Review: HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959)

Steve Reeves liberates himself in HERCULES UNCHAINED, a 1959 adventure picture directed by Pietro Francisci. This is the sequel to Francisci’s 1958 HERCULES, which introduced Reeves to the world as the titular character. His second and last appearance as the hero features a screenplay by Francisci and Ennio De Concini, with cinematography by Mario Bava. Much of the story is based on Greek mythology and the action is more cohesive in contrast to the original.

Reeves’ Hercules commences the proceedings with Princess Iole (Sylva Koscina) as his wife and the young Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini) as his travelling companion. After a run-in with an loathsome oaf (Primo Carnera), the trio encounters a quarrel between two brothers over who will rule Thebes. Eteocles (Sergio Fantoni) and Polynices (Mimmo Palmara) are fighting it out and Herc must intervene, but he first drinks from a magic spring that zaps him of his memory. In his oblivious state, he meets Queen Omphale (Sylvia Lopez) and falls into her man-eating web.

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HERCULES UNCHAINED is an enjoyable yarn and the storyline is forthright. This makes it tighter than its forerunner, especially when it comes to the political intrigue between Eteocles and Polynices. This presents the opportunity to include a few tigers, which accounts for the movie’s most notable action sequence and details how things work in the bustling metropolis of Thebes. Fantoni is amusing as the more insane of the siblings and his method of conflict resolution is a touch on the terrifying side.

The bulk of HERCULES UNCHAINED is spent on Herc and Ulysses as they navigate the issues presented by Queen Omphale. She uses her cunning ways to seduce the menfolk, complete with harem girls to oil the wheels of temptation. There’s even a little Egyptian mysticism. Lopez is intoxicating, while Antonini’s Ulysses is a smart cookie for a side character. And while the side characters account for some amusing business, things never get out of hand. HERCULES UNCHAINED isn’t as wild as HERCULES and lacks outlandish entertainment value, but there’s still a lot to like as Reeves and Co. plunge the depths of forgettable seduction.

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