Italy | 1963
Directed by Pietro Francisci
Kirk Morris
Richard Lloyd
Liana Orfei
| 86 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD-R(NTSC)
Warner Archive Collection
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Review by
Brian Lindsey

Two mighty heroes of myth and legend join forces to challenge an evil despot... with some fellow named Ulysses tagging along for the ride.
    Among the last of Italian cinema's prolific peplum cycle of the late 1950s-early '60s, Hercules, Samson and Ulysses seems like an attempt to send the genre off with a bang. It was written and directed by Pietro Francisci, helmer of the first two Hercules films starring Steve Reeves (1958's Hercules and Hercules Unchained, 1959), which started the whole international "Sword & Sandal" craze to begin with. This one's just a pale imitation, though, transiting from one cliché to the next in stolid, workmanlike fashion. The cycle had been wrung thoroughly dry by this point; lacking a fresh approach to the material or the fanciful production design/effects of a Mario Bava, Hercules, Samson and Ulysses makes for a mostly dull experience. You've seen this one before, folks, even if you actually haven't. Only a diehard love or nostalgic fondness for these types of movies would be reason enough to really do so.
    Fearing for their lives and livelihood, the fishermen of Ithaca petition good King Laertes for a fast ship with which to hunt down and kill a ravenous sea monster lurking in coastal waters. Since the request is backed by Greece's greatest hero, Hercules (Adriano Bellini, as "Kirk Morris"), the king readily agrees to provide both vessel and supplies. Hercules a guy with not a little monster-slaying experience is naturally given command of the expedition, while Laertes' son Prince Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico) volunteers for the fun and adventure of it all. Enthusiasm matched by his naiveté, Ulysses assures his betrothed that they'll triumphantly return in just a couple of days, mission accomplished.
But that's not how it works out. Just as Hercules and his crew manage to locate and harpoon the monster their ship runs into a terrible storm and is destroyed. Only Herc, Ulysses and four of the sailors survive, adrift at sea aboard a rickety makeshift raft. They finally make landfall in Judea, encountering friendly Hebrews of the tribe of Dan. A village elder tells them that to hire a ship that can return them to their homeland, the Greeks must travel to Gaza, seat of the Philistine king. Unfortunately King Seren (Aldo Giuffre) is a bloodthirsty tyrant who thinks Hercules is really a Danite rebel called Samson whom he'd very much like to kill... Does he not have the incredible superhuman strength only this Samson is known to possess? The Greek demigod angrily declares his innocence; to prove it he agrees to personally track Samson down and capture him. As insurance Seren holds his companions hostage. Should Hercules fail, they'll be slain.
    Meanwhile, Samson (Iranian muscleman Iloosh Khoshabe, alias "Richard Lloyd") is busy freeing his oppressed tribesmen from Philistine slavers. He believes the Greeks are actually Seren's spies, a notion that's reinforced when Hercules shows up to kick his butt and haul him back to Gaza. The two titans clash, rubbling much of an old temple obviously made of Styrofoam in the process. During the brawl, however, Herc is able to convince Samson that he's only fighting him because otherwise the king will have his friends executed. The heroes bury the hatchet on the spot, agreeing to join forces and attack Seren Samson to free his people from tyranny, Hercules to rescue his comrades. More dangerous to their plan than Seren's army, however, are the cunning wiles of the king's voluptuous consort, Delilah (Liana Orfei), a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it...
    The usual items from the peplum checklist are dutifully ticked off: There's a monster, some animal wrestling (Herc pummels a bull and strangles a lion), an evil king with a legion of soldiers to clobber, a village-sacking, a dance number (Orfei shakes a shapely leg in the throne room), lots of horse-tripping and masonry throwing, and so on. Almost none of it is remotely interesting, or else is clumsily or poorly handled. A silly sci-fi sound effect is used whenever spears are thrown or arrows fired. The sea monster glimpsed for maybe a total of ten seconds is a rubbery snake puppet intercut with mismatched close-ups of a live manatee (!). The lion Herc kills transforms from a healthy, strapping beast to an old, conspicuously scrawny one (all the easier for the actor to roughhouse with) in the blink of an edit. Morris (Colossus and the Headhunters, Conqueror of Atlantis) is an even more wooden Hercules than most, while Lloyd proves equally charisma-challenged; for his part, Cerusico is given relatively little to do as Ulysses. (He still gets his character's name in the title, though... That's something, I suppose.) Orfei makes for a suitably beguiling Delilah but isn't in the movie as much as perhaps she should've been. The cumulative effect of all this? ZZZzzzz...
    There are a few odd touches to Hercules, Samson and Ulysses worth noting, however. For one, there's a brief but surprisingly brutal instance of violence in what is ostensibly an all-ages film, when the hands of Hebrew villagers are bloodily nailed to the walls of their house. And I can't believe it's an accident that the Philistine soldiers wear WWII German helmets (festooned with a few extra doodads in a vain attempt to make them look ancient); perhaps I'm just groping for subtext here, but "Seren" sounds exactly like "Sarin", a deadly nerve gas the Nazis experimented on Jews with. Were the filmmakers trying to make a statement about the Holocaust in a Hercules movie? (NOTE: I'm tagging this review with an "Extra Cheese" icon not that it's an ineptly made film per se, but because of the poor special effects and stodginess of the acting and dubbing. They're good for at least a few chuckles.)

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses is one of the latest releases in the Warner Archive line of made-on-demand DVD-Rs. This film and five other pepla, among them Sandokan the Great and Sergio Corbucci's The Slave, have been available on Warner Home Video's WBShop website since July and will be sold by Amazon starting in August.
    The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer looks great for its age, especially the color, which is much more apparent whenever the story moves to indoor sets. Print damage is acceptable, or at least barely noticeable except around reel changes. The mono soundtrack is on the flat side but that's to be expected. Unlike most Warner Archive discs, the theatrical trailer is included as an extra. (Were it 6 or 8 bucks cheaper this is a DVD-R, after all I'd rate the disc a "5".) 8/19/12