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"I've been abandoned by the GODS!"
Hercules, voicing an oft-repeated phrase
A 1958 Italian Sword and Sandal film based upon the mythical Greek hero. It featured Steve Reeves in the title role and made him an international star. The movie draws material from the Twelve Labors of Hercules, throwing in some of Jason and the Argonauts as well. The film spawned one sequel with Reeves, Hercules Unchained, and several more with other lead actors.
Hercules (aka The Labors Of Hercules)
Demigod Hercules travels to Iolcus, where he is to become a personal trainer to Prince Iphitus, heir apparent to the throne of the city. Along the way he rescues the lovely Iole, who it turns out is Iphitus' sister and Princess of Iolcus. Iole tells Hercules of the night her father, Pelius, ascended the throne when his brother the king was killed; it is suspected that Pelius himself was involved in the previous king's death.
Hercules arrives in time to overhear a prophecy concerning the true heir to Iolcus' throne, then takes to training Iphitus. Iphitus, for his part, is quite arrogant and self-indulgent; but he gets his when he overestimates himself and takes on an escaped lion -- and quickly gets chomped. Hercules dispatches the lion, but not in time to save Iphitus, and is left humiliated because he failed to protect the prince.
Enough of that, the Greek Oracle tells him, sending him off to his next "labor" for the gods. Hercules objects, wanting to be normal even to the point of renouncing his immortality. In the meantime, a young man named Jason arrives in the city, claiming to be the son of the late king; he proposes to fetch the Golden Fleece -- a royal heirloom with which he can prove his identity -- and Pelius gives him leave to do so, but secretly sends his henchman along to sabotage the voyage.
The crew of Jason's ship the Argo engage in a few mini-adventures on their way to retrieve the Golden Fleece. They make a pit stop at an island inhabited by Amazons, where they all fall in love -- and where they are almost killed. Eventually they make it to the hiding place of the Fleece, where Jason must fight a dinosaur guarding the Fleece. The Fleece, it turns out, has a message written on it, pointing the finger at Pelius for the death of his brother the king.
And so the Argo returns to Iolcus. But the henchman has done his job well; upon arrival the Fleece is missing, and Pelius charges Jason and his crew with treason. Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts fight Pelius' royal guard and get the upper hand (especially when Herc topples part of the palace on top of them) and kill the henchman. Seeing his undoing, Pelius confesses to Iole and poisons himself.
Jason takes his rightful place as King of Iolcus, and Iole marries Hercules.
Hercules Unchained (aka Hercules And The Queen Of Lydia)
Based very loosely upon the myth of Hercules and Omphale, the second movie's Cold Open introduces us to Femme Fatale Omphale, who skates through the male population like a hot knife through warm butter -- and then has them killed when she's done. The film proper starts with newlyweds Hercules and Iole, along with Herc's young sidekick Ulysses (and yes, he is that Ulysses), arriving in Thebes to begin new adventures. They are immediately set upon by Anteaus, son of the Earth Goddess, but Herc quickly defeats him by dumping him into the sea.
The heroes are diverted from their destination of Thebes, and arrive at a cave where dwells Hercules' old friend King Oedipus, who has been deposed; turns out he turned over the throne of Thebes to his sons Eteocles and Polynices on the grounds that they share rulership; Eteocles is currently ruling and refuses to step aside, and Hercules is sent in to negotiate. Eteocles acquiesces rather abruptly, and Hercules brings the news to Polynices.
Or, rather, he attempts to. Along the way Hercules drinks from an enchanted well and loses his memory; he and Ulysses are captured by the royal guard of Queen Omphale. We learn here that the enchanted well is how the Queen acquires all her men; she tells the amnesiac Hercules that he is her husband, and that Ulysses (who is pretending to be deaf/mute) is just a servant. As Hercules basks in royal luxury in Omphale's palace, Ulysses snoops about and eventually discovers just what Omphale does with her discarded "husbands" -- she hires Egyptian taxodermists to create a Wax Museum Morgue of her conquests -- and sends a messenger pidgeon back to his family in Iolcus; in the meantime, he attempts to help Hercules regain his memory, to no avail.
Meanwhile, Iole is arrested, for no apparent reason, by Eteocles, who has rescinded his decision to turn over Thebes to his brother. With no word from Hercules, Polynices brings his army and lays seige to Thebes, and his general takes custody of Iole. The two brothers agree to settle their differences with a duel to the death -- which ends with both their deaths.
Meanwhile, Hercules finally regains his memory just as his companions arrive from Iolcus. But Omphale don't give up that easy, and the heroes must battle their way to freedom. Realizing that the time he lost with Omphale means that Thebes has gone to civil war, Hercules must come up with a plan to sneak into the city, stop the warring factions, and rescue Iole.
As stated above, there were several subsequent films detailing the various exploits of Hercules, but presumably not in the same continuity as Reeves' films given the wholesale replacement of the entire cast of characters, save Herc, in each new film. In fact, as it turns out, many of the subsequent "Hercules" films were originally centered on other mythical strongman heroes such as Sampson, who were renamed to "Hercules" when re-dubbed for American distribution (for example, Hercules Against the Moon Men). For this reason, not to mention for purposes of relative brevity, this page deals mainly with the two films of the Reevesverse.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 versions of Hercules Movies
- Hercules [Episode 502]
- Hercules Unchained [Episode 408]
- Hercules and the Captive Women [Episode 412]
- Hercules Against the Moon Men [Episode 410] (Actually a Maciste film redubbed for US release)
These movies provide examples of:
- Boisterous Bruiser: Antaeus.
- Bowdlerise: A lot of family friendly changes. For example, Hercules doesn't kill Anteus in a brutal way.
- Breaking the Bonds: Hercules. Ironically, this happens in the first film, not in the second.
- Furthermore, he remains Chained by Fashion.
- Dead Man Writing: The dying king of the first film had just enough time to write an incriminating message about his brother -- in his own blood.
- Distressed Damsel: Iole.
- Dumb Muscle: (Purportedly) Averted with Hercules:
Ulysses: My father says you put strength ahead of everything; but I know you want us to use our forces only to serve our intelligence!
- Easy Amnesia: the Waters Of Forgetfulness.
- Further, it's laser-guided; Herc forgets his identity, his friends, his history, even forgets how to use his own strength -- but he still remembers Iole's face (if not her name).
- Evil Laugh: Eteocles is particularly fond of this.
- Femme Fatale: Omphale.
- To a lesser extent, the Amazons in the first film; they didn't want to kill Jason and his men, but were ordered to do so by their priestesses.
- Fetch Quest: Jason's quest with the Argonauts drives the plot for the first film's second half.
- Follow the Leader: Unlike most Italian genre films, Hercules wasn't a Follower in its particular genre (Sword and Sandal), but rather the Leader (or at least near the front of the pack).
- Hey, It's That Voice!: The dinosaur guarding the Golden Fleece uses Godzilla 1954's roar.
- Hot Amazon: Oh no, we're captured!
- I Just Want to Be Normal, says Hercules to the Greek Oracle:
Hercules: I want to live like every other mortal man; it's my prayer to have a family! I want children of my own!
- Jerk Jock: Iphitus in the first film; Polynices' General in the second.
- Also Herc himself in the second film, to an extent; he won't defend his wife from Anteaus but reacts when Anteaus attacks him directly.
- Kick the Dog: During a confrontation with his brother, Eteocles orders the execution of a pair of innocent, helpless maidservants, purely as a show of power.
- Love Potion: The Waters Of Forgetfulness, sort of; they don't make one fall in love with Omphale directly, but they sure do make it easier for her to manipulate him.
- Male Gaze: When the Amazons first capture Jason and Co., the camera inserts a shot of the gals in formation with their bare legs perfectly posed.
- Mate or Die: The reason the Amazons didn't want to kill Jason and his men. The priestesses thought differently.
- The Mole: Eurysteus, Pelius' henchman, in the first film.
- Mythology Gag: In the original myth, Hercules was a slave to Omphale and wove tapestries for her. In Hercules Unchained, his line "I pulled together the threads [of my memory]!" seems to be a reference to this.
- No Arc in Archery: Averted in detail during the first movie when Hercules rattles off a string of variables that an archer has to consider before firing.
- Notable Original Music: "Evening Star", sung by Iole complete with Invisible Orchestra.
- Plot Coupon: the Golden Fleece.
- Second-Person Attack: Hercules punches a bear multiple times through the POV of the animal, complete with ridiculous strobe Hit Flash effects.
- Sidekick: Ulysses.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: At the beginning of Unchained, Ulysses is a Plucky Comic Relief guy who can't fight to save his life. In the middle of the movie, he's pretending to be a deaf Non-Action Guy, which puts him beneath the guards' notice and allows him to eavesdrop freely. When it comes time to escape Omphale, the gloves come off and Ulysses personally dispatches the captain of Omphale's guard.
- That's No Hill, it's a dinosaur!
- Wax Museum Morgue: Omphale's preferred method of divorce.
- Word Salad Title: "Hercules Unchained"; as stated above, the chaining (and subsequent unchaining) of Herc happens in the first film.