (1958).

July 22, 2008

The Scoop:
With all his bone-headed bravado, Steve Reeves makes a much better Hercules than Kevin Sorbo, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reg Park, or any of the other actors who also became associated with the role. And this production, the former Mr. Universe’s first outing in the character and imported to this country by Joseph E. Levine, is responsible for starting the cycle of Italian muscle epics that dominated the drive-ins in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Ostensibly an adaptation of Herc’s familiar story, this is actually a conglomeration of various Greek myths, thrown together Cuisinart-style for our enjoyment. Just don’t look to this for any kind of accuracy. Sure, we get to see him perform some of his famous labors, but he mixes it up with the Amazons, hogs all the credit for Jason’s recovery of the Golden Fleece, and even gets to do his best Samson impression.

This film is also a milestone in many ways. In his marketing of the movie in the U.S., Levine pioneered the concept of “saturation booking,” in which a film is released on as many screens as possible on its opening weekend in an effort to maximize its up-front gross. This is standard practice among Hollywood blockbusters even to this day. Its success also single-handedly created the “sword and sandal” genre that would dominate the Italian film industry for the next decade.

“Hercules” is fun, albeit in a mindless, lazy Sunday afternoon sort of way. The undemanding story is pulled off with energy and bravado (something that certainly can’t be said for the legions of imitators this film spawned) and Reeves seems perfectly comfortable in some of the most ridiculous circumstances. The cinematography in particular is impressive, but that should come as no surprise because it was handled by Italy’s maestro of the art, Mario Bava.

Best Line:
“The time goes slowly here at sea. I think I’ll start a calendar — one notch for each day.”

Side Note:
The tagline for the original U.S. release described Hercules as “Half god! Half pagan!”

Companion Viewing:
“Clash of the Titans” (1981).

Hollywood Teen Movies.

Take a Look:
Why Hercules shouldn’t try out for the debate team:

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