ERCOLE E LA REGINA DI LIDIA (HERCULES AND THE QUEEN OF LIDIA (1959)
[aka Hercules And The Queen Of Sheba aka Hercules Unchained]

"My name’s Ulysses. You and I have been comrades. We were captured and brought here. I tell you that we must get out of here! What I saw was so terrible…."

Director: Pietro Francisci
Starring: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Sylvia Lopez, Gabriele Antonini, Sergio Fantoni, Mimmo Palmara, Andrea Fantasia, Primo Canera, Cesare Fantoni, Carlo D’Angelo
Screenplay: Ennio De Concini and Pietro Francisci

Synopsis: A man on a stretcher is carried into the presence of Queen Omphale of Lidia (Sylvia Lopez) and her young lover. As she caresses the unconscious man, Omphale gestures to her guards, who draw their swords and kill her lover…. After many adventures, Hercules (Steve Reeves), his bride Iole (Sylva Koscina), and the young Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini) land in Attica. Ulysses’ father, Laertes (Andrea Fantasia), King of Ithaca, asks Iole and Hercules to look after his son, then gives Ulysses two carrier pigeons, telling him to send a message to Ithaca if he is in trouble. The adventurers set out in a covered wagon. Hercules brags about the wonders of the city of Thebes. At that moment, the wagon is overtaken by a band of mercenary soldiers who, disturbingly, are commanded by a Theben. As the wagon enters a valley, it is stopped by Antaeus (Primo Canera), a giant of a man, who announces that no-one passes through without paying a price. When Antaeus decides that he wants Iole, he and Hercules fight. When Ulysses realises that Antaeus is the son of the Earth goddess, and draws strength from contact with the ground, Hercules lifts Antaeus into the air and throws him over a low cliff into the sea. The three travel on, entering a forest, where they encounter the soldiers who passed them earlier. One of them insults Iole, and Hercules strikes him down. It begins to rain, and the travellers take shelter in a cave, where they are astonished to hear voices. It is Oedipus (Cesare Fantoni), who is accusing his son, Polinices (Mimmo Palmara), of driving him out of his kingdom, along with his brother, Eteocles (Sergio Fantoni). Hercules approaches. Recognising his voice, Oedipus tells him that Thebes is in danger; that his sons convinced him to renounce his throne, agreeing to rule in alternate years; but that at the end of his year, Eteocles has refused to step down. Hercules offers to go to Eteocles. Polinices agrees to let Hercules try to enforce the brothers’ pact, then leaves with his soldiers. A violent storm erupts, and the gates to the Underworld open in the cave. Oedipus enters willingly…. Hercules and his companions travel to Thebes, where Hercules forces his way into Eteocles’ presence despite the objections of Creon (Carlo D’Angelo), the High Priest. Hercules tells Eteocles why he is there, and after some circumlocution, the king agrees to adhere to the pact. Later, Eteocles brings a formal treaty to Hercules’ house and asks him to deliver it to Polinices. Hercules accepts the mission, even though this means leaving Iole. Creon promises to look after her. Hercules and Ulysses set out. In time, they stop beside a spring. Hercules sends Ulysses to hunt for game for their dinner, then drinks from the spring, not knowing that these are the Waters Of Forgetfulness. The horses, too, drink the water, then bolt in a panic, passing Ulysses. Hurrying to the camp, Ulysses finds Hercules trying to find the singer of a strange song, which Ulysses cannot hear. Then he collapses, unconscious. Ulysses realises that they are surrounded by soldiers. To protect himself, he pretends to be a deaf-mute. Some of the soldiers put Hercules on a stretcher. Others fill waterbags at the spring, which then vanishes. Hercules and Ulysses are taken over the sea to the island of Lidia. Queen Omphale is told of their approach by a young man, who begs her not to desert him. As Omphale kneels beside Hercules, she gestures, and her soldiers kill the young man. When Hercules finally regains consciousness, he wanders out into a sun-drenched garden, where waterfalls cascade into a lake. Passing beneath the falls, Hercules finds himself in Omphale’s throne-room, and begs her to tell him who and where he is. Omphale summons Ulysses, but Hercules says that he has never seen him before. At that, Omphale invites Hercules to sit beside her, telling him that he is King of Lidia – and her husband. Delighted, Hercules takes Omphale in a passionate embrace….

Comments: Gather round, kiddies, while Auntie Liz tells you a story. You see, once upon a time, far, far away, movie sequels didn’t go into production before the original film was in the theatres; or even as soon as the opening weekend takings for the original were tallied up. No, really, it’s true! And so it was that, despite the worldwide success of The Labors Of Hercules in 1957, it was two years before Hercules And The Queen Of Lidia (Hercules Unchained for most English-speaking audiences) was released. Most commentators seem to feel that this sequel isn’t up to the original (surprise!), but I actually liked it better – although this may be for artificial reasons. Although the two films were shown here by the same cable network, I saw The Labors Of Hercules pan & scanned, but Hercules And The Queen Of Lidia in a beautiful letterboxed print. And it’s a wonderful film to look at! The production design is absolutely spectacular (although I haven’t been able to find out whose work it is – anyone?), and the film is graced by the cinematography of Mario Bava, who was also responsible for the special effects. Conversely, the film’s main flaw is also an artificial one: as was true of the original, the dubbing is very bad. One scene in particular is close to unbearable (more on that later), while there is also some evidence of memory slippage on the part of the voice artists (for instance, King Pelias becomes "Pelly-as", rather than "Pel-i-as". Although I guess that’s a small point compared to the fact that in neither this film nor the preceding one could anyone agree on how to pronounce "Iole"). Where Hercules And The Queen Of Lidia has it all over its predecessor is in the character of its villain. Readers may remember that I complained about the lack of the traditional "evil" woman in The Labors Of Hercules, the legendary Amazons being depicted as nothing more than vacuous bimbos. Well, here that misstep is more than compensated for, in the character of Queen Omphale. Although Sylva Koscina scored second billing on the credits, she is offscreen for a large portion of the story (which is, frankly, a relief: her Iole is no less irritating here than she was in The Labors Of Hercules); and it is Sylvia Lopez’s Omphale who steals both the limelight and the show. She is, in fact, a thoroughly nasty piece of work – with a most remarkable "hobby"….and it is her contribution to the story that guarantees Hercules And The Queen Of Lidia its small piece of cinematic immortality.

This film is a sequel in the true sense of the word, reuniting the same cast and picking up exactly where the first story left off, with the Argonauts depositing Hercules, his new bride Iole and the young Ulysses on the shores of Attica, from whence they plan to travel to Hercules’ home in Thebes. Ulysses has a slightly tearful parting from his father, Laertes, who gives him a gift of two pigeons which, he promises, will fly to Ithaca when released, and can thus carry a message in the case of any danger. These poor birds are eventually pressed into service, of course, but not before suffering through some absolutely horrendous situations, including being confined in a round wicker cage strapped to the saddles of galloping horses (no "No pigeons were harmed…." credit here). In the course of the scene, Hercules calls Iole "the one who put me in chains". "I’d like to see anyone put you in chains," scoffs Iole – and if you think this might be a piece of Subtle Foreshadowing, go to the head of the class. On the way to Thebes, Hercules brags about his hometown – the city, the people, their manners – although oddly, he fails to mention the fact that it’s ruled by a man who killed his father, married his mother, then put out his own eyes. At this moment, mounted soldiers gallop by, leaving the travellers to literally eat their dust. Observing that the soldiers were led by a Theben – although how he knows this is a bit of a mystery – Ulysses remarks that he doesn’t care much for what he’s seen so far of the manners of Thebes. Iole and Ulysses continue teasing Hercules about Thebes until he hands the reins to Ulysses and climbs into the back of the wagon to take a nap. To pass the time, Iole takes out her lyre and sings a song – and never were the horrors of dubbing more comprehensively illustrated, as what emerges from her lips (well – not exactly from) is an icky little torch song called "Evening Star" which would clearly be more at home in a smoky fifties nightclub. This painful interlude lasts several minutes, until the travellers are (thankfully) waylaid by the gigantic Antaeus. (Antaeus is played by Primo Canera, a professional wrestler, who is big enough to make Steve Reeves look small!) Antaeus starts out demanding the horses and any gold. "You’re taking advantage of the fact that you’re Antaeus!" complains Ulysses. Well, duh, says Antaeus, deciding he’ll have Iole, as well. When Ulysses intervenes ("I’ll show you what a ‘boy’ can do!"), he is thrown a considerable distance through the air (not a hell of a lot). "Hercules, he’ll kill him!" hisses Iole to her husband who, for reasons best known to himself, is still pretending to be too sleepy to do anything. ("Heh! I’ll let this big guy murderise them! That’ll teach ‘em to jeer at Thebes!") Hearing that Iole has a husband who is dozing, as the embarrassed bride confesses, Antaeus goes to the back of the wagon and tells Hercules that he’s "adopting the lady". "And what does the lady say to that?" inquires Hercules. "Oh, she’d like a new husband, like any women," opines Antaeus. This settled, Hercules shrugs and goes back to "sleep". But Antaeus has other ideas. "C’mon, let’s fight!" he urges. "Gladly!" says Herc, and finally springs into action. The ensuing fight is interesting, since Our Hero actually takes a fair pounding, and because every time Antaeus is knocked down, he returns to the fight with increased strength (and an appropriately giant-like "Ho, ho, ho!"). Suddenly, Ulysses has a flash of deductive brilliance worthy of Sherlock Holmes. "This must be Antaeus!" Gee, no kidding! More helpfully, Ulysses adds that Antaeus draws his strength from contact with the ground. Hercules then lifts his opponent into the air and tosses him off a ledge into the ocean. Antaeus shakes his fist as defeated bad guys are wont to do, and the travellers move on.

Some time later, the weary Iole asks if they can stop for the night. Hercules says that they will camp in the forest just ahead of them, a place he knows well. "It’s quiet there," he tells the others, then adds encouragingly, "They say that the Gates of the Inferno are hidden amongst its trees!" To Hercules’ surprise, they find the soldiers who passed them on the road camped up ahead. It then begins to rain. As Iole runs for cover, she is grabbed by the Theben leader of the soldiers. (In a subtle piece of characterisation, he: (i) wears black all the time; and (ii) says "Mwoo-ha-ha!" a lot.) Herc intervenes, of course, leaving the soldier sprawling on the ground. He and Iole hurry away, and Ulysses scuttles after them, giving the glowering Man In Black a "What he said!" look. The three travellers enter a cave, laughing merrily over Herc’s latest act of violence. Suddenly, they hear voices. It is Oedipus, the king. In one of those helpful expository scenes, Oedipus reminds his son, Polinices, that he and his brother, Eteocles, forced him to renounce his throne, and that they agreed to share it, ruling for alternate years; and further, that Eteocles has refused to step down, and that the conflict between the two is likely to destroy Thebes. At this, Hercules intervenes. Oedipus immediately recognises his voice, saying that it reminds him of happier times. (Er---and when would that have been, Oedipus?) Hercules offers to go as an emissary to Thebes, to try and convince Eteocles to keep his side of the bargain. Polinices is sulky, but finally agrees, giving him six days. Polinices then leaves with his men. "Goodbye, father," he says, adding snittily (in probably the best line in the film), "You wanted sons like Hercules, but you deserved us."

(By the way, Polinices is played by Mimmo Palmara, who completely embarrassed himself with his performance as Iphitus in The Labors Of Hercules. Here, he protects himself from audience members with long memories by disguising himself in an orange wig, mustache and beard, and – wonder of wonders! – by toning down his performance. While it is still fairly ripe, it is overshadowed by Sergio Fantoni’s maniacal ranting and giggling as Eteocles.)

Polinices has barely withdrawn when a violent storm breaks – within the cave. The rocks behind Oedipus open up, and the blind ex-king voluntarily enters the Inferno…. The next thing we know, Herc & Co. are forcing their way into the company of Eteocles, who – not to put too fine a point on it – turns out to be a Right Nutter. Along with his minions, Eteocles is busy watching one more in a long line of suckers attempting to train Eteocles’ three tigers. As you might anticipate, it ends in tears. As the corpse is carried away, Eteocles finally lends an ear to what Hercules has to say. After much raving, punctuated by loud "Ahhh-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"-s, Eteocles agrees to step down from the throne, saying he needs to go and find more potential tiger trainers. Ulysses, never one to miss the Bleeding Obvious, remarks, "Did you ever see anyone so close to madness?" Later, Iole bemoans the fact that she and Hercules must part. He feels the same way, but answers that since Thebes is in danger, he has no choice. Eteocles brings a formal treaty to be taken to Polinices, and Herc and Ulysses set out. After much galloping (with those poor damn pigeons being slammed back and forth in their wicker cage), the two discover a Mysterious Spring. We know it’s Mysterious, as a chorus of "Ooh-ooh-ooh" is heard on the soundtrack. Ulysses is suspicious, but Hercules is thinking only of his stomach. Sending Ulysses to hunt down some dinner, Herc waters the horses and himself. As he drinks, the god-like voiceover that has been filling viewers in on the significance of various events chimes in again, telling us that "These are the Waters Of Forgetfulness! Those who drink of them shall forget all!" (Obviously, you couldn’t expect an audience to figure something like that out for itself from subsequent events – like Herc announcing, "I can’t remember anything!" Nope, better spoon-feed ‘em, just to be on the safe side….) Ulysses is on his way back from a successful hunt when the horses bolt past him, shedding those unfortunate pigeons, which Ulysses notices, and the treaty, which he doesn’t. Hurrying back to camp, Ulysses finds Herc trying to locate the singer of a song that Ulysses cannot hear. He then collapses. Ulysses tries to revive him, but suddenly realises that they are surrounded by soldiers. He then tries even harder to revive him. When this fails, Ulysses calculates the odds against him and decides to pose as Herc’s deaf-mute servant – something that involves much gesturing, eye-rolling, and "Uh-uh-uh"-ing. The soldiers carry the unconscious Herc and Ulysses onto a ship, and they sail for the island of Lidia.

Now, pre-credits we saw a perplexing series of events involving Queen Omphale of Lidia and an unidentified young man. As a second man, unconscious on a stretcher, was carried into Omphale’s presence, she was seen to gesture to her soldiers, five of whom drew their swords and hacked the young man to death. This scenario is now repeated, as another young man – the one from the stretcher? – nervously announces that Omphale’s soldiers are returning, adding desperately, "You won’t desert me, will you? You said you loved me!" Omphale – a gorgeous redhead who must spend an incredible amount of time applying her eye makeup – does not deign to reply, but merely approaches the unconscious Hercules as he is carried into the room. Kneeling, Omphale runs appreciative hands over his physique – and then gestures, and the second young man goes the way of the first…. (Clearly, Omphale is a firm believer in being off with the old love before being on with the new.) An unspecified time later, Hercules regains consciousness, suffering a splitting headache and having no idea who he is, or where. Staggering out into the sunlight, Herc sees a lake with a waterfall emptying into it. Passing under the cascade, Hercules enters Omphale’s throne-room, finding her surrounded by the usual crew of giggly handmaidens, who run off in that way that the women in all these films, who are invariably clad in micro-miniskirts, tend to – i.e. carefully. Hercules confesses to Omphale that he can’t remember anything, not even who he is. To test him, Omphale has Ulysses brought into his presence, but Herc denies ever having seen him before. Her eyes gleaming, Omphale serves Herc wine and has some girls perform a suggestive dance. "What is my name?" Herc asks Omphale. "Does it matter?" she shrugs. Won over by her arguments, Herc takes Omphale into his arms and---well, perhaps we’d better draw a veil around the next bit.

Meanwhile, back in Thebes, Iole is doing pointless embroidery and her handmaidens, obviously even more at a loss for something to do, are pawing through their mistress’s possessions. One of them, finding a heavy piece of chain at the bottom of a trunk holds it up with a quizzical expression. "Does this mean something to you and Hercules?" Iole does not answer, but dissolves into tears, probably leaving the handmaidens with a pretty kinky idea of what she and Herc get up to in their spare time. Creon, the High Priest of Thebes, tries to comfort Iole by reminding her that Hercules is negotiating a treaty, and that these things take time. ("Negotiating a treaty"!? HA! Never heard it called that before!) In Lidia, Ulysses manages to release one of his long-suffering pigeons before being hauled off and put to "work". This turns out to be giving Herc a full body massage. Sleepily, Herc imparts a piece of wisdom to his young companion: that you should sleep by day and stay awake at night – otherwise, you lose the best part of your life! (Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more! Please say no more….) A soldier, accompanied by the Giggle Brigade, brings food to Hercules. The soldier fills a goblet with water. Having seen the soldier fill his waterbag from the Mysterious Spring, Ulysses manages to knock the goblet over. He then tries to convince Hercules that he is, in fact, Hercules. Having no success, he then pronounces, "Iole!" "Oh, go away! I don’t understand a thing!" responds Herc grouchily. Not one to give up without a fight, Ulysses declaims rapidly, "Iole! Your marriage!! Eteocles!!! Polinices!!!! The message!!!!! The perilous war against Thebes!!!!!!" When this wins him nothing but a blank stare, Ulysses tries a new tactic: he brings Herc the iron torch-holder that stands by the door and asks him to bend it. Humouring him, Herc tries - but he can’t do it. Ulysses then hears footsteps, and returns the torch-holder to its place just as Omphale – and really, there’s no other word for it – sashays into the room. She and Herc kiss, and she asks him whether he slept well? "Wonderfully," purrs Herc. Hey, hang on! Didn’t we just learn that Herc favours staying awake at night? Oh, wait a minute: maybe "sleep" is a euphemism! Then again, maybe not, as Herc’s next line is: "I dreamt of ya." (No, really, that’s how he says it.) However, he adds, in the dream she looked different. She was blonde, with a sweet smile. Omphale accepts this with remarkable good humour, and the two canoodle a bit more.

Ulysses’ pigeon arrives in Ithaca, and Laertes immediately gathers the Argonauts and sets out for Lidia. Back in Thebes, Eteocles is busy accusing Hercules of selling him out to Polinices, whose army is gathering outside the city. When Creon protests, Eteocles has Iole, who was caught while trying to run away, brought into the room. Iole denies knowing Herc’s whereabouts. Eteocles announces that she will be held as a hostage, and that all Thebens who support Polinices will be arrested – starting with Creon! Meanwhile, in Lidia, Herc is lying around stuffing his face with what looks awfully like pizza (pan pizza, too!) when Ulysses sees him about to drink The Water, and literally dives across the room to knock it from his grasp. (No slow motion "NOOOOO!!!!" though, strangely.) Telling Herc that The Water has caused his memory loss, Ulysses takes one more crack at convincing him of the truth. For one brief instant, the name "Hercules" seems to mean something…. Encouraged, Ulysses tells Herc how the two of them came to be in Lidia, and that they have to escape immediately, as he has managed to discover Queen Omphale’s Terrible Secret – which, amazingly, isn’t just her serial slaughter of her serial lovers….

Now, what do I do here? Omphale’s Terrible Secret is the highlight of the film, no question about it. The rest of the film is entertaining, although not particularly imaginative; but this…. This you should all have the chance of seeing unawares. So I guess I’ll do this---

SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!!

---and let you decide whether to read on or not for yourselves.

So – it transpires that while Ulysses was hunting around for a way to escape, he found a cave behind some bushes, leading away from the throne-room. And in this cave is the evidence of The Terrible Secret: that Omphale does not merely have her discarded lovers killed – she has them stuffed and mounted!! The cave is a museum of sorts, filled with the previous imbibers of the Waters Of Forgetfulness, all posed to represent the way they were in life (leaving us to see Omphale as a distant ancestress of Madame Tussaud). As Ulysses wanders through the cave, gawping in horror at Herc’s predecessors, he discovers an opening that leads to a chamber below. It is here that Omphale’s handymen – all imported from Egypt – toil; and as Ulysses watches, the young man who died crying, "You said you loved me!" (heh!) is lifted out of a large tank of smoking, bubbling liquid. As Omphale, who is nearby (along with her completely unperturbed handmaidens), praises her team for their skill in "fixing for eternity a man’s character", the head man – who clearly loves his work – asks enthusiastically, "When can we expect to get to work on Hercules?" Omphale, however, leaves without answering, raising a Nasty Suspicion in the viewer’s mind….

END SPOILER ALERT!!!! END SPOILER ALERT!!!!

Hercules, of course, does not believe what Ulysses tells him, but he is at least uneasy. He tries once more to bend the torch-holder, and this time he succeeds. He then storms off. Ulysses follows hopefully, but rolls his eyes in disgust as he sees Herc and Omphale lip-wrestling again. The pair is interrupted by distant horns, and learns that Laertes and his companions have landed. Hercules demands grumpily that they be sent away, but Omphale says that as queen, she must greet them (her first and last attempt at anything remotely "regal"). Omphale’s greeting of the crew is interrupted when Hercules stalks into the room. Astonished, Laertes greets him by name and asks after Ulysses, but Herc brushes him aside and storms out again. The Argonauts are forced to accept Omphale’s lame insistence that this is not "Hercules", and allow themselves to be escorted away. At the last moment, Omphale runs her eyes over Castor and asks him suggestively, "Haven’t we met somewhere before…?"

Hercules struggles desperately to regain his memory, hearing his friends’ voices in his head; while elsewhere, Omphale breaks off a snogging session with Castor, asking him to leave her. "Why did you ask me here? You don’t really want me," he observes. His first guess is that she wants to coax information out of him as to the reason for the Argonauts’ presence. His second hits the mark: she has fallen in love with Hercules who, he tells her, she can never hold. Omphale collapses in tearful rage, announcing, "I curse the day he entered this palace!" At this unfortunate moment, Hercules enters, having regained his memory. Omphale faces his fury, confident that he will not hurt her, as he must know that she truly loves him. Hercules does stay his hand, and Omphale throws herself at his feet, clutching his calf and pressing her face against his thigh. "If only my sincerity could make you stay!" she warbles. But when Hercules rejects her, she observes snidely that even Iole can’t take away from her what they’ve shared. To Hercules’ surprise, Omphale then gathers the Argonauts, announces that this is Hercules, and that they are all free to leave. But at the last moment – surprise! – an ambush is sprung. Omphale urges her soldiers on, begging, however, that they "spare me Hercules!" This, of course, is the film’s traditional Hercules Wrecks The Palace scene, with the Lidian guards being squished in numbers first beneath a huge marble table, then under statues flung from the top of the staircase. (I love the way these enemy soldiers always choose to hang out in clusters, making Herc’s job all that much easier.) Herc and his friends then escape through the cave that contains Omphale’s Terrible Secret, and finally make it to their ship. Omphale, unable to live without Herc, commits suicide by putting her Terrible Secret to gruesome and ironic use. On the Argo, Hercules learns that he was in Lidia for twenty days, and that the time for negotiating the treaty is well past. "I’ve been tricked, by the gods!" he bellows. Or possibly: "I’ve been tricked by the gods!" Which in either case seems an odd reaction, since frankly, it was ol’ Herc’s tendency to listen to his stomach rather than his instincts that got him into trouble in the first place.

Back at Thebes, Polinices and his army have gathered at the city gates. Eteocles shows his brother how his supporters will be dealt with by tossing Iole’s handmaidens off the wall (a surprisingly brutal scene). As Polinices and his men withdraw, carrying the bodies, Eteocles lets rip with a burst of maniacal "Ahhh-ha-ha-ha-ha!"-s. Hercules and the others encounter Polinices on the shores of Attica. Realising that Iole is still a hostage, Hercules immediately heads for Thebes. Polinices receives a message from Eteocles, suggesting that the two settle their problems mano-a-mano – something Polinices’ soldiers think is a great idea. Hercules and his companions enter Thebes surreptitiously, and Herc heads for the dungeon where Iole and the other prisoners are held. To reach it, he enters the arena. Immediately, Eteocles’ minions (who all seem to be exactly where they were three weeks earlier!) reveal themselves and start laughing hysterically as the tigers are released. But the tigers are no match for Herc, of course. (This scene is not exactly convincing. When it’s a lion fight, at least you get to see the lion and the person "battling" it make contact; but here they obviously weren’t taking any chances.) Approaching the huge wooden doors of the dungeon, Herc sends them crashing off their hinges with one mighty blow (just as well none of the prisoners were directly behind them!). But Iole isn’t there. Creon tells Herc that they thought it would be best if she ran away – although if its that easy, why are the rest of them just sitting on their duffs? However, Iole’s bid for freedom is short-lived, as she falls into the hands of the black-clad Captain of the Guard. Old Mwoo-Ha-Ha is about to do unspeakable things to her when a horn sounds to announce the duel between Polinices and Eteocles. "You just wait here!" the Captain tells Iole, and hurries away to see the fight.

The brothers confront each other using four-horse chariots – and of all the incidents in the film, this was what the distributors chose to go with in the advertising! "See the mammoth war of the chariots!" I can only imagine that the fact that Ben Hur had just been released might have had something to do with their decision…. Anyway, "mammoth" isn’t exactly the first word that springs to mind when describing this conflict. Polinices and Eteocles ride past each other a couple of times, knock each other off their chariots, and finish their fight on foot. Eteocles slays Polinices, but is mortally wounded himself. Staggering towards his cheering supporters, Eteocles claims victory, gives one more hearty burst of "AHHH-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!" and dies. The Captain of the Guard then delivers the eulogy: "As evil and stupid as his brother!" A full-scale battle breaks out between the mercenary army and the Thebens, with the latter (led by Herc) naturally victorious. As Creon presides over the cremation of the dead (a regular cookout!), Hercules is reunited with Iole. "How you’ve suffered!" he says to her. (HA! She doesn’t know the half of it!) "The gods have placed many obstacles against us," he continues, and we wait for him to explain all about how those cruel gods forced him to spend three weeks having non-stop sex with a gorgeous redhead – forced him, I tells ya! But for once in his life, Herc seems to feel that discretion might be the better part of valour.

Hercules And The Queen Of Lidia suffers from the usual shortcomings of the peplum genre, including a distinct preference for action over logic, and an overabundance of alleged comic relief, in this case Ulysses’ painful deaf-mute routine, and the various wailings of Aesculapius, the oldest of the Argonauts. On the other hand, the plot is stronger, less incidental and disjointed, than is usually the case, with only the fight with Antaeus feeling really tacked on. As I mentioned earlier, this is a lovely film to look at, with marvellously designed sets and – during the revelation of Omphale’s Terrible Secret – some beautiful lighting effects (Bava!). The most memorable aspect of Hercules And The Queen Of Lidia, however, is naturally the Queen herself. Omphale, with her casual use and abuse of any man unfortunate enough to wander across her path, is an unforgettable character. What a pity that she should finally be – if you’ll pardon the expression – emasculated by falling in love with Herc; although I guess it was inevitable. Still, while it lasts this aspect of the story lends some interesting shadings to the film as a whole, through its manipulation of the character of Hercules. Whereas in The Labors Of Hercules, our titular hero was fairly one-note, here the Waters Of Forgetfulness subplot allows a different Hercules – grouchy, selfish, short-tempered – to take centre stage. Given what we’ve seen of "the gods" in most of these films, we might be inclined to consider that this is Herc’s "divinity" showing; but the reverse is actually the case, as demonstrated by his inability to bend the iron torch-holder. Of course, while the loss of Hercules’ strength is supposed to indicate the loss of his godlike powers, given that this incident occurs after his first night with the sexually insatiable Omphale, it is likely that the audience will put another interpretation on it entirely! The English-language title of this film, Hercules Unchained, is surprisingly thoughtful, making reference to several plot points. The literal chains in Iole’s trunk are those that Hercules broke free of in the original film; while his metaphorical "chains" are his wedding vows. It is when he starts fooling around with Omphale that he is finally "unchained". (Significantly, Herc’s love scenes with Omphale have a lot more zing than those with Iole; that whole "good girls don’t like it" crapola, I suppose.) The title Hercules Unchained therefore has the double merit of sounding as if something heroic is going on, while in fact the dead opposite is true. Personally, I can think of yet another alternative title, one that would have been even more to the point; but I guess Hercules Whipped was really out of the question.