Wednesday, August 8, 2012

HERCULES, SAMSON AND ULYSSES

In 1958, Italian director Pietro Francisci and American bodybuilder Steve Reeves teamed up for a modestly-mounted cinematic adaptation of Greek myths. That film, HERCULES, was hugely profitable, and along with its even more successful sequel, HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959), it kicked off a tidal wave of Italian-made, sweaty, sword & sandal epics that swept across the silver screens of Europe - and then, the U.S. drive-in circuit - for the better part of the next decade, providing Bronze Age super-heroics in a seemingly-endless array of variations.

Late in the peplum (Greek for "tunic") cycle, director Francisci returned to the genre he helped create with the "all-star" mythic muscleman flick, HERCULES, SAMSON AND ULYSSES... and thanks to the vault raiders at Warner Archive, this 1963 MGM release is now available as a made-to-order DVD.

When a sea monster threatens the fishermen of Greece, noble protector Hercules (Kirk Morris, HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN) and his young, hero-in-training sidekick Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico), leave their women behind and set out with a handful of those aforementioned fishermen to hunt and slay the creature (nature film footage of a manatee). Their ship is caught in a terrible storm, and the two heroes and their companions wash up on the shores of Judea, where the musclebound Greek demigod is mistaken for the Biblical hero Samson (Iloosh Khoshabe, billed as "Richard Lloyd"). Captured by the Philistines, Hercules manages to convince the king's consort, Delila (Liana Orfei) of his true identity, but that only creates more trouble when the king threatens to put his friends to death unless Herc captures the rebellious Samson and brings him back in chains. Needless to say, when the two legends clash, lots of styrofoam boulders are going to get tossed around....

HERCULES, SAMSON AND ULYSSES is actually a surprisingly fun movie, with a lively pace, a simple, non-convoluted plot, and plenty of low-budget spectacle. Morris makes a suitably heroic Hercules, Khoshabe is physically impressive as the mighty Samson - and their centerpiece battle is terrific fun. Cerusico plays Ulysses as a wily, fun-loving swashbuckler and makes a good foil for Morris. The real standout, though, is the lovely Liana Orfei, who makes a decidedly delicious Delila. Not only is she gorgeous, but she's suitably sly and diabolically manipulative, as well.

As with most of these cheap peplum films, there are plenty of chuckles, both intentional and otherwise, to be had, from the aforementioned manatee-as-sea serpent, to the bouncing styrofoam boulders, the sometimes-awkward English dubbing, and occasional cartoon sound effects. Perhaps most amusing for sharp-eyed viewers are the helmets worn by the Philistine soldiers - they are clearly thinly-disguised German infantry helmets, no doubt left over from some WWII epic!

The Warner Archive DVD presents this entertaining mythological fantasy in 16x9, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The print is in fairly decent shape, although there's plenty of speckling, small scratches and other minor damage evident throughout. The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is rather thin, and sounds a bit "canned," but that's probably because the entire movie was dubbed for the American market.

Fans of the sword & sandal genre will almost certainly want to pick this up. It's a great little adventure film - though not to be taken seriously - and it's never been available on U.S. home video before in any format. Recommended.

BUY: Hercules, Samson And Ulysses