Many of these stars were either previously, or soon to be, part of Mae West's Revue; a traveling "sideshow attraction" of sorts featuring the then aged West being courted and tended to by a gallery of bodybuilders who "lusted" after her attention. These included Gordon Mitchell, Dan Vadis and Mickey Hargitay who would end up marrying pin-up queen Jayne Mansfield. Hargitay would appear in one fusto film along with his wife (not counting his solo turn in 1964's REVENGE OF THE GLADIATORS). That film is the hugely enjoyable THE LOVES OF HERCULES (1960) aka HERCULES VS THE HYDRA. Here, Herc battles a giant hydraulically controlled, multi headed Hydra, an Ape creature in a cave and the inevitable evil queen who places a spell on Hercules' love interest.
Hargitay didn't have a whole lot of appeal as a mythological hero. He would go on to appear in numerous Italian genre offerings including Spy films and Giallo pictures. He also made occasional straight horror pictures like THE BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965) where he played the Crimson Executioner.
Gordon Mitchell was one of the few fusto stars who made a successful transition to the Italian western movies where he found work as a villain for a number of years. Having participated in over 200 movies of various genres, Mitchell passed away in September of 2003. He appeared in numerous peplums that were watchable entries such as THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS (1961), some so-bad-it's-good entries like ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS (1961) and some horrible, nearly unwatchable dreck like VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER (1961). He also starred in some serious classics like THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962) among some others.
Former Mr. Universe Reg Park was notable for appearing in some of the finer examples of the genre like Mario Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1962). It also starred Christopher Lee as an undead sorcerer who lures Hercules to Hades where he does battle with zombies and other assorted traps and terrors. In America, Lee was marketed as playing a vampire since his DRACULA pictures were doing brisk business. Park was also in HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1961) where he did battle with an Atlantean army of female warriors and a lizard monster in a cave. Sadly, Park's remaining muscleman movies didn't match the quality of these two films.
Kirk Morris (Adriano Bellini), one of a handful of Italian born actors to portray super strong heroes, appeared in a fair number of sword and sandal films including THE WITCH'S CURSE from 1962. It was an obvious take off on the much better Mario Bava directed HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1962). Morris always looked a bit young playing mythological heroes even when he had a beard. If ever an actor looked the part of the 'Son of Hercules', it was Kirk Morris.
Morris also appeared in the action packed entry HERCULES CHALLENGES SAMSON (1963) aka HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES. There's a great sequence where the two strongmen do battle among the ruins of an old temple. A sea monster (which looks a bit like a macro enlarged seal) also figures into the proceedings. He also appeared in an odd, but fun entry, THE CONQUERER OF ATLANTIS (1965). Morris would also appear as Ringo in the Italian western musical RITA OF THE WEST (1967).
Dan Vadis was probably the most successful of the fusto stars from the 60s. He not only made the transition into the spaghetti westerns, but also had a successful career in US productions. Most notably Vadis obtained roles in Clint Eastwood movies like EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978), ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980), THE GAUNTLET (1977), BRONCO BILLY (1980) and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973). I first saw Vadis in the third chapter of the TEN GLADIATOR series, TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964). The first film was called appropriately enough, THE TEN GLADIATORS (1963) aka TEN DESPERATE MEN.
The film dealt with Vadis, along with nine compatriots, leading a revolt against Emperor Nero. The second film was called SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964) and starred Vadis again leading his group against the ringleaders of brutal gladiatorial games. The third, TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS (1964) was more lighter in tone than the other two. Here, Vadis and his gang of grapplers take part in a futile mission to kidnap a queen. All three feature lots of fights and abundant action. Future spaghetti western director Giancarlo Parolini wrote and directed the first film in the trilogy.
Vadis also played Hercules in the 1964 film THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES aka HERCULES VS THE GIANT WARRIORS. Here, Hercules is bewitched by an evil sorceress who desires his companionship only she must get his love interest out of the way first. Hercules does battle with an army of bronze automatons on several occasions as well as becoming a villain for a brief stint and destroying a village. Herc is then stripped of his strength by Zeus.
At the end he must try to save his lady love from a spiked contraption until Zeus finally gives him his strength back at the last minute. The closing moments see Herc's girlfriend dangling over the edge of a cliff above the ocean. The sorceress changes her appearance to look like the girlfriend but Hercules sees through this disguise and shockingly drops her to the craggy rocks below. His woman rescued and his strength returned, all is right with the world. Vadis would die in 1987 after ingesting a toxic substance.
Brad Harris, another of Mae West's love interests, also was able to successfully transcend the genre and even become a producer. He also appeared in the British horror film THE FREAKMAKER (1973) starring Donald Pleasence and Tom Baker. It was directed by Jack Cardiff, the award winning cinematographer of THE AFRICAN QUEEN of all things. Harris did a lot of early gladiator style movies before trying his hand at the Italian spy thrillers. These were knock-offs of the JAMES BOND pictures often times starring Sean Connery's brother, Neil. Two of Brad Harris's best movies in the strongman pictures are SAMSON and GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS both from 1961.
Also featuring in GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS (1961) is actor Fernando Sancho who will forever be associated with his numerous Spaghetti Western performances. Seeing him in a muscleman adventure (with curly hair, too) is a bit awkward especially minus his patented thick and bushy mustache. Sancho appeared in a few other adventure style films before finding his calling portraying Mexican bandits or lead antagonist roles in countless Italian western movies.
Italian born actor Alan Steel (Sergio Ciani) did one of the most well remembered and strangest of the fusto films. Called MACISTE & THE QUEEN OF SAMAR in Italy, it was christened HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN (1964) for its US release. I don't remember much of the plot other than Herc must do battle with an alien creature and an evil queen who conducts blood sacrifices to appease a moon demon. Lots of atmosphere and action that sometimes borders on horror. An MST3K favorite.
American actor Gordon Scott, famed for his handful of Tarzan pictures, starred in numerous peplum adventures and muscleman epics. Scott was one of the most popular and charismatic actors of these movies. He starred in HERCULES VS MOLOCH (1963) and MACISTE VS THE VAMPIRES (1961) aka GOLIATH AGAINST THE VAMPIRES. This was directed by Sergio Corbucci and Giocomo Gentilomo and written by Duccio Tessari. Gentilomo would direct the Alan Steel favorite, HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN (1964) while Corbucci and Tessari would go on to successful careers directing westerns.
Scott also starred in a peplum dream project, ROMULUS & REMUS (1961). Directed by Sergio Corbucci, the film pitted Scott against his colleague, Steve Reeves in a film about the founding of Rome. One of the best the genre has to offer. Reportedly, Scott and Reeves didn't get on too well making this movie. The former Tarzan was a rarity among strongman actors in that he seemed to do all, or at least most of his own stunts. He can be seen doing some amazing jumps, falls and assorted other dangerous activities in films like GOLIATH & THE VAMPIRES and SAMSON & THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (both 1961). Scott would also star in a pilot for a proposed HERCULES television show that never happened. The pilot movie, HERCULES & THE PRINCESS OF TROY (1965) aka HERCULES VS THE SEA MONSTER, was about Hercules trying to stop senseless virginal sacrifices to a giant sea creature. Directed by Albert Band, the special effects were surprisingly effective in this.
Although this show never got off the ground, a 1960's syndicated show entitled THE SONS OF HERCULES did. Re-packaged muscle movies were cut down to an hour length and had a catchy theme song added. The films, as usual, were not always HERCULES features, but were sold and dubbed as such. These included--
THE BEAST OF BABYLON VS THE SON OF HERCULES (1963)-Gordon Scott
THE TYRANT OF LYDIA VS THE SON OF HERCULES (1963)-Gordon Scott
THE TERROR OF ROME AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964)-Mark Forest
MOLE MEN VS THE SON OF HERCULES (1961)-Mark Forest
SON OF HERCULES IN THE LAND OF DARKNESS (1963)-Dan Vadis
MESSALINA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964)-Richard Harrison
CONTINUED IN PART 3...