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ERCOLE ALLA CONQUISTA DI ATLANTIDE (HERCULES AND THE CONQUEST OF ATLANTIS) (1961)

[aka Hercules Conquers Atlantis aka Hercules And The Captive Women aka Hercules And The Haunted Women]

The skies will burst into flames and hail our victory, destroying the temples of your meaningless gods! – and the great god will return to his own - Uranus!
– to rule over us all
!





  Director:
 
Vittorio Cottafavi

  Starring: 
Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin, Laura Efrikian, Salvatore Furnari, Mimmo Palmara, Mario Petri, Nando Tamberlani, Luciana Angliolillo

  Screenplay: 
Vittorio Cottafavi, Sandro Continenza and Duccio Tessari
 

Synopsis:  On their way to Thebes, Hercules (Reg Park), his son, Hylas (Luciano Marin), and Androcles, King of Thebes (Ettore Manni) experience a strange portent of evil: the land around them is bathed in red, as a prophet wails about blood from the sky and the destruction of Greece; Hercules sees a vision of himself carrying an unconscious Androcles. Deciding that only Tiresius (Nando Tamberlani), the High Priest, can interpret this experience, the three men resume their journey. In Thebes, Tiresius confirms that a terrible evil threatens Greece, one emanating from the west, beyond the straits from whence no-one has ever returned. Androcles tries to organise his fellow rulers to meet the threat head on with a joint expeditionary force, but they will not help him. Androcles turns to Hercules (Reg Park) for help, but Hercules has promised to stay at home with his wife, Deianira (Luciana Angliolillo). Undaunted, Androcles conspires with Hylas. The two of them drug Hercules and carry him away on their boat, along with a crew consisting entirely of mercenaries, the only men whose help Androcles was able to recruit.  When Hercules wakes he is not angry, but he refuses to give Androcles any assistance, instead spending his time sleeping and fishing. Meanwhile, fearing his father’s wrath, Hylus hides below decks, having food smuggled to him by the diminutive Timotheus (Salvatore Furnari). As land appears in the distance, the crew plots a revolt, slashing the water-bags so that Androcles is forced to land and replenish the supplies. The mercenaries overpower Androcles and try to steal the ship, but Hercules finally takes action, rescuing Androcles and leaving the mercenaries behind on the island. As they sail on, a violent storm breaks, during which Androcles is swept overboard and the ship wrecked. Hercules recovers consciousness to find himself floating on a piece of wreckage, surrounded by a strange mist. Suddenly, he has a vision of Androcles imprisoned and calling for his help. Hercules calls upon Zeus for assistance, and before long finds himself near an island. There he discovers a girl trapped within living rock, who tells him that she is a prisoner of the god Proteus. Proteus appears first as a man, but shifts shape several times as he and Hercules battle to the death. Proteus is defeated, and the rock imprisoning the girl fades away; it, too, was part of Proteus. The girl, Ismene (Laura Efrikian), tells Hercules that she was sent to the island as a sacrifice, and is fearful that her rescue will bring disaster to her people. As she speaks, the mists covering the surrounding waters fade away. Ismene points to her island home, now clearly visible: Atlantis. On Atlantis, young boys are being led away to be sacrificed to the god Uranus on the Mountain Of The Dead as, in the temple, Queen Antinea (Fay Spain) performs a sacred ritual. When it is reported that the mists that hitherto veiled Atlantis from mortal eyes have suddenly vanished, Astor (Mimmo Palmara), the captain of Antinea’s guard, says that it is due to Uranus being angered. Hercules interrupts, explaining that he has killed Proteus, who made the mists, and freed Ismene – who is now revealed as Antinea’s daughter. Astor fumes that in killing Proteus, the son of Uranus, Hercules has brought the wrath of the gods upon them all, but Hercules argues that were that so, he would not have been permitted to kill Proteus. Antinea pretends to be grateful and happy for Ismene’s return, but is secretly furious: prophesy states that should her daughter outlive her, Atlantis will be destroyed. Hercules explains that he is searching for Androcles. Antinea denies knowing anything about him – while even as she speaks, a strangely altered Androcles watches from the shadows….

Comments:  Sometimes our movie prayers are answered, and I received a response to one of mine when the recent Image Entertainment/Retromedia Hercules Collection set proved to contain a good quality, widescreen print of Ercole Alla Conquista Di Atlantide, long a search subject of mine. Too often the pepla of this era are made available only in washed-out, grainy, pan-and-scan prints that do no justice whatsoever to their cinematography and production design, which are very often amongst their chief virtues. That is certainly the case here, and the print provided, although not perfect, thankfully does capture the film’s vivid colour schemes and stunning sets. On the downside, however, this is also the Americanised version of the film, meaning that it is shorn of several minutes of footage, and dubbed into English, with no subtitle option. While this is disappointing, some compensation is provided by the fact that this arrangement means that the various characters spend a great deal of time a great deal of time  – talking about “Uranus”; and since, unlike some films I could mention, the voice actors did not hesitate to pronounce that word---well, exactly as most of us do pronounce it, this version of the film inadvertently supplies a great deal of low-brow humour for the benefit of those of us those of you who enjoy that kind of thing.

Wo-man. Wo-MAN.

Despite the enormous success of Le Fatiche Di Ercole and Ercole E La Regina Di Lidia in particular, after 1960 their production company, Galatea Film, declined to produce any more such movies. The rights were passed to SPA Cinematografica, where the directorial reins were taken up by Vittorio Cottafavi, who proceeded to demonstrate a real flair for the genre. (The anomalous Gli Amore Di Ercole, meanwhile, although shot in Italy, was actually a French production.) While not as financially successful as its predecessors, La Vendetta Di Ercole did quite well enough for yet another tale of Hercules to be commissioned. However, Mark Forest, who had taken over from Steve Reeves after Reeves declined to work with any director other than Pietro Francisci, did not enjoy the experience, and responded to the opportunity to reprise his role by playing hardball with his producers – who in turn played a little hardball of their own by offering the role of Hercules to the British-born body-builder, Reg Park. (Park finished second to Steve Reeves in the 1950 Mr Universe competition, and beat him in 1951.) By the early sixties, Park had relocated to South Africa and was enjoying life as a successful businessman. When the film offer reached him, he gave little thought to treating it seriously, instead sending off a jokey acceptance conditional upon a string of fairly outrageous demands. To everyone’s astonishment, the Italian producers agreed to them, and soon Reg Park found himself in Italy, preparing to be the screen’s fourth Hercules in as many years.

Reg Park’s donning of the loin-cloth is one of the major assets of Ercole Alla Conquista Di Atlantide, wherein he gives us a very different interpretation of Hercules from those seen previously. Although Park was only thirty-three when he made this film, he seems older than his similarly-aged predecessors, giving us a more mature Hercules, one who acts as a mentor, even as a kind of older brother, to the more impetuous Androcles. This Hercules, refreshingly, is neither sanctimonious nor sulky, but a down-to-earth kind of guy; one who asks the gods politely for assistance when he needs it, rather than demanding it as a right or throwing a tantrum when he doesn’t get it, and expressing his gratitude afterwards when he does. Most importantly, however, this is a Hercules possessing both a sense of humour and a modicum of brains; neither quality having been exactly conspicuous in the earlier incarnations of the character. (To be fair, those incarnations are more in keeping with the mythology.) Park’s Hercules fits his film like a glove. Ercole Alla Conquista Di Atlantide is one of the better pepla, a rollicking adventure that offers a nice blend of action scenes, supernatural elements, straight violence and a sense of fun. The romance and the overt comedy relief alike are kept to a blessed minimum, and this despite the presence of a COOCRM – Contractually Obliged Odious Comic Relief Midget – in the form of Timotheus (played by Salvatore Furnari, who essayed a similar role in La Vendetta Di Ercole). Timotheus is kind of annoying, but I suspect that he is somewhat a victim of the film’s dubbing; and truthfully, my problem with the character is chiefly the disrespectful way he is tossed around by the others, as if he were a child – or a toy.

When Hercules is your best-behaved citizen, your country is in BIG trouble....

Ercole Alla Conquista Di Atlantide sets its tone, and defines our new, improved Hercules for us, from its opening scene. As Hercules tries to enjoy a nice meal, the rest of the young male population of Thebes brawls all around him – including Androcles, King of Thebes, who at that very moment is getting the tar beaten out of him by three of his loyal subjects. “Get off me! I’m the King of Thebes!” protests Androcles. The three think about that for a moment, then go back to whaling on him. (Viva la republic!) Finishing his lunch, Hercules stands up, puts paid to four guys with a battering-ram with a single push, then says calmly, “That’s enough for now, boys.” Instantly, the Thebans all drop their hands. Androcles, Hercules’ son, Hylus and Timotheus emerge from behind an overturned table, looking suitably shamefaced, and depart with Hercules.

On their way back to the city, Hercules and his companions are engulfed in a mysterious dust-storm. Suddenly, the countryside becomes bathed in an eerie red light, and a wailing prophet appears, crying out about the destruction of Greece in a rain of blood of fire before disappearing. A tree is struck by lightning and bursts into flames; and Hercules has a vision of himself rescuing an unconscious Androcles. As the red light recedes, the men decide to consult Tiresius, High Priest of Thebes. He, frankly, is precious little help: asked what the gods had to say when he consulted them, Tiresius replies, “Who knows? Who can say?” Oh, I dunno, YOU, maybe? Some High Priest. The largely disobliging Tiresius does reveal, however, that the threat to Greece will come from the west, originating from beyond, “The straits, from which no man has yet returned.”

Ercole Alla Conquista Di Atlantide: filmed entirely on location in New South Wales!

Androcles gathers the other Grecian rulers and tries to convince them to mount a preemptive strike-force with him, but they haven’t much interest in the project….although they do promise to look after Thebes while Androcles is away. Mwoo-ha-ha! Hercules ensures that no-one will sit upon Androcles’ throne in the meantime in fairly literal fashion: he smashes it, provoking a pained reaction from his good buddy. Androcles is then further pained when, in response to his assumption that Hercules will be joining him on his expedition, he can elicit only a quizzical look. We cut to Hercules’ home, where the eternally put-upon Deianira is understandably assuming that she’s about to be left hanging once again. Hercules, however, insists that he has no such intention; that all he wants is a quiet life with his family. He continues to insist upon this even when Androcles comes to plead with him. (More evidence of the profound reverence in which the citizens of Thebes hold their ruler: as the King of Thebes enters her house, Deianira snaps at him, “What do you want?”) Androcles finally concedes defeat, although as he departs he invites Hercules to the palace to drink a toast with him to the success of the expedition.

Mwoo-ha-ha.

So at least this time Hercules’ desertion of poor Deianira isn’t his fault. As Hercules begins to recover consciousness on the deck of Androcles’ ship, Hylus, Androcles’ co-conspirator, bolts for the ship’s hold in order to hide from his father. Androcles is more than a little wary of his good friend’s reaction, when he realises his situation, but Hercules takes it all in very good part….other than instituting a policy of passive resistance, wherein he refuses to lift a finger to help, even when he sees the rest of the crew: a collection of obvious cutthroats, all that Androcles could recruit, under the circumstances:

Androcles:  “It’s the best I could find.”

Hercules:  “But – I thought you were the King of Thebes – aren’t you?”

Androcles:  “I fought against the soothsayers, the senators, the commanders of the army. Aren’t you always saying that democracy is---”

Hercules:  “Never mind, never mind.”

 

With which, Hercules goes back to snoozing on the deck.

 

 

"I swear by the gods, the time has come for me to settle down!"

[People, start your stopwatches!]

 

As the ship approaches an island, the mercenaries, planning to maroon Androcles and Hercules and steal the ship, sabotage the water supply, forcing Androcles to put ashore. Androcles is ambushed and knocked out, but the ship-theft is thwarted when Hercules finally lifts a finger, holding onto the chain of the anchor as the mutineers try to sail and row away. It’s actually a struggle for Hercules, until he very politely requests the assistance of “Helius, god of the winds”, who kindly kills the wind and drops the sail. Androcles is then rescued, and the mutineers marooned in his place.

 

And then Hercules goes back to snoozing on the deck.

 

(Actually, Helias was god of the sun; the winds were governed by four different gods, one for each direction.)

 

Some time afterwards, a violent storm envelops the undermanned ship, almost driving it onto the rocks surrounding another island. As he struggles to help control the ship, Androcles is washed overboard, to Hercules’ horror. When the storm recedes, we find Hercules lying unconscious on some wreckage; there is no sign of his three companions. A strange mist lies thickly over the water. It parts briefly, and Hercules has a vision of an imprisoned Androcles crying out for his help. Distressed by this, Hercules begs Zeus to help him; to direct him to a way that he may assist Androcles, if this is should be the will of the gods. An unwontedly obliging Zeus – honey rather than vinegar, I guess – pushes the wreckage towards the shore of yet another island. Hercules staggers up the shore, and his attention is immediately arrested by a bizarre sight: stone women, seemingly carved into the very cliff-face, and another woman, still alive, but being engulfed by the rocks around her. Seeing Hercules, she begs him to kill her, and to put an end to her misery.

 

 

Sure, they were made of stone; but when a man's been at sea a while....

 

Hercules, of course, is having none of that. He persists in his questioning of the increasingly panicked girl until she reveals that her captor is the god Proteus. As she speaks his name, Proteus appears; not, it must be said, in the most threatening of forms, unless someone has a particular objection to Old Person Smell. Geriatric Proteus orders Hercules off the island, or else, then fades away, only to reappear as a lizard monster. We don’t get all that clear a look at it here, as Proteus fairly swiftly morphs yet again; but we will shortly and---hoo, Nelly!

 

But for now, Lizardy Proteus turns into Fiery Proteus, sweeping towards Hercules, then changes yet again into Adorable Boa Constrictor Proteus. Hercules struggles to remove ABC Proteus from about his neck and shoulders, then tosses him onto a rock shelf where he morphs into Lion Proteus. And the fight is on!

 

Well, sort of. The lion playing the latest version of Proteus, a half-grown male, was itself the star of many a peplum, exhibiting exactly the same fighting style in each: it rests its chin upon the right shoulder of the other combatant, while holding him around the waist with its front legs and showing no disposition whatsoever either to extend its claws or to bite, even if, as happens here, someone shoves a hand into its mouth. Then, to facilitate its inevitable defeat by the hero du jour, it helpfully flops over onto its back. (In this case, some very unconvincing, and very un-lion-like, snarling is also dubbed in. It’s that same wild-cat-snarl sound that films always use.) You may see the same lion going through exactly the same paces in Atlas In The Land Of The Cyclops, to name only one of its other credits. (Which I had intended to review, before making the horrifying discovering that the film is almost entirely bereft of monsters.) 

 

 

Awww, kitty want a cuddle!

 

Anyway, after this rather charming example of unusually cooperative feline behaviour is enacted here for our edification, Lion Proteus morphs into his own stunt double, Stuffed Lion Proteus, allowing Hercules to pitch him over some rocks. The persistent god is back again in an instant though, having changed into Vulture Proteus (whose wires are more than a little obvious). Hercules bats the bird around as if trying to rid himself of a particularly annoying fly, then hurls it away. Proteus hits the ground, bursts into flames, then turns once again into Lizardy Proteus – yay!! – for the final battle, such as it is. Hercules and his rubbery adversary struggle for a while, until Hercules gets it in a headlock and – oh, ow!! – pulls off its horn. Lizardy Proteus sinks dying to the ground, blood spilling from his now hornless snout (and the light bulbs in his eyes flickering out).

 

As Proteus dies, the rocks holding the girl, whose name is Ismene, fade away, freeing her. She pitches forward, leaving behind a body-shaped impression that begins also to spill blood. Hercules helps her up, explaining that the entire island was a manifestation of Proteus. The girl, far from being grateful for her rescue, frets that it will place her people in danger. As she speaks, those thick mists lying over the waters clear away, and another island (the one upon which the ship was wrecked) can be clearly seen: it is Atlantis.

 

(Here’s an odd thing: this film was released in America as Hercules And The Captive Women, despite the fact that Ismene is the only woman in it even remotely held captive. Plenty of men are, but who cares about them, right?)

 

 

Just one of the many goofy faces of Proteus.

 

Meanwhile, on Atlantis itself, priests and temple guards lead away a number of small boys, as the rest of the people (hey, it’s “the populace”!) bow down in the streets. Hercules and Ismene somehow arrive in time to see this, and---

 

It Begins:

 

“Today is dedicated to Uranus!” says Ismene.

 

A whole day? Wow! Ismene further explains that the Queen of Atlantis is in the temple, carrying out the sacred ceremony. She and Hercules head that way. Meanwhile, amongst the populace, one of the women cracks, jumping to her feet and crying out for her only son, until some others drag her back down and silence her.

 

“Those children are dedicated to Uranus,” comments Ismene, thus explaining the woman’s distress. Well, that, and the detail that the kids are being taken away to “The Mountain Of The Dead”.

 

We then cut into the temple – and the film’s gorgeous production design really comes into its own. (Seriously, the look of this film is quite spectacular; it is worth watching it for that alone, if you can get a good print.) A chariot is driven into the temple (!), and its passenger, the Atlantean High Priest, Zenith, apologises for interrupting, but adds that his news will not wait: “The mists that protect our island have vanished as if by magic. It is now my fear that Atlantis can be seen by mortal eyes.”

 

Antinea, the film’s Obligatory Bad Girl, is played by Fay Spain – yet another of the countless Roger Corman alumni – and a very fine Evil Queen she makes, too. Meanwhile, her offsider, Astor, is a big, beefy guy with blond hair, a beard, no eyebrows and, in a simple but effective piece of makeup work, strangely “covered-over” eyes. Astor makes a memorable entrance at this point, pushing forward and crying out, “Uranus has abandoned us!”

 

Oh, now, that hurts.

 

 

Bad girls are HAWT.

 

At this fairly inopportune moment, Hercules wanders in, introducing himself and dropping his father’s name. Antinea’s guards go rushing up, and are tossed away without difficulty. Antinea herself then intervenes, declaring, “No mortal has ever dared set foot on Atlantis!”

 

(Wait, “the populace” isn’t mortal? By the end of this film, the body count would suggest otherwise.)

 

Hercules then further endears himself to the locals by announcing that he has slain Proteus – who we now learn was the son of Uranus, and Atlantis’s protector. Oops. Hercules also announces the rescue of Ismene, which doesn’t get the response he expected, even after it is revealed that she is Antinea’s daughter. Zenith and Astor cry out against Hercules, but the more politic Antinea pretends to be grateful, thanking Hercules for showing the Atlanteans the error of their ways and inviting him to stay and be feted. She then bestows upon Ismene a rather chilly embrace.

 

Hercules explains his search for Androcles, and Antinea denies all knowledge. Immediately, the shot glides sideways, and we see a strangely hostile-looking Androcles lurking behind a pillar and glaring at his old friend.

 

Mwoo-ha-ha!

 

Once out of sight of Hercules, Ismene gets the unwelcome news that she has to die anyway: as the girl sobs and pleads unavailingly, Antinea explains that according to prophesy, should she be outlived by her daughter, Atlantis would be destroyed. She then has Ismene taken away, to be sacrificed properly this time. We hope.

 

 

I don't know what that is on the wall behind him, but - WANT!!

 

(While the screenplay posits Antinea as an out-and-out Bad Girl, Fay Spain does shade her performance here, showing Antinea as painfully conflicted over Ismene, however unhesitating her conduct.)

 

Meanwhile, Hercules is having a strange experience in a corridor. First he spots Androcles; but as he runs towards him in relief, he collides with his own mirror image. That then disappears, leaving Hercules free to run down a side-corridor after Androcles....only the person he catches up with isn’t Androcles at all, or not his Androcles: this man has the same “covered-over” eyes as Astor. Antinea, arriving with her retinue, puts it all down to an hallucination brought on by tiredness and worry.

 

Elsewhere again, the film deigns to remember that there were more people than just Hercules and Androcles on that wrecked ship. We discover now that Hylus has conspicuously failed to inherit his old man’s brains: with a whole island to choose from, he is trying to sleep on some pointy rocks. Timotheus comes running up with the news that some soldiers are dragging a girl towards the cliffs. Sure enough, we find Ismene being tied to a wooden stake, prefatory to being tossed off the cliff at sunset. This strikes even the soldiers tying her up as odd: “Why wait until sunset? Why not kill her now?” he asks, only to be put off with the unsatisfactory explanation of, “Orders.”

 

(There’s lovely moment here, chiefly courtesy of whoever did the voice-work for the soldier in charge, when he responds to Ismene’s silent pleading by putting his hands on his hips and retorting in a very un-soldierly way, “Oh, don’t you look at me like that!”)

 

 

Soldier #1: "Why don't we just kill her now?"  Soldier #2: "IITS."

 

Anyway, the “sunset” arrangement conveniently gives Hylus and Timotheus a chance to intervene, which they do with surprising efficiency. (Hilariously, this action is accompanied by the main theme from The Creature From The Black Lagoon!) Only one of the soldiers gets away, and he rides back to the city to report this situation; a course of action that will, to put it mildly, turn out to be a mistake. Hylus unties Ismene, and naturally it’s all hand-holding and goo-goo eyes from the get-go. Ismene mentions Hercules, to Hylus’ joy. “If he’s here, we’re all safe!” he asserts.

 

Well, maybe. I can’t say that our next glimpse of Hercules inspires much confidence, as we find him lounging at Antinea’s banquet wearing a distinctly effeminate pale yellow head-dress, and watching a male dancer. Hmm. (This dancer jumps through a magic flame, which turns him from white to black and back again. Hmm, once more.) The film chooses this moment to initiate the inevitable Bad-Girl-Falls-For-Hero subplot; and I am somewhat dismayed to have to report that Hercules responds to Antinea’s overtures. Now, of course, Hercules often does end up cheating on Deianira (or Iole), but at least there’s usually some sort of enchantment involved. This time around, there’s no excuse at all for the big lug. (Possibly he thinks that his desertion of the missus being involuntary wins him a free pass. Wrong.) However, the search for Androcles is still paramount in Hercules’ mind. Antinea plays along, offering him a new ship.

 

That night, as Hercules sleeps, a shadowy figure slips into his room and tries to kill him with a hatchet. Hercules wakes just in time to save his own life and discover that his assailant is – gasp! – Androcles. Androcles starts muttering about how much he hates Hercules, refers to himself as an Atlantean, then helpfully has a James Bond moment and reveals to Hercules that it is Antinea’s forces that pose the threat to Greece. He also raves about blood and fire, just as the visionary prophet did back in Thebes; and warns that all of Hercules’ gods will be swept away, to be replaced by “the one great god: URANUS!!”

 

 

Deianira who?

 

Andocles then attacks Hercules again, and is knocked out. Antinea wanders in, all apologetic over the whole not-telling-you-your-friend’s-a-raving-loony thing. She has her guards take Androcles away, with orders to, “Take care of him!” – mwoo-ha-ha! – and then snuggles up to Hercules, suggesting that perhaps the two of them can, “Care for him together.” One of Antinea’s handmaidens offers Hercules some wine, accompanying it with a warning glance. Hercules raises the cup to his lips, however – and in moments is slumped across his bed. Antinea gropes him a little more, then leaves, locking the door behind her....

 

....at which point, Hercules spits out his mouthful of wine and sits up. He escapes from his room by bending the bars on the windows, bending them back carefully afterwards.

 

In the throne-room, Antinea is listening to the report of the one soldier who escaped from Hylus and Timotheus. Not surprisingly, Antinea is less than thrilled with what he has to say. Two of her personal guards, their faces covered in full helmets, step forward, seizing the soldier. Antinea’s throne slides back, revealing a vat of acid (sitting over that must be....interesting); and in spite of the soldier’s hysterical pleas, he is carried to the pit and dropped in bodily. The acid boils and bubbles, until the fumes die away to reveal only a skeleton....which oddly is facing up, head right, when the soldier was dropped in face down, head left. Oh, well.

 

In yet another of the film’s many, many WTF moments, Astor then confesses to having imprisoned Androcles – in a weird little sarcophagus-thing that sits smack in the throne-room. Just down from the vat of acid. Antinea has Androcles removed from it, and carried off to “the valley”, where he is condemned “to die with all the other weaklings”.

 

“Then go and find me Ismene,” Antinea concludes, hissing the words through her teeth, “and kill her! KILL HER!!”

 

So I guess she got over her conflict. 

 

 

WHY do they always go back and report their failure!?

 

The soldiers sent on these missions ride past Hercules. Seeing that they have Androcles, Hercules ambushes the hindmost and takes his horse, following the others. First the soldiers, then Hercules, ride past Hylus, Ismene and Timotheus, hiding in the bushes at the side of the road. They set out in pursuit. Everyone’s destination turns out to be a huge pit within the mountains, occupied by dozens of scarred men in ragged clothing, who are fed only with raw meat tossed into the pit by their guards. As this is going on, the still-unconscious Androcles is lowered in by a rope.

 

Meanwhile, Hercules is watching in horror from another vantage point. Timotheus catches up with him, and it is now, at this belated point in the proceedings, that Hercules learns of Hylus’ involvement in his kidnapping, and his presence in Atlantis. As for Hylus himself, he is busy attacking the huge barricade that seals the pit with a battering-ram, but only succeeds in nearly knocking himself out. Ismene comforts him, but also assures him that his attempt is hopeless, and will merely bring the guards down upon them.

 

“If my father catches me with a girl, he’ll never let me leave the house again!” Hylus responds, in a masterpiece of non sequitur-dom. (Also, hmm, once again.)

 

At that moment, the guards do spot them. Hylus puts up a stout defence, but it is Hercules’ arrival that saves the day. Hercules then smashes through the barricade, freeing the men within. Three soldiers ride up. Hercules takes care of two of them, while the third gallops away.

 

I tell you, if he rides back and reports this to Antinea, I am giving up.

 

 

Antinea's Sarcophagus Prison. Just beyond her Throne Of Acid.

[Bad girls rock!]

 

The freed men bring out the still-still-unconscious Androcles, handing him over to Hercules, who carries him gently away (thus fulfilling his own part of that early vision, although the point is not really made). This new, improved, mannerly Hercules then takes a moment to thank Zeus for sparing his friend’s life.

 

Ah! Instead of reporting to Antinea, that fleeing soldier reports to more of his own kind, on the far side of the pit – although the outcome isn’t much different, as he optimistically orders the men to kill every one of the escaping prisoners, who outnumber the soldiers a good ten-to-one. (In fact, there are so many of them, about half don’t bother joining in the ensuing fight.) That taken care of, one of the newly liberated men acts as Captain Exposition, pointing out his own scars – radiation burns, more correctly – and explains to Hercules that on The Mountain Of The Dead there is a “miraculous rock”, with “the power to change men”, which Antinea has been using to create “a new race”. Those who resisted were cast into the pit; the others became “creatures of evil”.

 

Hercules and his new friend set out to find and destroy the “miraculous rock”, telling the others to wait where they are. There have already been mutterings about attacking the city, however, and it is not long before the former pit-dwellers have set out on their quest for revenge. Hylus goes after them to try and stop them, leaving Ismene and Timotheus to look after the still-still-STILL-unconscious Androcles.

 

With surprisingly little difficulty, Hercules and his guide – the dubbing never bothers to give him a name; I guess I’ll call him Guido – find the cave that contains the fiery rock. This, Guido proclaims to have “the secret of life and death”.

 

“You don’t believe me, Hercules?” he then demands, without really giving Hercules a chance to respond. “You think I’m mad!? – that suffering has warped my mind!? – is that it!? But what if it’s true? You can’t believe that a piece of rock can destroy a man as we know him? You can’t believe that a piece of rock can change bodies as well as minds!? That rock may give us life, Hercules, but it also brings death! – with dead men who walk, Hercules! Unbelievable horrors!”

 

With that, he steps forward into the light emanating from the rock, and is instantly vaporised.

 

Well. That seemed....unnecessary.

 

“It was his destiny,” remarks a voice behind Hercules. “I’m sure he’s better off where he is now.”

 

 

"This puckery hole is the seat of Uranus!"

 

Oh, easy for you to say. It’s Zenith, by the way, the High Priest. Hercules finally finds his voice, demanding to know Zenith’s  credentials. The High Priest replies that before Zeus and the others took over, another god ruled on Olympus: “URANUS!!” – who was betrayed by his own son (would that be Proteus, or another one?), and “thrust into the great unknown”. So to speak. We then hear how the god’s blood fell upon Atlantis, making its people, “The heirs to all the powers of Uranus.” What, all of them? The blood, Zenith concludes, became the rock, which gave light and darkness, good and evil. Antinea (who, like Zenith, is ages old, if not exactly immortal), searched out the rock’s secrets, in order to make use of them. Centuries of sacrifice and ritual murder followed, until at last Antinea, having elucidated, “The mystic secrets of Uranus!”, was in a position to make herself omnipotent, capable of destroying mankind and the gods alike.

 

Hercules, hearing this, vows to destroy the rock.

 

“No-one can destroy the blood of Uranus!” declares Zenith. It’s difficult to know whether to be glad or sorry. Zenith then helpfully reveals that the rock can, in fact, be destroyed, “By a force above and beyond this earth!” Hercules demands to know what it is, but Zenith tells him that – surprise! – first he must undergo a trial of strength. Hercules prays to Zeus to help him in his trial, then moves forward into the rock’s light. It envelops, but does not harm him. Zenith is suitably impressed, and reveals that, “Only the rays of the sun can destroy the rock of Uranus!” He adds that once sunlight has touched the rock, not just it, but Antinea, and indeed all of Atlantis, will be destroyed. Hercules assures Zenith that he will try to find a way of defeating Antinea without harming Atlantis or its people.

 

In the city, the invading ex-prisoners meet the soldiery in a surprisingly intense fight scene. Although they are armed only with sticks and rocks, the prisoners outnumber the soldiers and begin to get the upper hand. A watching Antinea glances at Astor. He responds by turning out the queen’s personal guard. The result is a slaughter....

 

 

So much for the immortality of the Atlanteans.

 

Hercules, upon his return, stares in horror at the bodies that litter the temple and the streets. Sickened – and frightened that Hylus may be amongst the casualties – he forces his way into the throne-room, bellowing for Antinea. She assures him that Hylus, at least, is safe; that she spared his life because of her love for Hercules. She then invites him to join her in her conquest of the earth: she will be ruler of all mankind, and he will be their one and only god. She follows this up with a lingering kiss, which Hercules allows – boo, hiss! – but then he puts her aside to ask how, exactly, she expects to accomplish her plans? Antinea strikes a gong. Astor and several of the guard enter. Antinea declares them to be an unstoppable force – a supreme race, born of the blood of Uranus.

 

Antinea then challenges Hercules to a combat of strength, asking him to throw a marble table across the room. He does, and it shatters. One of Antinea’s guards then accomplishes the same feat (and in both cases, the pre-break lines in the tables are amusingly evident).

 

Possibly more irritated than he is showing, Hercules declares Antinea’s plans “a mad dream”. He then fights and overcomes those of the guard already present, but many more men pour in and surround him. As Hercules gazes helplessly, they simultaneously lift off their full-face helmets, to reveal that they are indeed all the sons of Uranus....

 

 

The result of exposure to the blood of Uranus.

 

As the men close in, Hercules backs away, climbing a set of stairs. Finally he is pressed against a wall, which gives way to reveal a secret passage. Hercules tumbles down it and finds himself in a cell – along with Hylus.

 

“And so once again you have disobeyed me!” remarks the fond father.

 

Gas begins pouring into the cell from openings near the floor; and suddenly, Hercules recognises his surroundings: this is the cell of his vision, in which Androcles was held. Concluding that the gas brought on Androcles’ insanity, Hercules begins frantically searching for a way out. At that moment, the ceiling begins to descend. Fortunately, Hercules is able to tilt it on its axis, so that when its edge hits the ground, he and Hylus can climb out. They do so, then using a huge chain as a ladder, and find themselves in a warren of corridors. A single guard is quickly disposed of. Hercules orders Hylus to find his way out and off the island, even asking it as a favour, when Hylus protests. “Take care of your mother,” Hercules finishes ominously. No sooner is his father out of sight, however, than Hylus begins to strip the uniform off the dead guard....

 

All together now: “And so once again you have disobeyed me....

 

Hercules finds his way to the temple and hijacks the royal chariot. He is chased by the guard, but manages to use lamp oil to set up a fiery barricade that stops most of his pursuers. As for the others---well, just down a bit further, there’s a pillar in the middle of the corridor....and you know Hercules and pillars....

 

 

"I really shouldn't....but when will I be here again?"

 

Hercules escapes just ahead of the crumbling masonry, and finds himself back at the chamber of Uranus’ rock. He seizes a huge metal spike on a chain and, draping it about his neck, begins to scale the walls. Reaching a point over the fiery rock, he begins to chip away using the spike. At length he breaks through, and for the first time a beam of sunlight cuts across the darkness of the cave....

 

....while as for myself, all of a sudden I was jerked out of the film, or rather I began to look at it from a different perspective.

 

I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but to me, everything about that single shot, the use of light and colour, and the composition, absolutely screamed Mario Bava. When I later found that Ercole Alla Conquista Di Atlantide is indeed listed in All The Colors Of The Dark as yet another of Bava’s uncredited efforts, I was not in the least surprised (although I couldnt help feeling rather pleased with myself).

.

.

He might as well have signed his name in the corner.

 

In the chamber, Zenith, strangely unconcerned, concedes that it is now only a matter of time before the sunlight touches the rock, destroying both it and Atlantis. Hercules does not stay to chat, but sprints towards the way out.

 

While all this is going on, the disguised Hylas encounters Timotheus, learning that Ismene and Androcles have both been captured and scheduled for sacrifice – again – this time by being left bound on a burning ship. Pretending to have captured Timotheus, Hylas boards the ship in question, telling the soldiers that Antinea’s plans have changed and ordering them to raise the sail before going ashore. He then reveals himself to Ismene, and we get an exchange of dialogue all too rare in a film like this:

 

Hylus:  “Don’t cry out, Ismene! You’re safe now!”

Ismene [not lowering her voice]:  “Hylus!”

Hylus:  “Be quiet, stupid!”

 

In the palace, Antinea futzes with some pretty pink Whooshing Powder©. The last soldier on the ship spots this signal, and reaches for a flaming torch, only to be thrown overboard by Hylus, who frees Ismene and the still-still-STILL-STILL-unconscious Androcles and commandeers the vessel. On the cliffs nearby, Hercules emerges from the underground tunnels and executes a hair-raising dive into the waters far below before striking out for the ship, where Hylus and Ismene greet him joyfully. (This, by the way, was the only stunt in the film that Reg Park did not perform himself. Understandably: it’s scary enough done by a professional.)

In the cave, the beam of sunlight creeps ever closer to the rock….and then touches it. Remember Hercules’ promise to try and stop Antinea without destroying Atlantis and its people? Yeah, that didn’t really work out. The rock goes up in a massive explosion, as does Atlantis itself, in footage largely cribbed – not for the first time, nor for the last – from Gli Ultimi Giorni Di Pompei (which was co-directed by Sergio Leone, and stars Steve Reeves). These scenes are accompanied by more music pinched from The Creature From The Black Lagoon: dah-dah-daaaah!! (Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best!)

Antinea retreats to the temple and begs for the protection of Uranus. That really doesn’t work out either. The temple shakes and crumbles, and the dedicated statue holding up the roof begins to topple; and Antinea suffers the most mortifying of all deaths, as she is crushed by Uranus.

Don't you hate it when Uranus gives way?
[Okay, okay, I'm done, I promise!]

Antinea’s death of course fulfills the prophecy about the destruction of Atlantis. Its buildings crumble, crushing its people; fires and explosions tear across the land; and the island itself sinks into the sea….

Watching, Ismene weeps for her lost land; Hylus consoles her. On the deck – by the gods!! a miracle!! – Androcles wakes up!! As it turns out, he has no memory of anything beyond the storm and the shipwreck. “So you don’t remember what you did?” says Hercules. “You saved all of Greece!”

The two men roar with manly laughter; Hylus and Ismene kiss; and the ship sails off to the east, back through those straits from whence someone has now returned; to Greece, where Deianira waits….

….hopefully with rolling-pin in hand.

Want a second opinion of Hercules And The Conquest Of Atlantis (and/or more Uranus jokes)? Visit Teleport City.

 

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----re-posted 29/09/2009