The subtext is strong in HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN, a 1961 film from director Vittorio Cottafavi. Also known as HERCULES AND THE CONQUEST OF ATLANTIS, this outing puts Reg Park in the title role and features a more forthright plot than many of the other Hercules pictures. Cottafavi, who helmed GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON, manages a unique approach, while cinematographer Carlo Carlini pulls off some wide shots that exemplify a necessary sense of scale.
The film opens in Thebes, home of the strangely sluggish Hercules (Park). Herc wants nothing more than to retire and live with his wife Deianira (Luciana Angiolillo), but peace isn’t in the cards. He’s drugged and snatched by King Androcles (Ettore Manni) and winds up on a ship with a dwarf named Timoteo (Salvatore Furnari). Androcles wants to check out the source of some weird events, but mutiny changes the course and Hercules rescues a captive woman (Laura Efrikian) and tangles with the Queen of Atlantis (Fay Spain).
There are creatures and nefarious plots galore in HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN, but there is only one captive woman. Our hero does his duty and frees her from the god Proteus (Maurizio Coffarelli), who can shapeshift from a lion to a vulture to a dragon-thing before you can say “Princess Ismene.” Proteus has a lot to do with how Atlantis has been able to maintain its shroud of secrecy, so you can imagine the denizens of the hidden city are less than thrilled with Herc’s heroics. You can also imagine that the queen is up to something, especially when the blonde dudes in black suits emerge as her supermen.
The subtext suggests the arrival of exceptional soldiers to assist the ruler of a hermit kingdom in her venture to take over the world. Take your pick as to who or what that references, as there are plenty of examples. And true to the form of a Hercules picture, this villainess has designs on punishing the menfolk. This time around, there’s a vat of acid. She’s even willing to kill her own daughter because of some mumbo-jumbo pertaining to Atlantis. It’s just like Hercules (probably) says: Uranus hath no fury like Antinea scorned.