Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 20th, 2006
Theatrical Release Dates: Italy, February 20th, 1958 (Hercules), February 14th, 1959 (Hercules Unchained)
Director: Pietro Francisci (Both Films)
Writers: Pietro Francisci, Ennio De Concini, Gaio Frattini
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Fabrizio Mioni, Ivo Garrani, Gianna Maria Canale, Sylvia Lopez, Gabriele Antonini
DVD Released: April 27th, 2004
Approximate Running Time: 87 minutes (Hercules) / 90 minutes (Hercules Unchained)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Letterboxed (Hercules) / 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Hercules Unchained)
Rating: FSK-16 (Germany)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono German (both films)
DVD Release: Concorde Home Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (Germany)
Retail Price: $16.95
Former Mr. Universe Steve Reeves would achieve international stardom as the immortal Hercules of Thebes. The literal translation of the films title is Labors of Hercules. Famed Italian filmmaker Mario Bava worked as the special effects supervisor and cinematographer on the labor of Hercules. Steve Reeves spent his acting career predominately working in Peplum. Labors of Hercules is responsible for igniting a cycle of films about muscle-bound mythological heroes and the genre would produce more then 170 films before running its course in 1964. The labor of Hercules was the first film shot in Italy in the French Dyaliscope anamorphic widescreen system.
Hercules: Hercules of Thebes (Steve Reeves) saves Princess Iole’s life (Sylva Koscina) when she loses control of her chariot. He was traveling to Iolcus to tutor the heir to the thrown in military strategy. When Princess Iole reveals to Hercules her family’s secrets this leads to Hercules investigating further into the matter. The closer Hercules gets to the truth the more he infuriates Pelias who publicly blames Hercules for Iphitus’ death. Pelias tells Hercules that the only way he can redeem himself for killing Iphitus that he would have to kill the Cretan Bull. After Princess Iole and the other mortal’s turn their back on Hercules he visits Sybil with his wish to be a mortal. Will Hercules find the Golden Fleece and help Princess Iole find the truth behind her father deaths before he is silenced forever?
Hercules is filled with lavish sets and its strongest asset is Mario Bava’s beautiful photography. The story and its structure moves along at a nice pace up until the start of the final act which feels anticlimactic as it fails to pay off after a long build up. Besides Bava’s brilliant use of color in his photography and his special effects are surprisingly effect outside of the dragon like monster that looks cheap and fake. Hercules is a more grounded film then its imitators that followed it as the most of the monsters are nothing more then your average monster in the form of a bull or loin.
Steve Reeves gets many chances in the film to flex his muscles during the course of the film and like most of actors in the film they serve more as eye candy then anything else. The thing that I find most fascinating about Peplum films is that they are filled with larger then life characters that are plagued with the same problems that afflict us mortals. Hercules has more strengths as a whole then weaknesses; still I would place its squeal Hercules Unchained ahead of it as one of the best examples the Peplum genre has to offer.
Hercules Unchained: Two feuding brothers Eteocles (Sergio Fantoni) and Polinices (Mimmo Palmara) fight over control of the kingdom of Thebes. Hercules (Steve Reeves) a friend of the family is brought in to help mediate the matter. Eteocles reluctentlty agrees to give up power and convinces Hercules to Polinices the news. Along the way Hercules drinks water from a magical spring which causes those who drink it to lose their memory. Hercules and his sidekick Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini) are brought to the island of Lidia which is ruled by the man-eater Queen Omphale. Will Hercules be able to regain his memory in time to stop the feuding brothers from starting a war or will he fall prey just like all the men who came before Queen Omphale?
Hercules Unchained carries over many of the same cast and crew from its predecessor Hercules. The sets and direction are just as impressive this time around. Like all sequels you take what was successful in the first film and try to do it bugger and better the second time around. Hercules battles many new foes like a giant named Antaeus and he shows a few untamed loins who the boss is. Hercules since the last time we saw him has been married to Iole and their honey gets cut short when he is asked to help once again. His man love interest in the film is a wicked queen named Omphale who uses potions to trap the men she wants.
The story for Hercules Unchained feels like a rehash of the first Hercules film right down to an island with exotic woman ruled by a queen who has an appetite for men. Hercules Unchained feels more padded then its predecessor as to much time is spent with Hercules trying to remember who he is while trapped on the island of Lidia. Steve Reeves is very good as usual as he flexes his muscles and woos the ladies. The rest of the cast are well rounded in their performances with a standout performance being that of Sergio Fantoni as Eteocles. Also Enzo Masetti’s score contains many music cues that have been carried over from the pervious film. Hercules Unchained while not a strong of a film as its predecessor Hercules, still an enjoyable action adventure that has a few stand out moments.
Hercules is presented in a letterboxed 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image is cropped from its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are good with some minor instances of fading. Details look reasonably sharp through out. There is noticeable print damage that crops up from time to time.
Hercules Unchained is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The colors look strong with some minor instances where they look slightly muted. Details look sharp with more clarity in the fore ground then the back ground. Outside of some minor print damage the source material used for this transfer is in a lot better shape then the source used for the Hercules transfer.
Both films come with two audio options English and German. Both are presented in a Dolby Digital mono. The German audio sources sound cleaner then the English audio mixes which have noticeable hiss and other minor sound defects through out. No subtitles have been included for either film so English is the preferred audio track.
Outside of a 35×52cm reproduction of the original Hercules Unchained poster the rest of extras are limited to trailers for other titles release by Concorde Home Entertainment.
A few things about these versions included in this double feature. First off Hercules is in a cropped aspect ratio and not its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Also Hercules is missing about fifteen minutes of footage. Hercules Unchained thankfully is in its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time ever on DVD. Unfortunately Hercules Unchained is missing about seven minutes of footage.
There is a French DVD for Hercules which is the most complete version of this film currently available in its correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it is also available at an affordable price. This double feature while not a definitive way to watch both films at this moment it is one of the best ways to watch these films at a more then affordable cost. Hercules & Hercules Unchained are landmark films that deserve better treatment then they have received so far on DVD and hopefully we will see definitive releases for both of these films sooner then later.