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Friday, November 7, 2008

Hercules Unchained (1959) review


Directed by Pietro Francisci; Special Lighting and Effects Director: Mario Bava

Steve Reeves (Hercules), Sylvia Koscina (Iole), Sylvia Lopez (Omphale), Gabriele Antonini (Ulysses), Sergio Fantoni (Eteocles), Mimmo Palmara (Polineces), Guliano Gemma (Beranipo), Sergio Ciani

Hercules attempts to thwart war against Thebes after the two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polineces, feud over their yearly rotation to rule the great city. On his way to mediate for the two begrudged siblings, Hercules is entranced after drinking the "water of forgetfulness", found emanating from a fountain near the entrance to a cave. Omphale, the bewitching man-eater of Lydia, forces her men to lust after her by using the powers of the magical waters. Hercules comes under her spell but is saved by his friend, Ulysses in time to save the city of Thebes from certain destruction.

Sexually charged sequel to Pietro Francisci's HERCULES (1957) has the Olympian Demi-God at the mercy of the man hungry Omphale of Lydia. As a good number of fusto movies take bits and pieces from Greek mythology for these cinematic tales, this portion of the film is taken from the story of Hercules who, according to Greek lore, was a rather unhinged man with violently murderous tendencies.

The legend states that Hercules was to marry Iole after defeating her father and brothers in an archery contest. But after unknowingly purchasing stolen cattle belonging to Iole's father, her brother confronted Hercules about the theft only to have the angered strong man toss him from a tower. Not long after, Hercules asked an oracle to purify him yet again only to be refused.

After destroying the shrine and battling with the God Apollo, Zeus proclaimed Hercules would be pardoned if he became a slave for three years. He was sold to Queen Omphale of Lydia who then forced him to dress as a woman and perform womanly duties as well as being her lover until his three years were up. In the film, Hercules becomes easily enraged after repeated ingestion of the magical waters, another nod to his mythological personality.

An interesting plot point regarding Omphale is her black widow-like behavior regarding males. She uses them sexually till they begin to bore her only to have them killed then "mummified" as stone statues by a group of Egyptians living beneath her domicile. The grotesque statues are then placed in Omphale's secret garden of the dead. Of course, Omphale ultimately falls in love with Hercules and finds it difficult to allow him to meet the same fate as her previous suitors. Still, it's up to Ulysses, pretending to be Hercule's deaf servant, to help the strong man escape Lydia alive just in time to prevent his home of Thebes from certain war.

The brief sequence where we see the Egyptians "disposing" of Omphale's lovers provides a parallel to their mummification practices of preserving the dead and is even mentioned in dialog by Omphale that the Egyptians will one day become widely known for their art.

Steve Reeves returns in this Italian-French co-production. A better sequel to the original film that made him an international star. And again, as always, (like the other actors in these movies) Reeves is dubbed by a voice actor because, according to a colleague, his voice wasn't "Herculean" enough. Guiliano Gemma and Sergio Ciani (Alan Steel) make very brief appearances as centurions.

Although the action slows down a bit during the section of the film when Hercules is under the spell of Omphale, there is still much to enjoy about the production. Whether it be the beautiful women or some stunning locations accompanied by colorful set design ably photographed by the esteemed Mario Bava.

DVD Availability: Concorde Home Entertainment (R2). This DVD is a double feature and is paired with HERCULES also starring Steve Reeves. Both features offer English as well as German audio options.

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