Hercules Unchained (1959)


(Ercole E La Regina De La Lidia)

Italy/France. 1959.


Director/Adaption – Pietro Francisci, Screenplay – Pietro Francisci & Ennio de Concini, Based on the Legends The Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus & Aedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, Producer – Bruno Vailati, Photography/Special Effects – Mario Bava, Music – Enzo Masetti, Music Director – Carlo Savina, Makeup – Otello Fava, Architect – Flavio Morgherini, Art Direction – Massimo Tavazzi. Production Company – Lux Film/Lux Compagnie Cinematographique de France


Steve Reeves (Hercules), Gabriele Antonini (Ulysses), Sylvia Lopez (Queen Omphale), Sylva Koscina (Iole), Sergio Fantoni (Eteocles), Andrea Fantasia (Laertes), Primo Carnera (Antaeus), Mimmo Palmara (Polynices)


Hercules returns to his homeland of Thebes with his wife Iole. They come upon the former king Oedipus who has turned his throne over to be shared by his two sons Eteocles and Polynices. However, the kingdom has been brought to the point of war because Eteocles is refusing to relinquish the throne and let Polynices have his turn. Hercules tries to resolve the dispute. While on a quest with his friend Ulysses, Hercules unwittingly drinks from a brook where the Waters of Forgetfulness flow and loses his memory. They are captured by Queen Omphale, who keeps the preserved bodies of her former lovers, and wants the amnesiac Hercules to be her latest conquest.

Hercules Unchained is the direct sequel to Hercules (1958). Hercules had been a huge success upon its international release in 1959. And so Hercules Unchained was rushed into production, mounted as a sequel and released internationally in 1960. Every effort has been made to make it even more massive than its predecessor was. The film was made with an A-budget and everything is thrown at the audience in the determinedly spectacular style of the 1950s Cinemascope historical spectacle. The credits boast several costumers, choreographers, weapon masters and not just a mere production designer but also an architect.

For all that, Hercules Unchained is not any more interesting an effort. The first Hercules had more wooden patches than this, but its’ adventure plot gave it some drive, leading to a memorably spectacular climax. This one gets dragged down by its long and only moderately interesting romance of deception. The film picks up somewhat at the climax, which contains some enthralling scenes with Hercules racing through the attacking army on horseback, lassoing their siege towers and pulling them over.

As with the first film, there is very little fantasy content – only the Waters of Forgetfulness and the appearance of the brutish son of an earth god who regains all his hit points after he is thrown onto the ground. Noticeably director Pietro Francisci does not return to the original Twelve Labours of Hercules of Greek myth but instead adapts two entirely different Greek classics – Seven Against Thebes (467 BC) by Aeschylus and Oedipus at Colonus (401 BC) by Sophocles – and simply places Hercules as the hero in these stories. Steve Reeves plays with even more of a humourlessly brutal directness than he did in the first film. This was Steve Reeves and Pietro Francisci’s last Hercules outing but there were subsequently a huge number of other B-budget Hercules films from Italy.

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