Wednesday, January 22, 2014

For a variety of reasons, American movie goers in the 1960s got to be very familiar with characters like Hercules and Maciste. The number of films produced by American studios dropped greatly after the (for the movie business) boom years of World War II. But the number of theaters in the U.S. didn’t drop in similar numbers, which left many theaters, especially smaller and second-run theaters, scrambling for product to show.

At the same time, several European countries, trying to rebuild their film and other economies, put limits on the amounts of money American studios could take out of their countries. This led to an increase in American dollars being invested in producing and/or distributing films from those countries – it was one method, in a roundabout way, to try and get your money back to the U.S.

Also, some of those same countries were offering big tax breaks to encourage domestic film production, so in many European countries it became very inexpensive to produce films – films that would still have high production values. One of those countries was Italy, which, at the time, was also one of the four or five biggest film markets in the world.

With all these factors twining together, by the early 60s the floodgates had opened, and it was “Hello, Hercules!” at a great many American theaters. (There was also a corresponding flood of similar movies going straight to TV in the U.S. in the same period, which tells you how many of these type of movies were being produced.)

And so we come to Hercules Against the Moon Men. I tried to watch this as though I was a kid in the 60s seeing it in a theater, all hopped up on soda and candy. (Full disclosure: No candy or soda was actually consumed while I watched this.) From that perspective, I think that this film, more so than a lot of similar films from the same period, delivered the goods.

Does Hercules engage in feats of great strength? Yes he does. He hefts and tosses dead trees, smashes through walls, and bends iron bars. Does Hercules face certain death? Yes he does. There are numerous hand-to-Herc combats, and one awesome spiked death trap. Are there monsters? Yes there are. There are giant (and slow and stilted) rock monsters, and a sabre-toothed ape creature.
Cutting to the chase, are there Moon Men? Well, yes, technically. The real villain of the film is the evil Queen Samara (Jany Clair), who is exploiting her own people and working in cahoots with the Moon Men, who have a base inside the Mountain of Death. Still, there are Moon Men, so…

Poor Hercules (played by Sergio Ciani, but billed As “Alan Steel” in the U.S.) is kept busy pretty much from the moment he arrives in the city of Samar. After a certain point, it became humorous how much the terrorized locals were depending on Hercules. There’s scene after scene of them going to him for help, and, being the good guy he is, Hercules is always ready to lend a hand. At one point he even seems to be helping the evil Queen Samara, but of course, he’s just pretending to get information he needs to help the people of Samar.

On the other hand, there’s not much that can help the functional-but-that’s-all dubbed dialogue. It consists mostly of lines like, “Come on! Let’s storm the palace!” or “Hurry! To the Mountain of Death!” Not inspiring, but it keeps things moving for the most part.

Though this may not be the most intellectual of entertainments, it does seem to contain something for almost everyone. As explained above, there are monsters and battles for the kids. If Dad had happened to come along for the show, he’d probably enjoy the shapely female residents of Samar. If Mom came along, well, there were at least three or four tight close-ups of Ciani/Steel’s shapely and always well-oiled pecs, not to mention his biceps, etc.

It may not be a “real” piece of mythology, but as a piece of flashy, fun cinematic history, I personally think this Hercules is pretty good. And I’m sure it’d be even better with some candy and soda.

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