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TCM Spotlight: Sword and Sandal
Remind Me

Hercules, Samson & Ulysses

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses! What's wrong with this picture? Obviously screenwriter/director Pietro Francisci can't tell the difference between Greek mythology and Bible stories but who cares when you've got three superheroes in one film!

The plot, as you'd expect, is an opportunistic concoction that exploits every cliché from the genre - a fight to the death with a lion, boulder tossing, whip dances - and some you wouldn't like a case of mistaken identity in which an evil tyrant thinks that Hercules and Samson are the same person. Of course, we can tell the difference. Hercules (Kirk Morris) is a chip off the old Steve Reeves block while Samson (Richard Lloyd) is so muscle-bound he has trouble walking - waddling is more like it. But what's with Ulysses (played by the incredibly scrawny and ferret-like Enzo Cerusico)? In this adventure, he's reduced to playing court jester to Hercules's straight man.

For the record, here's a brief plot synopsis: Hercules, Ulysses and a crew of men sail off in search of a sea monster that's been terrorizing the local fishermen. Their ship sinks in a storm and the survivors (including our two heroes) make their way to an unfamiliar shore. Eventually they come to the village of Judiah where Samson, a fugitive from Gaza, is in hiding. Hercules and his men are suspected of being enemy spies and are betrayed by the locals, resulting in their imprisonment by the tyrant of Gaza. Delilah, the ruler's mistress, quickly takes a personal interest in Hercules and helps him escape. Together they lure Samson into the open where the two musclemen settle a major misunderstanding before agreeing to join forces against the evil empire.

The major set piece in Hercules, Samson and Ulysses is, of course, the big set-toppling brawl between Herc and Samson. They throw building blocks at each other, crash through solid oak doors, and bend iron bars around each other's necks. The match - a free style mix of boxing and wrestling - probably sets a record for Styrofoam prop destruction in a film, all of it exaggerated further by the over-emphatic grunts, groans and sound effects. Other action highlights include Samson's double spear throwing assault in which he picks off an entire hunting party and the climactic battle in Gaza complete with flaming arrows and more stone slab hurling.

As for eye candy, there's the luscious Delilah, played by Liana Orfei, a veteran of numerous togathons (The Tartars, The Giant of Metropolis, both 1961) and the cult horror film, Mill of the Stone Women (1960). At times, Ms. Orfei resembles Virginia Mayo at her most vixenish. Despite her namesake, Delilah never gets to use her famous scissors here but she has fun with her wicked character, particularly in the scene where she tries to seduce Hercules in a pond (he declines, preferring to pluck a chicken!).

Filmed in 1964, Hercules, Samson and Ulysses arrived toward the end of the peplum craze which first gained momentum with the international success of Hercules starring Steve Reeves (it was released in 1957 in Europe but didn't reach U.S. shores until 1959). If you've never experienced one of these cheesy Italian imports before, this is probably not the place to begin - try Hercules Unchained (1960) or Hercules and the Captive Women (1961) instead. But if you've been addicted to these things since you were a school kid, this one is recommended if only for the English dubbed dialogue, a mixture of the absurd and the anachronistic ("There she blows," a crewman yells upon spotting the sea monster). Most of the best lines come from Hercules. As he feasts on a strange animal he's just slain and roasted, he proclaims with gusto, "I don't know the animal but I know this meat is DELICIOUS!" Equally profound is his comment to his men as the villagers of Judiah flee their arrival, "I think they may be unaccustomed to the way we're dressed." Only in Hercules, Samson and Ulysses do you get dialogue that's so subtle and understated.

Producer: Joseph Fryd
Director: Pietro Francisci
Screenplay: Pietro Francisci
Cinematography: Silvano Ippoliti
Film Editing: Pietro Francisci
Art Direction: Giorgio Giovannini
Music: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Cast: Kirk Morris (Hercules), Richard Lloyd (Samson), Enzo Cerusico (Ulysses), Liana Orfei (Delilah), Aldo Giuffre (Seran).

by Jeff Stafford



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