Hercules (1957)

Genres - Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Mythological Fantasy, Sword-and-Sandal, Costume Adventure  |   Run Time - 98 min.  |   Countries - Italy   |   MPAA Rating - G
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Review by Bruce Eder

In 1959, Steve Reeves became an international screen star with this film, which had been shot in Italy two years earlier under the title The Labors of Hercules. Bought by producer Joseph E. Levine (who had previously brought the Japanese film Gojira into the United States successfully as Godzilla), retitled and redubbed, and then promoted with a bigger budget than it had cost to shoot the movie, Hercules became a box-office smash in the United States and set the standard for a decade of Italian-made muscle-man films that followed, all featuring professional bodybuilders as leads and all set in some era of Greek or Roman antiquity. Contrary to what the critics claim, this is not a bad movie. Reeves cuts a commanding figure as the legendary hero, and even people who didn't like his work conceded that he looked great; the rest of the cast, especially Silva Koscina as Iole and Ivo Garrani as Pelias, try very hard in portraying what are essentially mythical icons out of Greek antiquity; and the special effects work within the limitations of the budget. True, Ray Harryhausen in his sleep could have created a more convincing dragon (and later did just that, in Jason and the Argonauts), but within the confines of this film's available talent and money, the dragon awaiting Jason at the end of the quest for the Golden Fleece worked as well as it needed to. Moreover, the popularity of this movie inspired a generation of teenage and preteen baby-boomers to start studying Greek and Roman mythology with varying degrees of seriousness; it also may well have planted the pop culture seed through which Marvel Comics was able to spawn the Mighty Thor in comic books three years later, which eventually introduced Hercules as a semi-permanent character.