The Hercules Collection
Italy - France | 1961
Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi
Reg Park
Fay Spain
Ettore Manni
Color | 94 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC | 4-disc set)
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Movie Rating  
  DVD Rating   5   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
One of the films in the Hercules Collection
DVD Rating is for entire set
The mighty Hercules (Reg Park) and his comrade Androcles (Ettore Manni) journey to the land of Atlantis to do battle with an evil queen (Fay Spain)...
Pietro Francisci's 1958 Hercules gave a significant boost to the Italian film industry, then suffering an identity crisis as the almost-decade-old trend in neo-realism (best illustrated by Vittorio De Sica's masterpiece The Bicycle Thieves) was grinding to a halt. Colorfully photographed in widescreen by Mario Bava, it was a low-rent epic that overcame its ropey script and sometimes wooden performances (little helped for U.S. viewers by poor English dubbing) through sheer creative force and gusto. The film was a huge hit worldwide, and it wasn't long before other Italian musclemen epics began to flood the marketplace. Produced by Achille Piazzi, who also produced cinematographer-turned-director Bava's own followup Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), Hercules and the Captive Women outdid its predecessors in terms of spectacle. While the film was still produced on a low budget, it offered imaginative production design courtesy of Franco Lolli (who also designed Haunted World on a smaller scale) and wonderfully gaudy widescreen cinematography by Carlo Carlini (The Pyjama Girl Case). The script is the usual hodgepodge of Greek mythology viewed through a Roman lens, but what it lacks in sense it more than compensates for in style.
    Reg Park makes his debut as Hercules, a role he would essay in three further Italian pepla. While Steeve Reeves remains the iconic embodiment of the demi-god, I would argue that Park gives a stronger performance on the whole. Park's portrayal is warm and human, elements sometimes lacking in Reeves more austere screen persona. He certainly compares well to Reeves in the muscle department, but where Reeves sometimes seemed a little stiff and uncertain in more character-oriented sequences, Park seldom misses a beat. True, it's hard to play a character like this and come off as a master thespian, but British-born Park is a likable and engaging heroic presence. Here he is paired with the excellent Italian character actor Ettore Manni, probably best remembered today for his performance as the demented Dr. Katzone in Fellini's City of Women (1980), and like Park, he would continue with the series of sword and sandal adventures for the next few years. Unlike Park, however, Manni would alternate such assignments with bigger profile films for more distinguished director he came to sad end after working with Fellini, however, when he died, an apparent suicide, from a gun shot to the groin. Manni and Park play well off each other, etching a believable friendship that never becomes submerged in the eye-popping aesthetic of the picture. A good hero and sidekick still call for a satisfactory villain, however, and fortunately the fetching Fay Spain is up to the task. A glimpse of her filmography reveals this to be an unusual foray into European filmmaking for the American actress, whose credits included numerous American B films and stints on various TV shows and sitcoms, including Gomer Pyle and Mannix. She plays the vampish Queen for all the silky seductiveness it's worth. The supporting cast includes small roles for some very distinguished Italian actors, including Enrico Maria Salerno (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage) and Gian Maria Volonte (For a Few Dollars More).
    Director Vittorio Cottafavi is a forgotten name these days, but in his time he was a most capable director of popular Italian fanfare. He would direct numerous films in popular genres, but if he is remembered for anything it's for his stylish sword and sandal epics, including 1960's Goliath and the Dragon. He displays a keen visual sense throughout, never quite matching the hallucinatory delirium of Bava or even Antonio Margheriti at his most inspired, but still quite distinctive in its own right. Cottafavi also does a good job handling the action scenes, an essential element in a picture such as this. Together with cinematographer Carlini, he creates some memorable set-pieces and keeps the pace moving at a respectable clip. It may not qualify as 'action packed' in the contemporary sense of the term, but Hercules and the Captive Women is ideal fare for fans of the genre.

Retromedia's re-release of Hercules and the Captive Women is part of their new 9-film Hercules Collection box set. As a set, it's pretty hit or miss roughly half the films have been presented in their original aspect ratios, while others are cropped and look to have been sourced from very inferior prints. Fortunately, Captive Women is one of the films that fare better in this collection. The back of the slipcase indicates that the film was shot in 70mm, which is inaccurate like the subsequent Hercules in the Haunted World (not presented in this set, but available as a beautiful DVD from Fantoma) it was shot in the Super Technorama 70 process, an anamorphic process that still made use of 35mm film. The source materials are in pretty good shape there is some wear and tear in evidence, but on the whole it looks sharp and colorful. The 2.35/16x9 transfer does justice to Carlini's cinematography and compositions, and the film is apparently fully uncut. The mono English soundtrack has the limitations one would expect of a dubbed film of this vintage but it gets the job done; alas, Italian tracks have not been provided for any of these films.
As a bonus feature on the Captive Women disc, Retromedia has thrown in Margheriti's horror-tinged Hercules, Prisoner of Evil (1964). Park and Manni return for more action, and it's an enjoyably loopy piece with plenty to recommend; alas, the fullframe transfer looks pretty rough, and the print looks to have been been through the grinder a few times. 4/26/09