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LA VENDETTA DI ERCOLE (THE REVENGE OF HERCULES) (1960)

 

“O, God of Vengeance! For you I descended to Hades and fought Cerberus! I even deserted my ill-fated land. But if peace is still denied me, I must seek revenge!”





  Director:
 
Vittorio Cottafavi

  Starring: 
Mark Forest, Broderick Crawford, Eleonora Ruffo, Gaby André, Sandro Moretti, Philippe Hersent, Federica Ranchi, Giancarlo Sbragia, Wandisa Guida, Carla Calò

  Screenplay: 
Marco Piccoli

Synopsis:  To complete his labours, Hercules (Mark Forest) descends into Hades where, after fighting and slaying Cerberus, the fire-breathing three-headed hound, and a strange flying cat-like creature, he captures the blood diamond, which he intends as an offering to the God of Vengeance. Meanwhile, in Oechalia, the usurper Eurytus (Broderick Crawford) tries to convince his nervous allies that Hercules will never return from Hades, and that this is the time to attack Thebes. Outside the palace, a young man, Illus (Sandro Moretti), bribes a guard to admit him. Unbeknownst to Illus, however, as soon as he is safely inside the guard signals to Eurytus’ main advisor, Tyndaros (Giancarlo Sbragia), who in turn tells Eurytus that he has arrived. Illus makes his way to the chamber of Thea (Federica Ranchi), daughter of the previous rulers of Oechalia and Eurytus’ ward. Illus and Thea declare their love for one another, but Thea frets over the danger in which Illus places himself with these visits to her rooms. Illus insists that this is the only way they can meet, as his father, Hercules, has forbidden him to see Thea, although he will not say why. Thea promises Illus that she will elope with him, but adds that it cannot be immediately as the gathering of Eurytus’ allies has filled the city with soldiers. Illus gives Thea a gold token, telling her to send it to him when she judges that their chance has come. The meeting of the two is interrupted by Ismene (Wandisa Guida), Tyndaros’ sister, who pretends to be their friend but secretly plots against them. No sooner has Illus left at Ismene’s insistence than he is captured by soldiers and thrown into the dungeon. When news of this reaches Eurytus, he announces to his allies that he will prove to them his belief in Hercules’ death and their own safety by having Hercules’ son publicly executed. Tyndaros, meanwhile, tries to persuade a beautiful slave, Alcinoe (Gaby André), the daughter of one of Eurytus’ conquered foes, that he will set her free if only she will be his. Alcinoe tells him contemptuously that she would rather be a slave. Even as Eurytus succeeds in swaying his allies to his cause, news of Hercules’ return from Hades reaches the city. His allies instantly reneging, Eurytus announces furiously that he will execute Illus anyway. Tyndaros, however, persuades him that a better plan is to let Illus escape.... Shortly afterwards, Alcinoe slips into the dungeon and, posing as Thea’s friend, “arranges” Illus’ escape. She also poisons his mind against his father, telling him that the real reason Hercules is against Illus’ marriage is that he wants Thea for himself. As Hercules makes his offering of the blood diamond, the Sibyl (Carla Calò) appears, confirming that with the completion of his labours, the gods have set him free. Hercules then asks about Illus and Thea, but the Sibyl silently vanishes....

Comments:  Although his name will forever be associated with the role, ex-Mr Universe Steve Reeves played Hercules only twice, in Le Fatiche Di Ercole and Ercole E La Regina Di Lidia. After that, and in spite of the astonishing success of his twin starring roles worldwide, Reeves abandoned the character of Hercules as part of his not entirely successful quest to broaden his acting repertoire. Then it was open season, with Hercules-es popping up everywhere – not to mention Macistes, Goliaths, Samsons and other assorted mythological heroes and muscle-men. The first to don Reeves’ discarded loin-cloth was another former body-builder named Lou Degni....or at least, he was then. Much as it always forced its horror films to pretend to be British, the eternally perverse Italian film industry preferred its Greco-Roman demi-gods to be as American as possible; and so the Brooklynite Degni was re-born as “Mark Forest” – or, occasionally, as “Mark Forrest”. Impressively built without the somewhat alarming physical development of Steve Reeves, Forest gave us a Hercules who was more demi than god; a family man who just wanted to relax at home with the wife and kids, if only those pesky fates would stop bothering him about labours and quests. And if you think that’s an unlikely picture of Hercules, oh my friends, we’ve only just begun to look at the way the motion picture industry screwed with mythology!

Dreams of domesticity aside for the moment, La Vendetta Di Ercole opens with Our Hero descending into Hades – literally. There’s no bullying of Charon in this version: Herc just climbs down a rock wall; and we get a charming intimation of the overall standard of the special effects in this film, as the safety harness on which Mark Forest is suspended is clearly visible in most shots. Once down, Hercules finds himself confronted by Cerberus. Now, according to most accounts of the story, Hercules’ last labour was the capture of Cerberus, which he delivered to King Eurystheus of Tiryns. However, if this particular Hercules has one distinguishing peculiarity, it is his hatred of the entire animal creation: not a beast wanders by him on foot or wing that doesn’t end up a bloody corpse. As character traits go, it isn’t precisely an endearing one. The best that can be said for Herc is that he does make a token effort to distract Cerberus, throwing it a loaf of bread topped with some of his own blood. But not all of the heads fall for this ploy, and as Hercules tries to slip by it, one of the heads emits a blast of fire that causes him to leap back in consternation. (And I’ve a notion here it wasn’t Hercules leaping back, if you follow: there’s a jump cut here, suggesting that an over-enthusiastic pyrotechnics man may have gone a little close to serving up flambé de Forest.) Well, then it’s no more Mr Nice Guy, as Herc draws his ridiculously dinky knife and takes out Cerberus, who becomes bloody corpse #1. For some reason, the slaying of the dog makes the ground heave under Hercules’ feet and a rock wall collapse. The heart of Hades is then exposed, a multi-coloured world of gaseous swamps and dead trees. (And although this vision of Hades can’t compete with the glorious psychodelia of Mario Bava’s Ercole Al Centro Della Terra, there is some nice production design here, with everything bathed in sulphurous yellows.)

Hercules doesn't like dogs....

Then we make an abrupt transition to Oechalia, ruled by a Eurytus who – far from playing his mythological role of Hercules’ archery teacher – is an evil, scar-faced usurper who murdered the real rulers of Oechalia and plans to hold the throne by forcing their daughter, Thea, to marry him. (Whether he was acting it or not, Broderick Crawford’s surliness actually adds to his depiction of the brutish Eurytus.) We realise at this point, perhaps with a little dismay, that the fantastic nature of La Vendetta Di Ercole’s opening sequence is merely a sop for the audience: what this film serves up is political machination and plenty of it. Here, Eurytus plots to overthrow Thebes (why he’s so obsessed with doing so is never made clear), trying to convince his wavering allies that Hercules must be dead. “No-one has ever descended to Hades and come back!” he declares. Well, no. I mean, isn’t the point of Hades....? Anyway, as Eurytus rallies his reluctant troops, Hercules’ son, Illus, bribes a guard to admit him to the palace grounds – or at least, he thinks he does, but it’s a set-up from the start. His arrival is signalled to Tyndaros (the brain to Eurytus’ brawn), who in turn informs Eurytus. Eurytus then declares that he will demonstrate his belief in Hercules’ death by executing Illus.

Huh. We wish. Or we do after a few moments in the company of Illus and Thea, who are everything you’d expect of the “romantic leads” in a film like this. She (as one of her rivals puts it) is “young and vapid”; he is an utter dweeb.

Early days, and Vittorio Cottafavi doesn’t want to try our patience with too much Illus and Thea just yet; so we cut back to Hades where Hercules is doing what he does best: chucking boulders around, and committing acts of animal cruelty. Hercules uses one boulder to smash another. Inside is the blood diamond, the object of this particular labour. Hercules is trying to pry it free when he is attacked, if that’s the right word, by a man-sized cat with bat-wings that swoops at him through the air (and if you thought Mark Forest’s harness was visible--- Lordy, lordy, the wires!). This pathetic object is only too obviously incapable of hurting anyone, unless we rupture ourselves laughing at it; yet Hercules feels compelled to stab the poor helpless thing repeatedly and then strangle it to death.

This film is seven minutes old, and I hate Our Hero with a passion.

....or cats....

Anyway, this [*cough*] heroic feat accomplished, Hercules pulls the blood diamond free, the crevice in the rock in which it was lodged spilling blood itself. And then it’s back to Oechalia, where Illus is now languishing in a dungeon (yay!) and we meet a couple more of our conspirators: Ismene, Tyndaros’ sister and Eurytus’ former mistress, who still loves the usurper enough (who knows why?) to try and assist his pursuit of Thea; and Alcinoe, the daughter of one of Eurytus’ conquered foes, now his slave (and, uh, body servant, if you follow me) and the object of Tyndaros’ desire. When news of Hercules’ safe return from Hades reaches the palace, Eurytus’ allies scatter like cockroaches when the lights go on. The disgusted Eurytus threatens to execute Illus anyway (promises, promises), but Tyndaros comes up with a plan for using him as a weapon against Hercules, with Alcinoe’s help. Promised her freedom, Alcinoe goes to Illus posing as Thea’s friend and sets him free....also informing him that the reason Hercules is against his marriage to Thea is that he wants the girl for himself; a tale that thick-as-a-brick Illus swallows without a blink.

Meanwhile, Hercules is at the temple of the God of Vengeance, offering up the blood diamond and asking that the gods free him and allow him to return home. The Sibyl appears to confirm the gods’ acceptance of Hercules’ offering. Hercules is ecstatic, but can’t help pushing his luck by asking the Sibyl about Illus and Thea. She, however, fades away without answering. Outside the temple, Hercules is met by his friend, Androcles. (One of the most charming things about these films is their matter-of-fact handling of supernatural events and encounters. Thus, when Hercules is done chatting with the Sibyl, he finds his pal outside with a chariot waiting to drive him home!) As they head for Hercules’ house near Thebes, the populace is thrilled to see him again, and we soon learn why. He’s no sooner shown his face than it’s, “Hercules, Hercules, fix my roof! Hercules, Hercules! Uproot my tree!” Yay! Hercules is back! Now we can sit on our lazy Theban butts and let him do all the work! Hercules takes all this in surprisingly good part. I guess even demi-gods like being sucked up to. At any rate, he chuckles mightily and gets down to business. One of the people demanding his assistance has two newly-purchased oxen that, by a miraculous exertion of willpower, Hercules refrains from punching to death just for the hell of it.

(This passage of La Vendetta Di Ercole, by the way, introduces its COOCRM – otherwise known as its Contractually Obliged Odious Comic Relief Midget. He only appears in a couple of brief scenes, however: something that adds markedly to the enjoyment factor of the film.)

At Hercules’ house, a celebratory feast is being prepared by his long-suffering wife, Deianeira.

Wait a minute! I hear those of you who have been paying attention cry at this point. (Oh, come on – someone out there must have been paying attention, right? Right? [Is this thing on?]) Deianeira? The last time we saw Hercules, wasn’t he married to Iole of Iolcus?

Well, yes, he was. Like I said, these films play fast and loose with the accepted versions of the Hercules mythology. Hercules’ wife at the time of his labours was Megara of Thebes....only when he came home again, far from wanting to settle down with the missus, Hercules palmed Megara off onto his own nephew, on the grounds that the gods disapproved of their marriage. Which I guess is demi-god-speak for “I think we should see other people”. Iole was actually the daughter of Eurytus of Oechalia (yes, that Eurytus of Oechalia....which is to say, not this Eurytus of Oechalia), and became Hercules’ mistress while he was married to Deianeira. Deianeira then [*cough, cough*] accidentally killed Hercules with a “love potion” that was really poison....an incident I don’t think any film has ever dealt with.

Be that as it may, in this version of events it is Deianeira to whom Hercules is married during his labours, and has been long enough to produce an adult Illus; and she with whom he plans a life of peaceful domesticity. Ha, ha. Deianeira flits around preparing a celebratory feast for Hercules’ return, the only fly in her ointment being the behaviour of Illus, who is moping around the house in what might charitably be called a king-sized fit of the sulks. Illus starts off by telling his mother he can’t tell her what the trouble is, that he would “never want you to suffer because of me”; and then about five seconds later blurts out the whole Hercules-wants-Thea story. Deianeira is shocked but steadfast, refusing to believe that Hercules could even think of doing such a thing. So I guess she never heard about the time that Hercules slept with and knocked up forty-nine virgins on forty-nine consecutive nights, in the belief that he was with the same woman each time. (Hey, no-one ever said that Hercules was bright! Oh, and just in case you were wondering, yes, there were fifty of them, but one of them wouldn’t put out.)

When Hercules arrives home he is hurt and angered by Illus’ cold reception, but Deianeira excuses her son on the grounds that he is “young, and in love” (and an idiot). However, even a passing reference to Thea sends Hercules into a tizzy, and Deianeira starts to wonder if Illus wasn’t right.

Back in Oechalia, Tyndaros gives Alcinoe a “love philtre”, which she is to persuade Illus to administer to his father. Alcinoe doesn’t swallow that story, of course, but agrees to help destroy Hercules if Eurytus will give up on Thea and make her queen of Oechalia. This sits well with neither Eurytus nor Tyndaros, but for the time being they play along. Alcinoe sets out for Thebes, but while riding through the forest, she is attacked by a guy in one of the sorriest-looking bear costumes you will ever see (it’s one of those with an extended neck, so the person inside can see out the mouth!). Alcinoe faints, but just as the bear approaches her, Hercules rides up and, well, you know the drill!

....or bears....

Hercules then revives Alcinoe, who looks up into his eyes and--- Zing, zing, zing go her heart-strings....and clang, clang, clang goes her conscience when Hercules introduces himself. The arrival of Hercules’ friends provides a diversion and Alcinoe slips away, hiding the deadly philtre in a tree. Unfortunately for her, that exact same tree has an Oechalian spy lurking near it. What were the odds, hey? Her failure to carry out her side of the bargain sees Alcinoe cast into a dungeon by Eurytus. Meanwhile, Hercules is having a post-hunt party, but becomes furious upon hearing that Illus is setting out for Oechalia. He drags Illus off his horse and ties him to a tree (!!). This is witnessed by Ismene’s slave, Ilide. Posing as Thea’s slave, she gives Illus the philtre and tells him that it will restore his father’s sanity. Illus calls to Hercules for release, apologising and promising to behave himself.

A bribe arranges for Thea to be brought to the dungeon, where Alcinoe confesses the whole plot – and tells Thea that Eurytus poisoned her father, the true king, too. Eurytus himself arrives in time to overhear this exchange and has Thea imprisoned with Alcinoe. The two mourn their fate – and Hercules’. “Only a merciful god could help us!” exclaims Thea, and wouldn’t you know it? – no sooner has she spoken than a wind blows through the cell. This is “Aeolus! He gathers human words and carries them on the wind!” The girls break into a chorus of, “Illus! It’s poison! It’s poison, you doofus!” Illus has already emptied the philtre into his father’s wine – Hercules is being toasted, so he isn’t drinking – and as the wind carries the girls’ cries to him, our mental giant sits there for a time with a puzzled expression on his face – “‘Stop, Illus, they deceived me, it’s poison...?’ Huh? I don’t get it!” – but the penny – eventually – drops, just in time for Illus to dash the wine away from Hercules’ lips. As Illus apologises to his father – without saying what for, exactly – and embraces him, a dog licks up the spilled wine and dies foaming at the mouth. I guess this one I can’t blame on Hercules.

But the family peace is short-lived as, the next morning, Hercules learns that Illus has gone to Oechalia anyway. There, he too is captured and thrown into the dungeon (it’s getting mighty crowded down there). Eurytus taunts Tyndaros with Alcinoe’s betrayal, then announces that he will execute Illus as he planned in the first place (dammit, Eurytus, will you stop getting our hopes up!). Eurytus has, indeed, planned a demonstration of a most peculiar and gruesome sort: he has his condemned prisoners carried out on crosses (diagonal ones, let’s just be clear about that), and then gets an elephant to step on their heads! As Illus’ turn comes, Hercules is of course burning his way to Oechalia along with Androcles and another friend, all three in disguise (well, in red capes, anyway). They are thus admitted, and Herc throws himself into the arena just in time to save Illus and to fight a mighty battle with the elephant; a spectacle hardly diminished by the fact that the elephant’s movements are controlled by a handler who is in plain sight throughout.

....or elephants....

As Hercules frees Illus, the gathered populace of Oechalia stages a convenient rebellion, allowing the four intruders to escape. Hercules then takes Illus to the Sibyl, and we finally get to the root of the whole Thea mystery....kind of. I have to confess, the first time I saw this film I got mightily confused here, because it pulls a Fawlty Towers-esque, “I was looking at you but talking to him” stunt; so that when the Sibyl says, “Your progeny will rule Oechalia, but it will cost the life of the woman who loves you”, I thought she was talking to Illus, whereas she was really addressing Hercules. So just to clarify, Hercules believes that if Illus marries Thea, then Deianeira will die.

Anyway, Illus takes the dashing of his romantic hopes as you’d expect, by sinking into a suicidal depression, so that he has to go around with his hands bound to keep him from killing himself. Hercules, too, responds to the situation with all of his usual rational clear-thinking: he curses and abandons Thebes, and destroys his house with his bare hands. Which, if not particularly sensible behaviour, at least allows him to whip out the chains and indulge in a little patented pillar-pulling. Hercules and his entourage then ride off past some depressed Thebans (just realising, no doubt, that they’ll now have to do some work occasionally), and Deianeira reveals that Illus told her about the prophecy. Good old Illus!

The departure of Hercules and Illus prompts Eurytus to plan his marriage to Thea, he managing to force her consent by lowering Alcinoe into a snake-pit. Dammit! Why can’t I find a man like that? I’d like nothing better than to be lowered into a pit containing the most gorgeous little harmless pyth--- Uh, I mean, containing deadly, deadly snakes. Yes, that’s what I meant.

Meanwhile, as Hercules looks for a way to cross a flooded valley, Illus begs his mother to free him so he can kill himself. Seconded! But of course, Deianeira decides to sacrifice herself instead, and cries out to the gods to take her life. The gods are obligingly prompt in answering this request. Polymorpheus appears, first in the form of a centaur, then as a faun. Deianeira conveniently faints, and Polymorpheus carries her off. Hercules sees this, gets the wrong idea (although I don’t suppose the right idea would have worked out any differently), and does what he does best. The mortally wounded Polymorpheus manages to carry off Deianeira anyway, and Hercules loses it altogether, shouting threats at all the gods in general and his father Zeus in particular, before hurling a javelin into the sky. The gods respond with a blast of cartoon lightning that hardly seems designed to make Hercules regret his temerity.

On the contrary, Hercules goes to the temple of the God of Vengeance and demands to know where Deianeira is. “Answer! I am Hercules! You won’t answer me?” he concludes in a rage, apparently not having grasped the fact that, you know, he’s talking to a statue, and sets about messing up the joint, including smashing the taciturn statue to pieces. For some reason this inspires the Sibyl to announce that although the gods are against him, she is with Hercules; and that this is the day her grim prophecy is fated to come true. She reveals that Deianeira is in Oechalia, and that to enter the city (its walls, having been built by the Cyclops, being impenetrable), Hercules will need to find the rock in the woods marked with lightning, and--- And speaking of lightning, more cartoon blasts punish the Sibyl for her disloyalty. Indeed, the Olympian wrath extends so far as causing the sun to set in the middle of the day. This gives Eurytus a fit of the shakes, although he recovers himself sufficiently to try and strangle Tyndaros, when his advisor is unwise enough to taunt the tyrant with his cowardice. However, this friendly scrap is interrupted by the news that there is a centaur outside the palace calling for Eurytus. And so there is. Polymorpheus lives long enough to exchange Deianeira (still in that convenient faint) for a promise of Hercules’ death, then keels over.

....or fauns....

Hercules is met in the forest by a Theban army rounded up by Androcles on receipt of a message carried by Illus. By the gods! Illus did something useful!! Hercules and Androcles find the Sibyl’s rock, and Hercules pushes it aside to discover an underground passageway, into which protrude the roots of Oechalia’s walls. Hercules sends Androcles back to his army, telling him to storm Oechalia should its walls fall; and then, yup, he starts messing up the joint. The impregnable walls crumble immediately, almost as if the slabs of rock in them had just been loosely piled on one another. Hercules manages to escape the collapsing passageway and rejoins his army, which enters Oechalia without difficulty. The ensuing ruckus is heard by Deianeira, who is, yup, in the dungeon. Tyndaros appears, offering to free Deianeira and take her to Hercules (presumably buying his own life in the process), but Eurytus hurls a knife into his back.

Eurytus then grabs Deianeira and starts calling for Hercules, who arrives to find his wife teetering on the edge of Eurytus’ snake-pit. Half her luck. Eurytus promises to spare Deianeira if Hercules gets down on his knees and begs him for her life....which, in agony, he does. Ha, ha, made you beg, says Eurytus; and starts to push Deianeira towards the edge anyway. But then Alcinoe finally makes her move, rushing at Eurytus and propelling both him and herself into the pit. Hercules pushes aside the barred door he’s been cowering behind all this time, and lowers himself into the pit to rescue Alcinoe (a sequence highlighted by a shot of a no doubt mortified Broderick Crawford wrestling with a rubber snake). Alcinoe is brought out, but lasts only long enough to declare that she loves Hercules before dying. And Illus and Thea, who so richly deserve one another, are married; and Hercules’ progeny rules in Oechalia.

And thus is the Sibyl’s prophecy fulfilled.

Cheats.

....or Illus. (Okay, understandable.)


But wait! There’s more! (Yeah, I know. Sorry.)

Le Fatiche Di Ercole and Ercole E La Regina Di Lidia were a smash in the US and made a lot of money for their local distributor, Joseph E. Levine. Never slow to jump on a bandwagon, AIP immediately set about securing the rights to a clutch of other pepla, including La Vendetta Di Ercole. However, by the time the film made it to American screens, it had undergone certain....changes....and this time, it wasn’t just in its language and running-time.

Many pepla were about characters other than Hercules; but when these films reached American shores, it turned out that most of them were, in fact, about Hercules; or about the son of Hercules; or about Hercules’ third cousin twice removed; or about some guy Hercules met at a kegger one night.

Thing was, American audiences didn’t know or care about Maciste, or Colossus, or Samson, or even Coriolanus. They did know and care about Hercules. So it was that most imported pepla underwent a name change. And while this is also true of La Vendetta Di Ercole, the film has the rare distinction of starting out being about Hercules, and ending up being about someone else entirely.

One can only speculate about the reason for this counterintuitive alteration. Perhaps the Steve Reeves films were too fresh in people’s memories. Or perhaps Joe Levine felt he “owned” the name Hercules. (And if Universal can insist that it owns the titles “Dracula” and “Frankenstein”, it isn’t out of the question.) Whatever the reason, there’s no Hercules in this Hercules film. What we have instead is a little tale called....


GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON 

Just who, then, is “Goliath”? An opening narration explains – or tries to:

Narrator:  “Emilius the Mighty – the Goliath of Thebes – lived in the days when men worshipped strange, magical gods, believing in their powers with unshakable faith. Legend has it that Goliath served the God of Vengeance and the Goddess of the Four Winds. In return for his devotion, he was said to be favoured with immortality. He would never know death at the hands of any mortal. Goliath was held in awe by his friends and enemies alike. Only one man – Eurytus, the tyrant of Oechalia – did not believe in Goliath’s power to escape death. Determined slay him and seize Goliath’s powerful kingdom of Thebes, Eurytus had stolen the precious blood diamond belonging to the God of Vengeance, and hid it in the Cave of Horrors. After many months of searching, Goliath found the fearsome cave and, unafraid, entered it to fulfil his vow to return the blood diamond to his god.”

Okay, so there we have it. No Hercules, just some strong guy. This alteration forces some others, of course. There being no Hercules, there can be no labours. Similarly, there is no trip to Hades....although personally I’m willing to accept a “Cave of Horrors” as a substitute. There is no Sibyl now: the spectral prophetess is the Goddess of the Four Winds herself; it is she who carries Thea’s warning to Illus. And while her prophecy is essentially unchanged, some changes made to the Hercules family do rather alter its impact.

In Goliath And The Dragon, Illus has made a leap from being Hercules’ son to being Goliath’s brother. One can only speculate as to the reason for this: perhaps the similarity in age of the three actors involved was discomforting to the US distributors of the film. (When La Vendetta Di Ercole was made, Mark Forest was 27, Eleonora Ruffo 25 and Sandro Moretti the oldest of the three at 29.) Of course, Hercules had that whole “immortality of a demi-god” thing going for him – and now that I think of it, Deianeira was a demi-god too, her real father being Dionysus (which I guess makes Illus a hemi-demi-god....or maybe a hemi-demi-semi-god); so she was under no obligation to age either. But the same was clearly not the case for Mr and Mrs Emilius. The prophecy is consequently altered to, “Your brother will reign in Oechalia, but it will cost the life of the woman who loves you”, and this in turn lends a different tension to the rest of the film: Illus might have been prepared to take it all on the chin for his mother (not that he was, actually), but now he must sacrifice himself for a sister-in-law. His evident reluctance to surrender to circumstance thus makes him look a little less of a putz. Conversely, however, Deianeira’s willingness to give up her life for Illus is rather difficult to swallow.

But the prophecy is not the only reason Goliath is against Illus and Thea: the re-writers here threw in another plot thread about Thea’s parents killing Goliath and Illus’ parents. This seems an unnecessary complication....particularly as it leaves us wondering, if the two sets of parents had gotten along well enough and long enough for Illus and Thea to have “loved one another from childhood”, how and why it all ended in bloodshed. One imagines a bridge party gone horribly wrong.

There are some other curious things about Goliath And The Dragon. A number of the actors were clearly speaking English during the shoot, and we are able to see that the original script was actually much closer to the English language version than to the Italian language version released in Europe. (On the whole. Even though he was speaking English, Broderick Crawford’s voice was dubbed in the US version by someone who must have seen Eurytus as a Hell’s Kitchen-spawned gangster: you almost expect Eurytus to start calling people, “You dirty rat!” And actually, there’s one glorious moment when the faux-Eurytus spits at Tyndaros, “And after this morning, I forbid you to work on any of these plots that don’t make sense – ya moron!”)

Odder still is the inclusion of a whole new subplot just for the American market. The film opens with Goliath descending into what is now Eurytus’ Cave of Horrors, where he encounters (as you might have guessed) a dragon. Later on, when Polymorpheus delivers Deianeira to Eurytus, she ends up, not in Oechalia’s overcrowded prison system, but chained up in the cave, where Goliath must slay the dragon to rescue her. What is fascinating about this sequence is that it is Mark Forest and Eleonora Ruffo acting in it, not merely some stand-ins; so these scenes must somehow have formed part of the American distribution deal. Perhaps AIP even paid for them?

And he isn't too fond of dragons, either.

And this in fact was the case. In return for the American distribution rights, AIP agreed to co-fund the production of La Vendetta Di Ercole, and had a prop dragon head made for use in the film....only for Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson to be greeted, upon their arrival in Rome, with the news that the film's budget had been doubled. This was a standard Italian tactic at the time, a money-raising stunt pulled by producers used to interacting with the big American studios like MGM. They had reckoned without their hosts this time, however: the AIP boys got the next plane home. Some time later, Arkoff and Nicholson caught wind of a peplum whose producers had run out of money before completion. Sure enough, it was La Vendetta Di Ercole. Now in the box-seat, AIP agreed to fund the film's completion, making their own terms - including the shooting of some new scenes for the American market, using that dragon head for which they had - [*shudder*] - already paid money.

And so Goliath And The Dragon manages to one-up La Vendetta Di Ercole by giving us one extra pathetic animal for its hero to slaughter. Well – “pathetic” – yes and no. In long-shot, the dragon is an adorable stop-motion beastie (courtesy of Jim Danforth); in close-up, it is a rather tragic puppet head (albeit one with the remarkable ability to re-grow an eyeball, after Goliath puts its eye out with his sword). It is the latter which Goliath, uh, “battles”; something that makes him seem even more of a nasty old bully than when he was strangling that poor stupid bat-cat thing in the opening sequence.

And really, it is hard to regard someone as “heroic” when he does nothing but beat up refugees from Fraggle Rock. Personally, by the time the credits rolled on Goliath And The Dragon, I was just wishing that the Theban branch of the Humane Society would show up and haul our so-called hero’s sorry butt away.

And while we're on the subject, I guess Eurytus doesn't much care for snakes.

 
 

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