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Monday, December 29, 2008

Hercules Against the Mongols (1963) review


Mark Forest (Maciste/Hercules), Ken Clark (Sayan), Jose Greci (Bianca), Renato Rossini (Susdal), Nadir Baltimore (Keehan), Maria Grazia Spina (Lijuan), Tullio Altamura (Adolphus)

Directed by Domenico Paolella; Music by Carlo Savina

After the death of Genghis Khan in 1227 AD, his three brutal sons defy their fathers wish for peace with his neighboring countrymen by inciting war with foreigners after assassinating Genghis' trusted aid, Getti Nai. Blaming the murder on the 'White man', the three sons embark on a crusade of bloodshed to sieze control of Judeyla and slaughter the legitimate heirs to the throne. One heir remains; the young boy, Alexander. Fleeing to Bratislava, he is pursued by the mongol killers and it is up to Maciste to protect the boy and fight off the mongol hordes.

Popular peplum actor, Mark Forest (real name: Lou Degni) plays Maciste in the original Italian version of this movie. The US edition bears the 'Hercules' moniker. During the opening moments Maciste is something of a nature boy, playing with the animals of the forest and doing good deeds for the Mongolian people. It isn't specified just what Maciste is doing in Mongolia nor exactly where the story takes place. Considering that the Khan's successors continued to conquer neighboring territories (including Eastern Europe), I assume the story takes place there since the 'White man' is framed for the murder of Genghis' minister, Getti Nai.

The plot is a bit convoluted with its double story arc. Even still, it's an enjoyable, if average muscleman adventure. The actors and bit players as the Mongols all look like animals and perform menacingly enough. There look is very similar to the barbarians seen in GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (1959). Of the three main antagonists-- Ken Clark, Renato Rossini and Nadir Baltimore, Ken is the most imposing and intense. He and much of the same cast returned for the following years HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964) which no doubt, was made back to back with this movie. The women are gorgeous as always and Jose Greci (Susan Paget) is a striking beauty. She also returns for the follow up.

In the other aforementioned plotline that seemingly takes over the initial story, Sayan, the strongest of Khan's sons, searches for the treasure of the unnamed European king. The traitor, Adolphus, working with Sayan, manages to convince Bianca (the executed king's daughter) to divulge to him the location of the riches hidden within a mill stone. But Sayan isn't the only one with ulterior motives. His brother, Susdal, also conspires against the others. Susdal attempts to persuade Maciste to challenge his two brothers in a tournament to decide who gets the hand of Bianca of Judeyla.

However, Susdal wants Maciste to refuse to duel with him. If he agrees, he will gain riches and his freedom. During the tournament, the three sons kill a number of slaves; Sayan with his bow & arrow, Keehan with his bare hands and Susdal with his whip. In a sequence overflowing with beefcake, Maciste is brought out to fight, but goes against the agreement he made with Susdal and fights them all, easily defeating the three sons of the dead conqueror.

All the captive slaves are Christians and curiously, Maciste (an Italian created character) calls himself a Christian as well. Since he wins the tournament, he has the option of either his freedom, or that of Bianca's taking her place as a captive subordinate. Bianca is released and Maciste is taken away in chains. Adolphus continues to coerce Bianca into believing that Maciste is after the hidden treasure for himself. As she leaves the fortress, she calls Maciste a traitor.

He is then put through some rigorous and torturous tests such as moving a stone pillar to a designated location within ten beats of a drum. If he fails, then ten slaves will be killed. He also has to fight a lion in a small cell. This scene is particularly harrowing as the animal doesn't appear to enjoy having sticks jabbed into his mouth. Maciste is then taken to a grotto and chained yet again, only this time to die of starvation.

Going back on their word, Bianca is taken prisoner again as Sayan desires her for himself. His woman, the beautiful Lijuan pleads with him to leave her be and receives a knife in the back for her trouble. She manages to reach the grotto and tells Maciste what has happened, his pledge now being in vain. Meanwhile, christian forces march on the Mongolian encampment. In the battle, Maciste kills Keehan by crushing him with a large beam.

After the fight, the leader of the Christian militia asks Maciste to help them combat the Mongols by setting fire to the forest and busting open a dam successfully trapping the approaching Mongol cavalry and preventing the Christians from being attacked on two fronts. During the flood, Susdal is drowned in what the dubbing calls quicksand.

While this is going on, the traitor, Adolphus, goes to retrieve the young heir, Alexander. He takes the boy to Sayan while he recovers the treasure beneath the mill stone. Maciste arrives and battles the formidable Sayan. Once the treasure is found, Adolphus takes Bianca and places her into a room activating a trap that will crush her body. Maciste manages to kill Sayan and saves both Bianca and the young king. Adolphus is cut down by Christian archers as he attempts to leave the Mongol stronghold.

The scene where Maciste is put to work turning a mill stone by himself recalls a similar sequence shot for John Milius' CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982). Forest plays Maciste much differently here than in some of his other movies in which he essays the role of the Italian made fantasy hero. Even when it's obvious that he could break free his bonds at any time, he resigns himself to become a slave so that Bianca will be set free. He even apparently was willing to give up his life for the beauty when the Mongols chain him inside a grotto. But when he learns that she has been recaptured, Maciste says to hell with this, opting to get some retribution.

I saw this film for the first time years ago on a Saturday afternoon and seeing it again now, it still retains a lot of entertainment value. It's not one of the best of the genre, but it delivers lots of action and some of the set pieces are rather huge especially the finale. There are some laughable moments, though, such as at the end when the Mongols ride out to duel with the Christian army. They throw their spears at them but some of these fellows rather lazily toss the bladed weapons which hit the ground instead. The next shot shows some of the men impaled despite the previous shot of the spears hitting the ground instead. Even still, some of the stunt work looks quite dangerous and the fights are good for the most part.

HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS is a slightly above average sword & sandal picture. It has no monsters or fantastical elements outside of the Herculean Maciste character. The villains are all extremely brutish and look menacing enough especially Ken Clark (who looks more or less the same in the prequel/follow up). Definitely a popcorn peplum, you could do lots worse.

This review is representative of the public domain release from Mill Creek Entertainment. It comes in a box set housing a total of 50 sword & sandal adventures under the title Warriors DVD Collection 50 Movie Pack. The quality on this film is passable the most noticeable negative being the washed out colors.

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