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GLI AMORI DI ERCOLE (THE LOVES Of HERCULES) (1960)

[aka
Hercules Vs The Hydra]

“I would again, a thousand times, if your life were in danger! Since I first saw you, I felt that you were always mine. I love you, Dianira!”






  Director:
 
Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia

  Starring: 
Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay, Massimo Serato, Tina Gloriani, Gil Vidal, Guilio Donnini, Rossella Como, Andrea Scotti, Arturo Bragaglia, Sandrine, René Dary, Antonio Gradoli, Olga Solbelli, Cesare Fantoni

  Screenplay: 
Alessandro Continenza and Luciano Doria, based upon a story by Alberto Manca

Synopsis:  While Hercules (Mickey Hargitay) is completing his labours, his village is surprised and razed and the people, including Hercules’ wife, Megara (Sandrine), murdered, by the orders of King Eurytus of Oechalia (Cesare Fantoni). However, when Licos (Massimo Serato), commander of the troops, returns to camp, he assassinates the king in order both to deflect Hercules’ vengeance, and to move himself a step nearer to the throne of Oechalia, now under the rule of Eurytus’ daughter, Dianira (Jayne Mansfield). Hercules consults the Oracle (Olga Sobelli), pleading with her to tell him that he may at last live in peace, but she warns him that for his whole life, he will be like a raft tossed upon a stormy ocean. Iolus (Arturo Bragaglia), the sole survivor of the village slaughter, staggers in, and breaks the dreadful news. Hercules immediately sets out for Oechalia. The gates of the city are barricaded against him, but he batters his way in. Hercules demands to see Eurytus, but instead is met by Dianira, who insists that she has inherited her father’s guilt, and offers him her life. When Hercules replies that he cannot kill a woman, Dianira explains that under Oechalian law, she must therefore have her guilt or innocence determined by undergoing the Trial Of Themis, goddess of justice and retribution. Hercules himself becomes, reluctantly, a participant in the trial, in which Dianira is bound to a wooden altar while he must free her – or kill her – by hurling axes at her bindings. Hercules succeeds, and Dianira collapses in his arms. Licos and his fellow conspirators meet to discuss their next move now that Dianira has survived her trial. The general (René Dary) warns Licos that Dianira’s attraction to Hercules is obvious, but the High Priest (Antonio Gradoli) counters that he will insist upon Dianira fulfilling her engagement to her cousin, Achillos (Gil Vidal). Dianira and Hercules ride out together, and Dianira is put in danger when stampeding cattle cause her horse to throw her, and a bull almost tramples her. Hercules saves her, killing the enraged animal with his dagger. He then carries Dianira to a nearby hut, where he confesses his love for her. Dianira is both thrilled and distressed, and is trying to tell Hercules the truth when they are interrupted by Achillos himself, who immediately claims her. Hercules is bitterly hurt and speaks angrily, in turn angering the hot-tempered Achillos, who pulls his dagger. The two men fight, and Dianira intervenes to save Achillos’ life. Hercules announces his intention of leaving Oechalia. Later, as Dianira weeps over her fate, she learns that Achillos has been murdered. Hurrying to the scene of the assassination, Dianira finds Licos and his men examining the murder weapon, a dagger with the symbol of two serpents entwined on the handle; Hercules’ dagger....

Comments:  I’d be embarrassed to tell you---well, actually, no, I wouldn’t; but a token protest seemed in order---how much time I put into trying to track down a widescreen, English-language print of this film. That such a thing did at one time exist I’ve managed to ascertain, back in the days when, of all people, the Dutch were putting out subtitled prints of some of cinema’s more dubious offerings; but alas, if anyone has such a copy of Gli Amori Di Ercole, it seems they’re not willing to share. And speaking of not sharing, both the Italians and the French have released this film on DVD, neither with English subtitles. Thanks a bunch, guys. So here we are, forced to fall back upon Trimark’s dubbed and pan-and-scan release of the film, retitled Hercules Vs The Hydra for American audiences.

Even by the not-particularly exacting standards of pepla, Gli Amori Di Ercole is a disappointing effort. It’s not that I’m looking for great acting or gripping drama or air-tight plotting in these things. What I do look for is fight scenes and monsters, and in this regard – specifically the latter – the film is distinctly lacking. Even the titular battle (well, it is in this version) between Hercules and the hydra consists of nothing more than this astonishingly compliant creature just sitting there unprotestingly as Hercules – slowly – hacks its middle head off with an axe.

 

In the place of the genre’s usual attractions, Gli Amori Di Ercole tries to get by on the stunt co-casting of the then-married Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay, who spend most of the film striking poses that allow the viewer mentally to compare their bust sizes. (Jayne wins, but it’s a close tussle.) I’m not going to criticise this film for its fixation upon Ms Mansfield’s famous mammaries, partly because, in this respect, the lady herself was hardly backwards in coming forwards, and partly because the film turns out to be an Equal Opportunity Exploiter – if indeed the male of the species doesn’t get the worst of it. Although Ms Mansfield’s costumes are designed to emphasise her breasts as much as humanly possible, she is nevertheless surprisingly chastely dressed for most of the film. On the other hand, Mickey Hargitay’s Hercules is perhaps the most depilated ever; while along with most of the other male cast members, he is clad in a series of manskirts that would embarrass William Ware Theiss.

 

They got lost on their way to Rubicun III.

The other inadvertent pleasure of this version of Gli Amori Di Ercole – or rather, of Hercules Vs The Hydra – is the dubbing. Refined English tones issuing from the likes of veteran Italian actor Massimo Serato aren’t that jarring; the same issuing from Mickey Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield, particularly the former, are quite hilarious.

Hey, you’ve got to take your pleasures where you can find them, right?

The first lesson of Gli Amori Di Ercole is that when it comes to pepla, my obsession with doing things “in order” is even more pointless than usual. Dozens upon dozens of such films were made during the brief golden age of the sword-and-sandal film, all of them stealing random bits and pieces from mythology to suit their own purposes, and none of them having anything to do with any of the others. Production chronology only serves to confuse the issue: Gli Amori Di Ercole, for example, brings back most of the characters from La Vendetta Di Ercole and then turns them into completely different people; although the two films are in agreement about Eurytus of Oechalia being a right bastard. Gli Amori Di Ercole opens with the destruction of Hercules’ home village, or encampment, or whatever, for no reason that the film ever deigns to share with us, except that Eurytus really doesn’t like Hercules. Eurytus is then assassinated by his chief advisor, Licos, who has designs on the throne of Oechalia. Curiously, Licos’ declared plan here is to convince “the populace” (we hear a lot from and about “the populace” in this film) that Eurytus died valiantly in a noble cause; yet when Hercules presently reaches Oechalia, “the populace” is very well aware of Eurytus’ guilt, to the extent of demanding that his daughter, Dianira, pay her father’s debts by undergoing “the Trial Of Themis”, in order to expiate it.

Their breasts met across a deserted amphitheatre....

You will note that in this film, Hercules is married – briefly – to a woman named Megara. Megara was in fact (mythologically speaking) Hercules’ wife; her actual fate was rather more pleasant, if perhaps more humiliating, than the one she suffers here, inasmuch as Hercules handed her off to his nephew when he got back from his labours. Here, amongst the ruins of his village, Hercules mourns over Megara’s dead body, demanding, “Why? Why are the gods again persecuting me with their wrath? Killing the one I love most!” If you then place a stopwatch on the proceedings, it is thirteen minutes and twenty-five seconds before we get a hint of a new romance, and a full twenty-one minutes and forty-five seconds until Hercules is declaring his undying love for Dianira, which I believe even by Hercules’ standards is a new record....using the word “standards” rather loosely, of course. I’ve always felt that “Gli Amori Di Ercole” was a fairly generous way of describing Hercules’ conduct in this story, given not just this about-face, but what happens later on; but I suppose “Hercules Is A Dirty Lying Slut” wouldn’t look as good on a poster.

Ya lose some, ya win some....

Anyway, when Hercules reaches Oechalia he is confronted not by Eurytus, but by Dianira, who offers her life in exchange for Megara’s. Hercules refuses, so Dianira is then condemned to the Trial Of Themis, in which she is bound to a wooden altar while Hercules pitches axes at her. (I don’t know about “justice and retribution”: Themis seems more like the goddess of sadistic party tricks.) No-one has ever survived this trial, we are told – Themis, goddess of the stacked deck – but naturally with Herc in charge, Dianira is freed without a scratch in four swift axe-blows. (What happens to the person on trial if the axe-thrower hits neither the bonds nor the defendant is left to our imaginations. Perhaps the axe-throwing simply continues until something gets severed.) As “the populace” cheers, Dianira collapses in Hercules’ arms, which causes grumbling amongst Licos’ co-conspirators. Licos, never short of a needlessly convoluted scheme, decides to encourage the romance so that a clash between Hercules and Dianira’s cousin and fiancé, Achillos, is inevitable; so that the latter will be killed; so that Hercules will be banished; so that Dianira will be left alone except for the consoling arms of her father’s dear friend, Licos.

Proof, as if we needed it, that the gods on Olympus spent most of their time figuring out new ways to screw with us.

So one giggly girly dressing-scene later, Hercules and Dianira are riding together when they come across some terrified peasants who wail about “a monster” who kills them and steals their cattle. The naive viewer perks up here, expecting a little Herco-a-monstro action, but this film hasn’t any intention of gratifying us. We don’t even find out whether the monster in question is so literally or only figuratively. Instead, Hercules rides off to round up some stray cattle, allowing Dianira to be menaced by....by....

Sigh.

"Moo. Uh, I mean, raar!"

I complained in La Vendetta Di Ercole about the unequal nature of the fight scenes, and what a nasty old bully Hercules looked, beating up a string of clearly harmless adversaries. Well, Gli Amori Di Ercole manages to outdo its predecessor by having Hercules “rescue” Dianira from the most placid-looking bovine that ever wandered aimlessly across a movie set. This good-natured animal – it’s a Friesian, whose white markings have been imperfectly coloured in, presumably to make it look more threatening – simply stands there as Mickey Hargitay grabs its small horns and tries manfully to provoke it, even pushing his crotch into its face in an effort to get some sort of a reaction out of it, but all to no avail. At last, Herc/Mickey wrestles the poor thing to the ground – its bewildered expression at this development is probably the comic highlight of the film – and kills it with his dagger. Boo!

 

"Was it something I said!?"

(Credit where it’s due, though: we are given two shots of the “dead” bull, and in both it is clearly breathing; so kudos to the film-makers for that.)

Hercules carries Dianira to a convenient hut where he declares his love for her. She’s umming and ahhing when, right on cue, Achillos wanders in, sent for by the ever-thoughtful Licos. Achillos is blunt about his claim upon Dianira, and Hercules is completely stunned, arranged marriages amongst royalty apparently being a foreign concept to him; and in his hurt and anger, he utters what I think is my favourite of many asinine lines of dialogue:

“Your father committed many errors in his life! In my opinion, this is the worst of them!”

Yes, much worse than his decision to kill my beloved wife, Megara! Which, come to think of it, was actually a pretty good decision!

Achillos takes offence and an uninspiring brawl follows, but ends not to plan when Dianira pleads with Hercules not to kill Achillos. Hercules storms off in a huff, declaring his intention of leaving Oechalia. Back in the palace, Dianira weeps over her royal fate while Licos, never one to let the grass grow, takes care of Achillos himself. By the time Dianira obeys the summons of her hysterical handmaiden, Licos and his goons are examining the dagger found in Achillos’ back, which just happens to be the same dagger that Hercules stupidly left lying in the dead bull.

Manskirts in mourning.

News of the frame-up reaches Hercules via his side-kick, Themansus, who, along with Iolus (the survivor of the opening massacre), has been hanging around on the edge of the action not doing anything much worth mentioning. Until now. Back in Oechalia, everyone is mourning Achillos. This is signified by Dianira changing her hair colour from black to mauve, and by the servants changing out of their kicky little white manskirts into sober and solemn little purple manskirts. In the middle of Licos’ pledge to never rest, yada-yada, Hercules appears, prompting the High Priest to an outraged cry of, “Your very presence is sacrilege!” and another of my favourite Hercules lines:

“Far be it from me to commit a sacrilege!”

(You have to imagine Herc/Mickey saying that in a snooty British accent to get the full effect of it.)

Hercules defends himself, arguing that he left his dagger in the dead bull. Dianira is at first reluctant to hear him, but realises that there is a witness to dagger-less Herc, leading to an exchange of dialogue that seems designed primarily to see how many times the name “Philotetes” can be spoken in the space of ten seconds, and to an hilariously casual plan for rounding him up from Licos, in response to Hercules’ inquiry about Philotetes’ last known whereabouts:

“Towards the Gate Of The Underworld. With a good horse we could overtake him, easily.”

Sure enough, Philotetes is driving a chariot rapidly towards the indicated destination – although why he should be, and why Licos was so forthcoming on that point, remains a mystery. Let’s be generous and call this another of Licos’ unnecessarily complicated plans. Philotetes finally abandons his chariot and proceeds on foot through a landscape littered with yellow and orange smoke-bombs, presumably to suggest its “sulphurous” nature. Hercules pursues him into a cave, evidently the entrance to the Underworld, as it is guarded, after a fashion, by the hydra of our alternative title, a three-headed dragon-like beastie, who frankly seems rather sweet by nature (particularly the head on our right: I swear it’s smiling). Philotetes falls victim to this creature – somehow – and Hercules draws a sword and starts, well, slapping the beast around. This not having the desired effect, whatever that was, he swaps his sword for an axe that just happens to be lying around and starts tapping on the hydra’s middle neck. This goes on for a while, and then the hydra’s head drops off.

 

Gli Amori Di Ercole's equivalent of The Dish Of The Day.

If I’m making this epic battle seem less than completely compelling, there’s a reason.

This decapitation finally provokes one of the other heads into, uh, action: the one to Hercules’ right bumps him slightly, sending him staggering into a rock wall, which knocks him out. Of course, since the head can only push Hercules to the left, and the rock wall is to the right, this outcome requires some remarkably cooperative spinning and staggering on the part of Herc/Mickey:

"We must go forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling...."

Hercules’ battle [sic.] with the hydra has not gone unobserved: it turns out that the entrance to the Underworld is in the Land Of The Amazons, and three of those ladies have been witness to the (in)action. They run in now, finding Philotetes dead, the hydra dying (we know, because it’s breathing smoke instead of fire – awwww....), and Hercules somewhat the worse for wear. They carry him to their home on a litter and one of them, inquiring for her queen, learns that she is in “The Forest Of The Dead”, as today is – ahem – “the epiphany of Democrates”. We soon discover the significance of this: Hippolyta, the queen, upon tiring of her lovers, turns them into human trees. In order to convey this, the production designers tried to come up with something that could pass for a man turned wooden, but instead ending up with figures that look amusingly like----well, you tell me:

"Gumbercules? I love that guy!"

Being eeee-vil, Hippolyta smirks cruelly with her advisor, Magah, as she watches the final transformation of Democrates. Her fun is interrupted by Némée, the rescuer of Hercules, who comes to break the news; and immediately Hippolyta takes down her new “Help Wanted” sign. Magah is not so sanguine about Hippolyta’s chances with Hercules, however, warning her that, “There is another woman in possession of his heart.”

Now, my advice to Hippolyta at this point would have been to wait another five or ten minutes, until Hercules is over this particular undying passion; but Magah has another idea: she gives Hippolyta a potion that can change her into the image of Dianira....only with red hair. “That’s the most insulting price any woman ever paid for love!” declares Hippolyta, but goes ahead anyway; and sure enough, Hercules takes one look and, well, Dianira who? “Whoever you are – Hippolyta or Dianira – you are the woman I want!” declares our class act. Yup, that’s right, ladies: it makes no difference at all what’s underneath; it’s what’s on the surface that counts!

Of course, immediately prior to this, Hercules announced that he had to return immediately to Oechalia – that he had been away too long – that his honour was at stake – that he feared what had happened in Oechalia in his absence. Evidently, Hercules’ honour means about as much to him as his undying passion du jour.

(One curious point in this section of the film: Hercules spends the early scenes calling upon, “Zeus, my father!”; yet the Amazons keep referring to him as, “The son of Jupiter.”)

Dianira who?

Back in Oechalia, Licos takes advantage of Hercules’ non-return to put the moves on Dianira, declaring charmingly that, “You are a woman! The burden of government is too heavy for you alone!” Amazingly, Dianira fails to be swept off her feet by this – don’t give her too much credit: she agrees with Licos’ sentiments – and puts him off. But this is not the only fly in Licos’ ointment: the populace of Oechalia is, evidently, fermenting revolt, and Licos’ goons are busy slapping around suspects. Gli Amori Di Ercole disappoints again here: within the Oechalian dungeon is a pit of dry-ice-fog-covered water into which people are dropped from time to time. You’d think there’d be a monster in the pit, wouldn’t you? – and that the dry ice fog was to disguise its shortcomings; but alas, the dry ice fog seems to be there to disguise the absence of a monster. Sigh.

Licos and the goon squad then helpfully discuss their plans in very loud voices in an echo-ey antechamber. “YOU ALREADY KILLED HER FATHER; YOU ARRANGED THE MURDERS OF ACHILLOS, PHILOTETES, HERCULES--- WHERE WILL THIS THIRST FOR BLOOD TAKE YOU?” bellows the High Priest. “I TOLD YOU: TO THE THRONE!” shouts back Licos. Hardly surprisingly, they are overheard by Dianira’s handmaiden, Helea, who scuttles back to her mistress. Licos is hard on her heels, though, and Dianira rather foolishly shows her hand, only to find that the soldiery has gone over to Licos, and to end up in the dungeon.

Insert your own "wooden" joke here.

Meanwhile, Hercules is assuring faux-Dianira that, “I have been so at peace here! I, who was condemned to be tossed and ravaged – like a raft in a mad tempest!” Which is curious, because as far as we can see, Hercules is still being tossed and ravaged. These romantic transports are overheard by Némée, who nursed Hercules back to health and, naturally, fell for him. (And by “naturally” I mean, what the hell are you doing, you silly bint!?) She arranges to meet with him privately and tries to tell him the truth about Hippolyta – with little success. “She even made you forget the woman you love!” accuses Némée, rightly, only to have Hercules give a big goofy smile in response. “She had taken away the reason for my sadness!” he announces (see also: being tossed and ravaged).

Unable to get through to the big lug any other way, Némée takes him to see The Forest Of Death. Hercules gapes in disbelief at his wooden brothers-to-be, but finally accepts the truth. He is hurrying to the horse provided for him by Némée when Hippolyta and Magah show up, and Némée gets an arrow in her back for her pains. But Hippolyta’s quest for vengeance makes her careless, and she wanders a little close to one of her wooden victims, who seizes her in its branches. Hippolyta shrieks and struggles – sort of – and finally dies, according to all available evidence, of terminal breast fondling. And as she dies, Hippolyta turns back to her real form – leaving us to wonder why she doesn’t slip down out of her killer’s arms, since (let’s face it) the real Hippolyta isn’t quite of the same dimensions....

"Hey, where'd they go!?"

Hercules runs into a group of Oechalian refugees and is directed to Helea, who fled following Dianira’s imprisonment and subsequently fell in with Themansus and Iolus (who have been riding around to no particular purpose). As Hercules rallies the refugees, in the dungeon Dianira is losing hope. We get one of the film’s guffaw-out-loud moments here when the bright and blooming (and immaculately groomed) Dianira/Jayne declares mournfully, “I feel too weak to last much longer!”

Clearly, she's wasting away.

Licos is giving Dianira the obvious choice when word of Hercules and his rag-tag army reaches Oechalia. A fairly uninspired battle – which does at least give Hercules the chance to chuck some furniture around – leads to Licos dragging Dianira from her cell and into “the other passage”. From there it’s a chariot-chase, ending in another of the region’s monster-occupied caves. Don’t ask me what Licos is trying to achieve here – but anyway, he seems as surprised as anyone else when he is suddenly attacked by a cave-dwelling hominid with severe dental problems. As you would be. Licos and Dianira make some half-hearted evasive movements, and Licos ends up being strangled by our new hairy friend.

So after all that, Hercules doesn’t even kill the bad guy.

Excuse me, where is that hand going??

The hominid then turns his attention to Dianira, who in a fit of obligingness not seen since Alice tied herself up in Robot Monster, is mysteriously lying at length on her host’s straw bed, unconscious or asleep or playing possum, whichever. (If she fainted, we didn’t see it.) The hominid takes one look and, awww, it’s lurrve. (And believe me, she’d be better off with him than with Hercules.) But just as he’s getting a bit touchy-feely, Hercules finally shows up and the romantic rivals indulge in a little hand-to-hand combat, which ends when Hercules chucks a boulder at the hominid.

He and Dianira then stagger out into the sunlight for a series of frankly embarrassing romantic gazes and a final clinch. And if love didn’t last for Mr and Mrs Hargitay, well, let’s at least remember them like this:

Awww....

Footnotes:  Cast information and character names (and spellings) are hard to track down for this film, beyond its three stars, so many of my assignments up above are guesswork. If anyone knows for sure, I am happy to be corrected.

I included the French poster for this film for three reasons: (1) its description of Mickey Hargitay as "Monsieur Muscle"; (2) its mistaken assumption that Hercules would be hirsute; and (3) the way that, in its determination to get both of Jayne Mansfield's breasts into the picture, even though she's standing side-on, it has her left breast hanging about six inches below her right breast.

And I include this, chiefly for the artist's sadly mistaken impression of the hydra:

 

 


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----21/12/2008