Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hercules and the Masked Rider

1963 Colour 84 Minutes

IMDB link

Everybody’s favourite Greek strongman is back and this time he’s helping the innocent people of Spain in their battle against some evil Dons and their loyal conquistadors. Hercules teams up with a masked avenger, who hopes to free the people of the tyrannical rule of the wealthy Dons and lead them into a life of peace and prosperity for all. With Hercules’s mighty muscles and the daring skills of the Masked Rider, the two men wage a war against overwhelming forces.
Star: Alan Steel

I think these movie synopsies are great. They just roll right over obvious inconsistencies, like the fact that “everybody’s favourite Greek strongman” is busy in 16th-century Spain this time around. Is Hercules immortal?

There’s only one evil Don in this movie, a man who wears the classical ‘evil beard’ and spends his spare time hunting down peasants (better sport than deer, apparently), promising his men “if you catch the woman, you can have her!”, just so we know how bad he is. Hercules spends his time with a band of Gypsies living in an apparently unclaimed bit of forest between the lands of two Dons. One of these Dons is of course Duke Evil (I forget the character’s name); the other is Don Good Guy, an old man whose daughter is in love with her cousin (naturally), the real hero of the story referred to as the “Masked Rider”.

The Masked Rider (sans mask) shows up early in the movie at Don Good Guy’s place, and is promptly pissed off at the news his cousin, Donna Hot Chick, is to be married to Duke Evil very soon, in order to protect the people of Don Good Guy’s lands and prevent a war. So, Masked Rider tries to elope with his love / close relative, and is soon banished by Don Good Guy for jeopardizing the whole deal. Don Good Guy is really a pretty well done character. His schtick is basically that he hates his neighbour, but cannot afford to raise and equip an army capable of defending against Don Evil’s mercenaries. So, he takes the only option available to him to protect his people from Don Evil’s depopulating pasttimes, and has sworn an oath never to shed blood, including indirectly via defensive warfare.

Masked Rider then has an encounter with the band of Gypsies, who let him live (and join their society with a pretty high rank) after he survives a fight with Hercules. Hercules doesn’t say much in this movie, nor does he take command of anything. He’s really just around to look tough and achieve feats of impressive strength, such as fighting six men at once, and picking up and throwing an entire hangman’s gallows. But that mostly comes later.

Anyways, the whole “save the people” bit kind of gets left behind in favour of “prevent the evil marriage”. I’m not sure why the Gypsies and other local peasants are so happy to risk their lives over Masked Rider’s incestuous libido, but they seem to go along for the ride. I’m also not sure what happened to Masked Rider’s soldiers (he’s a high-ranking officer in the army of Spain, apparently), who were supposed to show up the second day. Oh well. Hercules, Masked Rider and their pals hatch multiple schemes (some, actually, quite good) to get at Duke Evil, and eventually succeed. Huzzah!

Overall, this movie wasn’t as painful as I expected. Once I got used to the limitations of early-1960’s filmmaking technology (poor visual resolution, incorrect sound synchronization, no special effects to speak of), I was quite entertained by this movie. As I said, some of the cunning plans that Masked Rider et alia came up with were pretty smart, so the writing really wasn’t too bad. There were frequent camera cuts for no apparent reason in mid-scene, and some character interactions were very one-dimensional, but the main story was decent and we got to see Hercules pick people up and throw them (presumably onto pads located just off-camera; once onto a convenient large pile of hay on-camera). Plus, plenty of “peasant girls” in tight blouses.

It’s only during the credits that I discovered this movie was made in Italy, and this is an English translation (from 1964). The quality of the transfer to DVD is pretty low… what I thought were sound synchronization issues may have been dubbing related; if that’s the case, the translation was excellent, in that they were able to get very close to a realistic word conversion that fit the actors’ facial movements. Additionally, the probably-widescreen original was simply smeared onto the middle of the TV screen, chopping off anything happening at the sides. No pan-and-scan, just straight up the middle.

*** (Three out of five stars.)


King Aardvark said...

That's a surprisingly high rating. I'm impressed, for something whose historicity is like that of the Zorro movie in the "Glove Slap" Simpson's episode.

Which of course means that this movie needs ninjas.

TheBrummell said...

That's a surprisingly high rating.

I was honestly pretty surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, in a non-camp kind of way. Seriously, the writing (which, presumably, is less technology-dependent than most other aspects of cinematography) is pretty good.

Which of course means that this movie needs ninjas.

That probably would have made the movie even better, yes. It certainly wouldn't have added any additional anachronisms - we've already got Hercules in 16th-century Spain.