Hercules and the Masked Rider (1964)
This is a weird duck. Billed as (and expected to be) a typical Italian Hercules sword and sandal epic, this turns out to be a Zorro/Robin Hood mutant crossbreed movie that happens to have a "Hercules-ish" character in it. I feel jobbed.
And now on to our show...
Our plot concerns two neighboring kingdoms in Medieval Spain. One of them is a very bad place to live, ruled with an iron fist by the Duke Don Romero. The Duke is a bastard of a man, willing and capable of killing and enslaving his own people to further is own power and wealth. His army is mostly made up of paid mercenaries, who are just fine with torturing, raping and plundering as long as they get paid.
Don Romero, the Duke.
Across the river is the peaceful kingdom of "Valverde", ruled by the benevolent Don Fernando. An elderly man, Fernando has kept the peace and security in this kingdom for many years and will do much anything to preserve that peace.
Even if it means marrying his only daughter (he has no sons) off to the vile Duke to preserve the peace. His daughter, recently returned from a convent where she surely learned how to brush her hair better that we see her here, is a young beauty named Dona Blanco. She's played by 24-year old Jose Greci (star of Bury Them Deep, Hercules Against the Mongols, and Death on the Fourposter). She's a big-boned reddish brunette with a fiery eyes and full chest, though prone to overacting and pouting through her lines. Thankfully, she has really little to do in this film other than sulk and cry and lament her fate in life.
There's a young girl named Dolores, a refugee from the Duke's lands, who is Blanco's servant. This girl will be by her side the entire movie and provides some exposition and prop-holding duties when needed. She's a much better actress than Dona Blanco.
Dolores: "Do you like girls, too?"
Donna: "Well, I don't know, maybe...".
Dona Blanco's current problem is that she doesn't want to marry the Duke because she's in love with her cousin! Yes, her cousin! Isn't that a bit icky, sharing genetic material and all, should cousins be allowed to get this close? Anyway, her cousin is Don Ferdinand's nephew, the dashing princely Don Juan, who will prove to be our film's hero.
Don Juan is played by 36-year old Mimmo Palmara (star of I'll Kill You and Recommend You to God, The Beautiful the Bad and the Idiotic, Hercules Unchained, and Slave Girls of Sheba). Palmara often acted under the stage name "Dick Palmer", which is just the greatest gay pornstar name ever! Don Juan is a rugged, muscled, swarthy Latin lover type, with his shirt perpetually open and his pants too tight. He looks like a young John Travolta, with Elvis hair. He's not a bad actor, either, which helps in this role.
So, Don Juan has been out of the country for a while, but is now returning from a war up in Flanders. Coming alone, he's more than happy to be back with his fair Blanco after being gone for nearly a year. But, much to his anger, he finds that Blanco's father has already promised her to the Duke. Don Ferdinand doesn't want to do this really, but he's determined to try and avoid a war with the Duke.
This, predictably, doesn't sit well with Don Juan, and he forces an awkward confrontation with Ferdinand. The result is that Don Juan is banished from the kingdom, disowned in disgrace and sent packing. He doesn't even have a chance to say goodbye to Blanco. Taking what appears to be just a sword and the clothes on his back (!), he rides off into the woods.
Don Juan doesn't leave alone, however, he's accompanied by a young man named Jose, who will act as his servant and swordbearer. Jose is Dolores' (Blanco's servant) husband, though they were just married recently and haven't had a chance yet to "act like a married couple" if you know what I mean.
Jose there on the left with Don Juan.
Don Juan and Jose don't get very far before they are captured by a band of Gypsies! This group of about three dozen men and women reside in the woods on the frontier of the Duke's territory, living the stereotypical Gypsy life of good food, drunken reverie and the occasional knife in the back. They are regarded as "rebels" by the Duke, as they cause him no end to problems in the wild woods.
The leader of the Gypsies is a strong and beautiful woman named Estrella. Her hair is bright red, her legs are long and lean, and her word is the final say in this band. Oddly, she will go through the entire movie and not fall in love with anyone, which really surprised me.
These Gypsies only take in new members (presumably ethnic non-Gypsies) if they can defeat one of their own in single combat. The designated fighter is none other than Hercules! Well, maybe just some beefy Gypsy dude named Hercules, not the actual Greek demigod. Nothing, and I mean 100% zip in this movie even remotely suggests that this guy is anything other than just a bruiser Gypsy with a famous name. I guess you could make the case that this is indeed the one and only Hercules, he's immortal after all, but it would be a stretch.
"Hercules" is played by Sergio Ciani, acting under the fitting stage name "Alan Steel", which is also an awesome gay pornstar name. Unlike a lot of the pretty-boy California surfers that starred in many Italian sword and sandal epics of the era, Ciani was Italian born and bred. He's a hulking, thick-chested flanksteak of a guy, with a full beard and greasy hair, and I don't think he says more than ten words the entire movie.
The fight is tense and fast, first with knives and then with fists and feet. Don Juan is a capable man in a scrap, as is Hercules, and they match each other blow for blow. The fight is timed by a hourglass, and ends with both men still standing and none the worse for wear. They shake hands as the crowd cheers and will be loyal friends from here on out. Estrella offers Don Juan membership in her band, which he accepts (what else does he have to do?).
Not long after, we see now that Don Juan has taken on the persona of the "Masked Rider", donning a bright red flowing cape and a matching mask. Oh, yeah, that's Zorro.
Zorro...er, Don Juan!
Don Juan is also now fully involved in the main trade of this band of Gypsies, namely plundering and thieving. We join the rebels as they conduct hit-and-run raids against the Duke's forces, thrashing hapless soldiers and giving hope to oppressed peasants. Don Juan even gets a few licks at the Duke in person, and gives him a scar along his left cheek as a reminder of his place in life. All this insult drives the Duke mad and he would do near anything to find and kill this masked cavalier (he doesn't know who he is exactly).
Maybe he's looking more like the Kamen Masked Rider! Ha.
So, the Duke and his personal guard now make a trip across the river to the city of his soon-to-be father-in-law Don Ferdinand, ostensibly to bring some gifts to him and Dona Blanco and to discuss the plans for the wedding. However, the Duke has other plans in mind. Taking the opportunity, his army storms the city and the castle, taking it with ease. The Duke gets into a scuffle with the old man Don Ferdinand and ends up killing him.
Ok, the Duke is now, for all intents and purposes, the ruler of this kingdom, by force of arms if nothing else. To make it official, however, he has to have Dona Blanco marry him and sign over the title to him. Having just watched him murder her father, she's understandably not thrilled about that. Until he can figure out what to do, the Duke has Blanco locked away in her room with her servant Dolores.
So, Don Juan is insistent that he go and rescue Dona Blanco, even if it means his own life. Estrella is sympathetic (she was in love before) and agrees to take her Gypsies into the city and see if she can get a message to Blanco. Despite all the fights with the Duke's soldiers, it seems none of them recognize all these Gypsies coming into the city.
Donna: "You are going to blow it out first, right?"
Dolores: "Yes, if you want. But the German girls leave it lit".
The sultry and exotic Estrella blinds both the Duke and the Captain of his army with her beauty and sexuality. In a surprising character moment, the Duke resists her, and seems to really be in love with Dona Blanco, despite it all. He seems to honestly believe that Blanco will one day come to love him once things calm down. Good luck.
The Captain, however, falls instantly in love with Estrella! It must be that Gypsy Voodoo Magic. The Captain is named Blasko, and for coming into our movie so late, will have a large role to play. For her part, Estrella does seem to have genuine feelings for the handsome Captain, more so after she learns that he's just as disgusted with the Duke as anyone.
Estrella gains an audience with Dona Blanco and tells her of Don Juan and all that has transpired. Blanco is overjoyed that her lover is still alive and still pining for her. She agrees to let the Gypsies plan her escape and reunion with Don Juan.
Donna: "...and that's what Dolores suggested we do, but I added the part about the grape jelly."
Estrella: "Sorry, honey, I don't swing that way.".
But it all goes to hell because Estrella thinks that the Duke is the man who killed her husband years ago and her anger gets the better of her. Following her public accusations against the Duke, another melee breaks out as the Gypsies fight their way out of the city. Much in thanks to Hercules' strength, the Gypsies manage to escape, all save Estrella. She is captured and taken to a cell. The Duke wants to torture and kill her on the spot, but the smitten Captain convinces him to spare her until he can track down the Masked Man (the woman might be handy for that). You can see here that the Duke has nearly completely lost trust in the Captain, and from here on out it's just a matter of time before the Captain defects to the rebel side.
"Purrr...you boys have any whips?"
Which he does in short order, leading some troops into the woods, ostensibly to hunt the rebels. He's ambushed and there are some deaths, but suddenly we learn that the Captain and Don Juan are friends! What the holy fuck! We never learn the details, but we can assume that they used to be in the military together, or are related, or something. Just know that the Captain is now firmly on the rebels' side, though the Duke doesn't know it.
Donna: "Oh my, won't it hurt if we do that?"
Dolores: "Not if we use this cream first...".
It's the Captain who comes up with a sneaky plan to infiltrate the wedding and save Don Juan and the ladies. The Gypsies stop the Vicar's column along the road with an offer of strawberries, wine and hot underage girls. Within a short time, the Vicar is out cold drunk and his men have been punked and relieved of their uniforms. The plan is for the Gypsies to take the place of the Vicar's guards, thus gaining entrance to the city undetected. The Vicar doesn't notice the change, mostly because he's quite buzzed still.
Don Juan has this compulsion to do everything himself, and he insists that they come up with a plan for him to sneak into the city himself. The Captain is against this (as is everyone), but agrees to act like he's still loyal to the Duke and bring in Don Juan as a prisoner. Once inside, it would be up to Don Juan to bluff and bluster his way around and keep from getting executed long enough to save Dona Blanco.
The first part works fine, Don Juan is brought to the Duke in chains by the Captain, who is allowed to take Estrella away to safety. But then, just as Don Juan is lying through his teeth, Dona Blanco comes running up shouting his name! Busted now, Don Juan is in trouble. The Duke puts two and two together and figures that he can use Don Juan's life as a bargaining chip to force Dona Blanco to marry him.
"Come on, they're fake, aren't they? Not that I'm complaining..."
So the day of the wedding comes. The Vicar is here to do the deed, which includes convincing Dona Blanca to sign over authority of her lands to her soon-to-be husband the Duke. She doesn't want to do this, of course, but the Duke is holding Don Juan at the gallows and if she doesn't then he dies.
Just as she puts pen to paper, all hell breaks loose! The Gypsies disguised as the Vicar's guards start swinging swords and other Gypsies disguised as wandering monks in the courtyard start punching and kicking. A wild general melee erupts, with people and steel flying everywhere.
In the midst of it all, the inevitable happens. Don Juan and the Duke find each other and duel man-to-man as Dona Blanco looks on and gasps a lot. The end is also inevitable, as the Duke is bested and killed from a fall off the balcony.
The Duke, fini.
With that, our movie wraps up quickly. Don Juan and Dona Blanco get married and have babies. The Captain and Estrella get to drink a lot and rob tourists. Jose and Deloris finally get a chance to play hide the salami. And in the best scene of the movie, Hercules puts his arm around an obviously-gay Gypsy and gives him a frisky grin as they walk off. Nice.
Hmm...I don't know what I'm seeing, but I know it's not right.
Written in March 2007 by Nathan Decker
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