Friday, July 10, 2015

Italian Exploitation Month, Free Card Fridays: Hercules (1958)

            The peplum classic that started it all.

            In many ways, the Italian exploitation films of the sixties and beyond can be traced back to this movie, the first of the sword-and-sandal peplum genre that dominated the Italian film industry in the early sixties that also paved the way for all the success of the later genres. Hercules was a smash success worldwide, turning its bodybuilding lead star Steve Reeves into an international superstar overnight and kickstarting mainstream Italian cinema.

            For such a lofty pedigree, the film has a lot to live up to, and while it doesn't display much of the flash and style the Italian exploitation filmmakers would later become famous for, it is still a fun little movie when taken on its own merits. I must confess that the peplum films are probably my least favorite of the great Italian genres, but Hercules was the first and in many ways still the best example of what it had to offer. Steve Reeves is little more than a musclebound blockhead in the role, but he cuts a mean figure on-screen, and its easy to see why the film was such a success, as there was literally no one else in cinema at the time who looked anything like he did; the final images of Reeves whipping those chains around with his massive arms remain an indelible sight. The film was also one of the first leading roles of Sylva Koscina, one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace the screen, who fares slightly better as Iole, Hercules love interest for the film.

            Also worthy of note: the film's cinematographer was Mario Bava, whose hand is felt in many of the film's more striking compositions - especially the sunset scenes with Reeves and Koscina that open and close the story.


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