Hercules Unchained (1959)

Truly then, the gods have smiled upon us this day when they sent forth this second adventure of Hercules. Fresh from whatever it was that Herc accomplished in his first epic film, this movie opens with him saying his goodbyes to his buddies from the Argos and preparing to journey to his hometown of Thebes with his new wife Iole and his buddy Ulysses.

And if things look a bit questionable with Herc and his posse all piled into a covered wagon like a bunch of Okies in search of some good Indian land to steal, that’s okay because that heartily dubbed laugh that reverberates whenever good times are being recalled from their all-male sailing days belongs to none other than Steve Reeves. Actually, the hearty laugh belongs to whatever nameless voice actor dubbed Steve in this movie, but those are Steve’s lips moving.

Steve is the main attraction here, possessing that unique combination of a mega-jacked body as well as a mega-jacked beard and hair. Too often, the wannabes will make the mistake of concentrating on one while neglecting the other.

You’ve got dudes who forgo the beard like Goliath did in Goliath and the Vampires and then you’ve got Ulysses from Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules who was under the mistaken belief that you could credibly cruise around the ancient world, monster fighting with a set of guns under thirty inches. All I can say is it’s a good thing this Ulysses was fighting Hercules’s wimp son, because if it had been pa he was battling, he would have ended up like one of those big pretzels they sell at the mall that I love so much.

Properly bronzed, his chest liberally spritzed with man-dew, Steve looks like he’s always mere seconds from picking up something gigantic and heaving it at something evil. Luckily for us and Hercules, he doesn’t have long to wait because the road to Thebes goes through the evil giant Anteo’s land. But first, Herc heads to the back of his covered wagon to get some shuteye.

Then his old lady starts playing with the lute she was given by one of Herc’s sailor friends at the beginning of the movie. Next thing Herc and I know, she’s singing some awful ballad that probably made Herc wish he was back with the Argonauts beating down unspeakable creatures instead of having his old lady caterwauling while he was trying to rest his chiseled pecs.

Frankly, I suspected trouble as soon as I saw the lute because it looked remarkably like a toilet seat. I was thinking to myself, “why is someone giving Mrs. Herc the seat from a toilet? These ancient types still crap in the woods, right?” Could this perhaps be an enchanted toilet seat? Would Herc be shouting skywards, “by the Gods! My very bowels have deserted me! Is this to be my fate? To perish from Pluto’s Revenge? Pass me another roll of TP, Iole!”

After enduring his wife’s attempts at serenading him, it is understandable then that when Anteo appears and announces that he is taking Herc’s wife as his own, that Herc has no objections.

The old ball and chain isn’t too amused and eventually Herc has to get out of bed and beat up the giant. Only after Ulysses remembers some bit of trivia about Anteo does Herc realize how he must defeat him. This naturally involves Herc lifting the giant up and chucking him off a cliff into the ocean.

Fans of feats-of-strength scenes get plenty of reps in this one. Herc throws giant statues at guys. He battles an entire platoon of soldiers with a big table before hurling it at them. He’s knocking down enormous doors and bending iron bars.

It’s completely natural then that once he drinks from the Waters of Forgetfulness, loses his memory and ends up the husband of an evil witch in her faraway kingdom, that Ulysses (who still has his memory, but is pretending to be deaf and dumb for strategic purposes) has to give the big guy daily rubdowns.

If you’re wondering what all this has to do with the conflict between Oedipus’s two sons, Etocle and Polinice, over which one is going to govern Thebes, then you realize the genius of this movie.

While there is the element of generals bickering over who gets what piece of land that invariably afflicts the worst of the sword and sandal genre, thanks to Hercules getting himself kidnapped by Queen Onfale it never amounts to more than a background annoyance.

Though things do tend to get sluggish during Hercules’ protracted memory loss, it is fun to watch the new hedonistic Herc dole out advice to Ulysses such as to sleep during the day so that you don’t miss out on all the fun at night.

He also comments on how great it is to get up everyday and not have to do anything, but by the time his old sailing buddies rescue him and haul his butt back to Thebes, you better believe that the man-god, as well as the audience, is ready to rumble!

With special effects by Mario Bava (Hercules in the Haunted World), the movie is clearly a cut above most of its ilk in the looks department with big sets and fancy lighting.

And with Steve Reeves’ commanding presence (just look at the way he waves his gargantuan arms around whenever he’s shouting at the Gods!), the hilariously shrill performance of both Queen Onfale and Etocle, and a good dose of action, this is by far one of the best of all the “hunks and punks” pictures.

© 2016 MonsterHunter

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