Synopsis by Bruce Eder
Heralding a decade of Italian-made sword-and-sandal films, Hercules -- as it's been known in the United States since its 1959 release -- draws most of its plot from the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Hercules, the half-immortal son of Jupiter (or Zeus) rescues Iole, the daughter of Pelias, the king of Jolco, when the horses pulling her chariot run wild. Returning her to the court, he is engaged by Pelias to train his vain, arrogant son in the use of arms, that he may one day become a warrior king. Pelias' hold on power is very uncertain, owing to the way he became king -- his brother, the previous monarch, was murdered by persons unknown in the palace -- and he looks to leave a dynasty. The prince is later killed through his own foolishness, however, and the blame falls on Hercules. In order to win back the grieving heart of Iole, Hercules surrenders his immortality and manages to triumph in a savage test of his strength against the Cretan Bull. One day, a stranger arrives in Jolco claiming to be Jason, Pelias' nephew, and son of the murdered king -- and the rightful king. To prove his claim, he vows to sail to the ends of the Earth and reclaim the Golden Fleece, the symbol of rightful rule in Jolco, which was stolen on the night that his father was murdered. A crew is assembled that includes various legendary figures out of Greek mythology, with Hercules at the head of the list. They survive encounters with sea storms and a predatory race of women, the machinations of a traitor in their ranks, and Pelias' treachery, and Jason slays the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece. On their return, however, the Fleece is stolen and Hercules is imprisoned. Jason and his men are surrounded by Pelias' soldiers and a battle ensues. Iole frees Hercules, who comes to the aid of Jason and restores him to the throne that's rightfully his. This battle features one of the best action sequences in the film as Hercules, his wrists still in the shackles and chains that bound him in Pelias' dungeon, first kills the man who murdered the old king and then, faced with mounted cavalry charging him on the steps of the palace, pulls down the pillars supporting the facade and wipes out the cavalry. Pelias, unable to contain his own guilt, commits suicide and Iole, seeing the truth about her father, goes to Hercules and accepts him as her husband. Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts, made six years later, told the same story with far superior effects and a less conclusive ending, but Hercules is a fun movie in its own right, and Steve Reeves cuts a stunning figure, even if his voice is dubbed. Curiously, there are two different dubbed versions of Hercules in circulation, one of which (the one that was on television in the early '60s, and was on the VidAmerica videocassette) features a simpler range of English dialogue that works better. The other version occasionally uses more florrid language (and appeared on the Image Entertainment letterboxed laserdisc), which doesn't really resonate well. The giveaway comes in the scene where Hercules prays to Jupiter at the temple, surrendering his powers. The simpler, better track has the echoed voice come back "the Cretan Bull awaits."
legend [fable], magic, monster, myth, princess, romance, seduction, sorcerer, strength, Superhero