The meaty heroism ruptures the screen in HERCULES, a 1958 adventure yarn directed by Pietro Francisci. Based on the mythology of the same name with a solid dose of Apollonius of Rhodes’ ARGONAUTICA thrown in for good measure, this picture set the stage for Italy’s peplum genre. It also established Steve Reeves as a powerful box office star and it’s not hard to see why. He’s a bundle of beaming charisma and lubricated strength, just the thing to put over the son of Jupiter and Alcmene.
The movie opens as Reeves’ Hercules is on his way to Iolcus to train Prince Iphitus (Mimmo Palmara), the son of King Pelias (Ivo Garrani), in the ways of war. He rescues Princess Iole (Sylva Koscina) and is besotted, going so far as to offer her some of his meat. She informs Herc that the Golden Fleece has been pinched from Iolcus and tells him of many tribulations in the kingdom. He arrives to find said disorder and is thrust into numerous adventures, while the rightful King of Iolcus is discovered to be Pelias’ nephew Jason (Fabrizio Mioni). There is a lion, a Cretan bull, some bushy dudes, a gang of sexy Amazons, and so forth.
The plot of HERCULES isn’t exactly a straight line, but it does illustrate the assortment of tasks the hero has to perform as part of his life. There is some semblance of internal conflict when Herc heads to the sibyl (Lidia Alfonsi) to have his strength levels concentrated. The side effects of being a god are tampering with his capacity for love, see? Good old Hercules wants nothing more than to feel his romantic love for the beautiful princess every single way he can, so sacrifices must be made.
Reeves is a charismatic presence and he brings a combination of unearthly brawn and confident humanity to the part. He is best when modulating a nudging sense of humour, like when he sniffs the air and realizes he’s nearly burnt his roast. But he’s still damn good when it comes to tearing down the portico or beating the hell out of a lion or killing the American buffalo Cretan bull or helping his buddies realize the seductive but lethal ways of the Amazon women or throwing a frisbee to the freaking moon. In the end, HERCULES is an amusing slab of Saturday matinee joy starring a demi-god among men, a dinosaur and a few extra slabs of beef.