Over the years, there have been many people that have portrayed the son of Zeus on the big and small screen, but none quite so good as Steve Reeves. Reeves had the perfect look to portray the muscled god, including the exquisite physique honed through years of training, to the hair and the attitude he exuded, the man was by all accounts, born to play the role. Surprisingly, after the movie was a massive hit, Reeves would only play the role one more time before moving on to other work, most of it still in the peplum arena as it were, but it was Hercules for which he would be remembered more than anything else.
Originally called Le fatiche di Ercole, or The Labours of Hercules before its American release which would be shortened to just Hercules, the film would go on to recount a loose re-telling of the quest for the Golden Fleece. A good half of the film would take place in the castle of King Pelias, a man suspected of having murdered his brother in order to inherit the throne and who has hired Hercules to teach and guard his son until he is able to take the throne. Soon Hercules falls in love with the Princess Iole, fails in his task, meets Jason – the son of the original king and then takes up a quest in order to find the Golden Fleece which will prove Jason’s legitimacy to the throne, though the trip will be filled with perils.
As far as sword and sandal films go, Hercules does everything right. Reeves is ideally cast with Sylva Koscina starring opposite him as the leading lady, adding both talent and beauty to the picture. There is a fair amount of intrigue within and without the court as Pelias looks to cement his hold upon his stolen kingdom, looking to get rid of Hercules by any means possible and having Jason fail in his quest. Hercules himself does not end up facing any monsters, but the man-god must overcome a lion that terrorizes the people, the Cretan Bull, resist the Amazons and escape the clutches of some ape-men. There is a dragon that Jason does battle with, so there is at least one bit of the fantastic that did indeed make its way into the movie, though while obviously shot on a budget, managed to still look pretty good when all was said and done. Best of all, as if there were any ever doubt, the heroes win the day and the boy gets the girl.
Though the movie never made the biggest impact with the critics, that never stopped it from becoming a hit and that, more than anything, spoke volumes. Additionally, it may not have been the most polished production ever put to celluloid, but it was always a lot of fun and seeing Reeves ham it up as the mythical figure that was always larger than life, was a joy to watch. Hercules was an entertaining movie, as good today as it was when first released and it takes the audience back to a time when things could be solved with a little determination and grit, something the man-god had in spades.
4 out of 5