Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)
Today, I will be reviewing the 1965 Italian sword and sandal movie Hercules and the Princess of Troy. This is the shortest movie I've reviewed yet, clocking in at a mere 47 minutes. It's so short because it was the pilot for a possible television series that wasn't picked up. The public's tastes in Italy were turning at this time towards spaghetti westerns and space operas, and the sword and sandal days were over.
And now on to our show...
We open at the classic city of Troy, in northwestern Turkey. I'm going to explain some stuff here that we don't learn until later, but you should know it now. It seems that for the past two years a mysterious and deadly "sea monster" has been menacing the city, a water demon sent here by the Gods for some perceived hubris on the part of the Trojans. The only way to placate the beast, and to keep it in the water and not smashing through the streets of Troy, is to sacrifice a nubile young virgin to it. This must be done once a month without exception.
The way to pick the hapless victim is also left up to the Gods of fate. All virgin maidens of a certain age are led down to the beach at the appointed time each month. They are given doves, which when released will fly off. One dove, however, will die in midflight and crash into the sea, a clear sign that that girl is the next sacrificial lamb. The girl is then rowed out to this rocky outcropping offshore and chained down, to await the sea monster.
The Trojan way is to allow one male to volunteer to go out on the rock with the maiden to attempt to kill the beast and save the girl. So far, all 24 men have failed and all 24 girls have met their crunchy bloody end. Still, it has worked and the monster has stayed away from the city proper, so the system has become a part of daily life in Troy.
Not going to end well for her...
Ok, we see that the waters off Troy are also prowled by vicious pirates. Traffic in the area runs the risk of being stopped and their crew and passengers impressed as rowers or sold as slaves on the mainland. Today we join a pirate galley as it returns from a raid, its hold full of captured women and the oars pulled by chained men.
But this day another ship is sailing this coast! A single-sail single-row galley comes over the horizon aiming for the pirate, clearly looking for battle. In this boat is the legendary demigod Hercules and his band of merry men. The big "H" on the sail and on the prow are a dead giveaway.
Actually a pretty effective shot, maybe the best in the whole movie.
Our Hercules is played by 38-year old American-born beefstake Gordon Scott, former bodybuilder and fairly successful action hero. He also strutted his overtly manly stuff in a number of American and Italian epics as Tarzan, Goliath, Samson, Zorro, and even freakin' Julius Ceaser. He's a big, ripped meatstick with a porn star loincloth and Exxon Valdez-levels of gel in his hair.
His two main companions are the young gay-lover Ulysses and the Artemis Gordon-esque scientist/inventor Diogenes.
Ulysses is played by 25-year old Venezuelan-born Mart Hulswit. Thin, boyish and quite feminine, our Ulysses would make Homer stab himself in the eye.
Diogenes is played by 44-year old American-born Paul Stevens. He's a scrawny, graying old man who is prone to not-funny quips and grouchy complaining, kind of like Bones on Star Trek, though without the phasers.
There are also about two dozen other assorted sailors, marines, rowers and such onboard, all in loyal service to Hercules. It's these men who do the dirty work here, pumping the oars to catch up to the pirate and then boarding her with pikes and swords. Hercules also jumps across and does some damage with his super-strength and skill. In short order, the pirate ship is in their hands and six pirates are dead. The ship is set ablaze and the pirates either condemned to the sea or take aboard as slaves.
Dangerous Waters, 800 BC version...
So now they have a ship full of civilians to deal with. Down belowdecks, the survivors explain the whole monster/virgin/Troy thing to Hercules, and insist that they can't go back to Troy now as they are considered traitors for violating the laws and leaving. It seems that if you have a virgin daughter in your family, it's the law that you stick around and give her the chance to get eaten by the monster. Great way to keep the populace happy.
So, Hercules decides to go to Troy anyway, against the wishes of the people he rescued. Why he does this is unclear, and seems very un-Hercules like. We later learn that these people will still be punished for breaking the laws, the penalties for that are hinted at very severe, maybe even death. This is just sort of blown off by Hercules, but we must wonder what happened to the people he just condemned to punishment by bringing them back.
Landing in Troy, Hercules is greeted as the legendary hero he indeed is. The city rejoices, as they are hoping that Hercules can kill the monster and save the city. They are taken to see King Petra, Troy's currently ruler.
The King is played by fiftysomething Steve Garrett, star of...well, nothing, he's only had two other movie roles save this one, and his bit parts were as "soldier" and "clerk". He looks and acts like Graham Chapman from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, right down to the beard and walk.
But the King's reign is coming to an end soon. In two months there will be a peaceful power transfer to the young Princess Diana, the King's niece. Why this transfer is going to happen is never stated, but it's apparently one of those "will of the Gods" things.
The Princess is played by 29-year old American-born Diana Hyland. The Princess is not very attractive, sadly, and her outfits do nothing to improve on this. Hyland was banging Vinnie Barbarino for a while, however, which gives her cool points.
Ok, there's this pointless bit here about the twin immortal horses that the Goddess Minerva gave to the city of Troy. Sure, whatever.
Back to the sea monster. Hercules believes he has an advantage because, contrary to popular thought, one man has faced the monster and lived. This is Ortag, a brave Trojan soldier who some time ago went out to defend a maiden and was thought lost. He was, in fact, washed out to sea badly wounded and picked up by Hercules' ship. Ortag's first-hand experience with the beast is vital, especially his clue about the unarmored stomach, the proverbial soft underbelly.
Brave Ortag, looking like an extra from Star Trek.
Now Hercules has also volunteered to train the Trojan Boxing Team for the upcoming Olympic games (really!). We go to a sparing match, where Hercules and a big brute are boxing. We see the brute sneak some sort of foreign substance onto his hand wraps! Hercules (oblivious to this) keeps boxing and smacks the brute to the ground, and the man falls with his own hand behind his back (thus poisoning himself). The man dies quickly and all gather around in shock. It's Hercules who finds the poison, though he writes it off to just this low-grade boxer trying to make a name for himself in history by killing Hercules with one punch.
My hair alone should win an Oscar...
Back aboard their ship, Diogenes has been working on a potion that will react with water to make fire. He hopes to use this to force the sea monster up on the shore where they can kill it more easily. We learn here that time is short, tomorrow is the day of choosing of the sacrifice.
So, instead of practicing how to kill the monster, Hercules and Ulysses take a nice Sunday ride on their immortal horses, galloping off together through the woods looking for a nice quiet spot for some intracural relations in the classical Greek way. They make their way to the grotto of Minerva to give the horses a drink. Deep in the wide cavern, suspiciously lit from artfully-placed colored lights and with a nice flat floor.
Suddenly they are attacked by a band of thieves! Ulysses downs one with an arrow, but the rest corner them and a big nasty fight looms. Hercules pushes down a big stone column in a huge pile of dust and rocky debris, giving them time to remount and ride out of the grotto to safety.
Herc and Ulysses, mounted...
Back in the city, they talk to Diogenes, who is not exactly sure that those were thieves and not the King's soldiers disguised as thieves. Diogenes is suspicious of the King's motivations, especially as he has recently uncovered some damning evidence regarding the death of the old king (the current king's brother and Diana's father). The story was the old king died in a hunting accident, but Diogenes has a witness who claims that something fishy happened. All of this gets Hercules thinking about things and he begins to wonder why the King would try and kill him so bad.
The next day, Hercules goes to warn Princess Diana about his worries. The princess can't believe it, the King has always been so nice to her, and Hercules has no real proof. They don't squabble, but they don't leave seeing eye-to-eye either.
The choosing ceremony is held soon, and to everyone's surprise and concern, the princess is picked! It seems that even she is not immune to the process, which is very democratic, I'd say. Hercules suspects some sort of trickery and afterwards goes to question the priest that handed her the dove, but finds him dead (!).
Now he really wants a piece of King Petra and goes to confront him. Hercules still doesn't have any hard proof, and the King knows it. This is a quality character moment for these two actors and the scene is well-done.
Hercules goes back to the princess (who is understandably distraught) and promises her that he will be there tomorrow to fight the beast for her. The princess has a beau, a strapping lad named Leander, who offers to accompany Hercules and help.
That night, however, Hercules is captured by some Trojan soldiers! He's tossed down into a deep well, with slick metal walls (just like a steel culvert purchased from a construction company and buried in the sand and covered with a Styrofoam rocky cap...). The soldiers abandon him down here and go off.
Seriously, those Bronze Age craftsmen were awesome.
So the morning comes and Diana is ready to go to her doom. Hercules is absent, much to the quiet pleasure of the King and the considerable consternation of Diana and her man Leander. Still, the show must go on, the Gods decree it.
Diana and Leander on the rock.
Down at the beach, Hercules' men are assembling for the coming action. The plan is for a bunch of them to ride out into the surf and toss these grenade-thingies full of Diogenes' fire potion, which will force the monster ashore. Hercules not being there on time is a major problem, and Ulysses wants to go look for him, but Diogenes realizes that time is of the essence and the big guy would want them to carry on without him. Overhearing this, Ortag jumps on a horse and rides off! They think he's deserting them, perhaps fearful of facing the sea monster again.
But Ortag is not a coward, he's in fact headed back towards the city to find Hercules (and has managed to round up another horse to boot). Somehow knowing just where to find him (how?), he helps Hercules out of the well by tossing down some dirt so Hercules can shimmy up the well walls again. He and Ortag gallop at full speed towards the beach.
There, they find that the sea monster is up on the sandy beach now, thanks to Diogenes' firebombs. The monster is a big foam rubber puppet about fifteen-feet long and shaped like a big-ass worm with multiple pinchers and snapping jaws, the front half held up off the sand by wires off-screen. It looks kinda like the big bug in Men in Black.
The sea monster! Arg, run!
Ortag gets too close and is smacked by a claw, dying in the sand. Hercules jumps off his horse and does battle with the beast with just his sword and his crafty wits. As predicted, the fleet-footed Hercules is able to get inside the slowly-swinging claws of the beast and deliver a number of sharp stabs to the soft underbelly. The beast flops to the sand in agony, and Hercules steps up to deliver the coup de grace, plunging his sword down into the beast's head. Yea!
Rah, snik snik snik!
The King is killed by accident in the fires, Princess Diana becomes Queen, and Hercules loads up the boat and sails off to make follow-up episodes (didn't happen, pilot wasn't picked up).
Written in March 2007 by Nathan Decker
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...