The period of time in film where manly men ruled the earth. Warner Brothers Archive Collection recently released (digitally) one of their 'strong men in sandals' classic, Hercules, Samson and Ulysses. From a far, this looks to be a movie that MST3K would have loads of fun with, but it's actually better than it appears.
Hercules (Kirk Morris) and Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico) are sent on an adventure to take care of a nasty sea monster. When they find it, they destroy it, but in the process they find themselves shipwrecked. Struggling to find a way home, they finally catch a break and are sent to find Laertes, Ithaca King. Unfortunately, Laertes is misinformed about who Hercules is and believes he is Samson (Iloosh Khoshabe), who is trying to destroy his kingdom (for good reason). Once he finds out the truth about Hercules, he forces him to go take out Samson, and so a giant fight of epic proportions begins.
Honestly, I didn't know what to expect out of this film. I was certain that it was going to bore me to tears. I've seen crappy 70s films of this type that simply were laughable at best. To say the least, I wasn't going into it expecting much. I mean, how much could there be in a classic like this?
What I found was a well made film that might have been short on script and dialogue, but was remarkable on videography, editing and locale. On top of this, I thought the story was well done. Kirk Morris' Hercules was a complete badass, even though his goofy curls and oiled up body clearly went against the grain of badass. His presence was very strong onscreen. His delivery of the action was spot on, especially when he and Iloosh Khoshabe's Samson started to tussle.
The other elements that I found positively amazing was the stunts and editing. You get to see Hercules wrestle with a lion. Think about that statement, folks -- a freaking LION. This was pre-George Lucas ILM days, so when I say he's wrestling with a lion, it's an actual (bleeping) lion. While I can't confirm it, I think Morris wasn't the one actually wrestling with the beast, which brings in the editing portion of the film. It's so well cut that you can't tell if that's a stuntman or Morris, but it doesn't look at all hokey, especially for that time period.
The fight towards the end of the film also was pretty fun to watch. When Samson and Hercules start fighting, it's pretty intense. Sure it's not Batman versus Kane intense, but it's nonetheless intense. Seeing Morris and Khoshabe throw each other through walls, collapse old blocks and just basically wrestle the hell out of each other was fun. I would probably watch this film again, if only for the action scenes.
Getting back to the story, I want to make it very clear that I thought I would be laughing through most of this story. At the beginning, I did, as Hercules and Ulysses were preparing for their voyage, and especially when they came upon the sea monster. When they were shipwrecked I was expecting more of the same sort of goofiness. The moment it all got serious is when the people of a seaside village were being nailed to their homes. LITERALLY, nailed to their homes by Ithaca's guards as they were trying to find Samson. If you would have told me that people were going to be brutally nailed to a house, or that children were going to be killed I would have said 'no, way. not in this film'. It did happen and then it all got real when it came to the story. You are forced to cheer for both Samson and Hercules in their quest to bring down Ithaca. You are drawn into the story and you forget that this is a 1963 film that didn't use special effects to make it work.
At the end of it all, this is a pretty darn good movie. You may think it's goofy at the beginning, but Pietro Francisci turns it on about 30 minutes into it; then you're hooked. It's a wonderful Warner Brothers Archive Collection release, and one that movie lovers should probably pick up.
As for the quality of the picture, it's very solid. Much like Damon and Pythias, it starts out a bit rough, but then smooths out. You might break a sweat with the crew when they land on the terribly hot island at the beginning. It looks like a few of the actors were borderline sunstroke as their skin looked as red as the blood flowing from the villagers nailed to the houses, which is a credit to the clean-up and preservation of the video. The only thing that throws me, and this is the time where spaghetti westerns were beginning to rule the world, is the awkward voice overs. Try to work past the dialogue and you'll find the film you want.
Finally, as for special features, all you get is a theatrical trailer. It's better than nothing, and it's fun watching what promotions looked like back in the day.