Friday, January 14, 2011

Hercule et la Reine de Lydie (Hercules Unchained or Hercules and the Queen of Lydia) (1959)
ITALY/ SPAIN --- fantasy

Dir: Pietro Francisci

In this direct follow-up to the 1958 film "Hercules", Steve Reeves returns for his second and final portrayal as the mythological muscleman Hercules. Also returning is the beautiful Sylva Koscina as Hercules' now wife Iole and Gabriel Antonini playing a young Ulysses. We catch up with the trio on a horse-drawn chariot en route to Thebes. They soon run into danger, when an arrogant brute harasses them with intent. Confronted by Hercules, they realize their tormentor is more than meet the eyes as Ulysses councils Herc that he may be Antaeus son of the Earth goddess. His defeat must come by his separation from solid ground, so Herc tosses him in a body of water nearby.

When they arrive in Thebes, Hercules finds the blind king Oedipus prepared for death. He has been dethroned by his two sons Eteocles and Polynieces, who agreed to switch off duties annually, but that agreement has soured as both plot to destroy each other by any means necessary. Hercules willing plans to intercede for the brothers in an attempt to restore peace on the land. His good intentions, however, are interrupted as he leaves Iole behind with Eteocles' camp to serve as messenger with Ulysses. En route, Hercules drinks from the waters of Lethe (one of the of the five rivers of Hades, being the river of forgetfulness), and is seduced by what sounds like Iole singing. He is lured to a ravine where he passes out, but Ulysses finds he is surrounded by soldiers. He wisely plays the part of the deaf mute, as they are captured.

The soldiers bring Hercules and Ulysses to the beautiful sorceress queen Omphale (played by French model Sylvia Lopez). When Herc awakens, he finds himself surrounded by a bevy of female servants and the queen swimming. He asks of Omphale his identity, as she tells him that he is king of the land and that she is his bride. Soon, Ulysses must help Hercules restore his memory before Omphale has him killed, by way of suspended animation. To make matters worse, the warring brothers are preparing to strike and the populace of Thebes are growing restless. Sending word for help by carrier pigeon, Ulysses finally does pull Herc out of the grasp of Omphale, with the help of the Argonauts. After they escape, Hercules and the group must get back to Thebes, and rescue Iole before bloodshed erupts.

"Hercules Unchained" is loosely based on the Aeschylus' "The Seven Against Thebes" as well as other various Grecian myths. Let me be honest with you. Of all the countries in the world to have a operating film industry, Italian cinema are on the bottom rung for me. The very fact that they refuse to record on set sound as a collective stylistic choice and most of their films are cheap ripoffs of Hollywood fare is just baffling to me. Having said that, all of this has its expected charms. Spaghetti westerns is a favorite sub genre of myself and many others, and I like even some of the esoteric films that most would not sit through. These Sword & Sandal epics are in the same boat. An good-looking imported American lead actor, a convoluted plot, and lots of action. That pretty much sums up Italian cinema in my opinion.

The cinematography of Mario Bava allows the viewer some eye candy besides the oiled-up men and scantily clad women. The musical interludes makes the film feel very dated and the dance sequences are pretty much designed for a popcorn/restroom break. Costumes and production design in general are once again admirable, and given the source material and locale, it should be. Unfortunately, as it goes for these films, this is top notch. Steer clear if your not an aficionado of Italian cinema, Greek mythology, or just plain old MST3K style films on a lazy Saturday afternoon.