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DVD SAVANT

Hercules and the Captive Women
Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide


Hercules and the Captive Women
Retromedia / Image
1961 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 101 93 min. / Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide / Street Date February 13, 2007 / 19.95
Starring Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin, Laura Efrikian, Enrico Maria Salerno, Ivo Garrani, Gian Maria Volontè, Mario Petri, Salvatore Furnari, Maurizio Coffarelli, Nicola Sperli
Cinematography Carlo Carlini
Production Design Franco Lolli
Film Editor Maurizio Lucidi
Original Music Gino Marinuzzi Jr., Armando Trovajoli
Written by Vittorio Cottafavi, Sandro Continenza, Duccio Tessari, Archibald Zounds Jr. from characters by Pierre Benoit
Produced by Achille Piazzi
Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This time around Retromedia comes through with the goods: Hercules and the Captive Women is from a 'scope source and is rather nicely transferred. Better yet, this is a quality movie with fun characters, a reasonable script and vigorous direction from Vittorio Cottafavi, much better than his earlier Goliath and the Dragon.

Synopsis:

King Androcles of Thebes (Ettore Manni) tricks his friend Hercules (Reg Park) into a voyage to find out what country or force is threatening all of Greece. Hiding in the ship is Hercules' son Hylus (Luciano Marin). Abandoning a disloyal crew, they continue sailing until separated by a storm. Hercules ends up on the magic island of Proteus (Maurizio Coffarelli), a monster who transforms into several animals before Hercules kills him. That frees young Princess Ismene (Laura Efrikian aka Altan) from confinement within a rock wall. Hercules returns Ismene to the island of Atlantis, where he meets the cold and conniving Queen Antinea (Fay Spain). She lies to Hercules, drugs him and tries to rob him of his memory. Antinea has also used drugs to turn Androcles into a remote-controlled murderer. Hylas and his midget helper Timoteo (Salvatore Furnari) come to the rescue when Antinea orders Ismene -- her own daughter -- killed. Hercules frees Antinea's scarred captives and learns the Queen's real purpose from Zantas, the Priest of Uranus (Mario Petri): She's using a magic stone to create an army of super-men to conquer the world!

The first two thirds of Hercules and the Captive Women is high-class campy fun. An opening scene gathers three 'stars' as Grecian kings -- Enrico Maria Salerno, Ivo Garrani & Gian Maria Volontè -- before sending Reg Park's laid-back muscleman off on another ill-defined adventure. The story moves along quickly through a series of ellipses. We don't see Hercules initially being drugged to go on the voyage, and we cut from the mutinous crew cutting the water skins, straight to the next day's search for water on a nearby island (apparently the same archway beach used in Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts). Reg Park's Herc prefers to sleep through everything until it comes time to rescue the cute Ismene, who Proteus has locked into solid rock like the damned souls in Dante's Inferno. Brisk pacing and a good sense of humor brighten the proceedings, and Vittorio Cottafavi's camera direction is excellent. Unlike most sword 'n' sandal groaners, this is a carefully-filmed show.

Reg Park has mastered the art of delivering dialogue while rippling selected muscles on his torso. His pecs will shudder a bit, or the muscles on his stomach will shift as if his internal organs were rearranging themselves. Park has the regulation Steve Reeves beard but can't do much with his one facial expression, which always evokes a bemused stupor.

A good supporting cast fills in the acting gaps. Luciano Marin and Laura Efrikian are a cute couple, and she's particularly deserving as a lady in need of rescue. Ettore Manni is just okay as the brainwashed Androcles but ex-Dragstrip Girl and Teenage Doll Fay Spain is one of the best evil Queen types ever, just terrific. Like all truck stop sirens that get the hots for Hercules, Spain's Antinea tries to lobotomize the (happily married) hunk with a date-rape drug. Herc takes the sleeping potion but is smart enough to spit it all out and escape from her icy clutches. Actually, Antinea's maidservant serves Herc with a look that would tell anybody they were drinking poison, so maybe he's not that smart after all.

The dubbed dialogue is better than usual except that Antinea has usurped the powers of the god Uranus, which cues lines like, "All hail the power of Uranus!" and "The blood of Uranus can never be destroyed!" The American importers surely knew a gold mine of untapped humor when they saw it, and dubbed accordingly.

The special effects are basic but make their point. Antinea's invincible soldiers all have the same albino beetle-brow look of her Grand Vizier (Mimmo Palmara). Spear and sword throws are better handled than usual and the dissolves and other in-camera effects look fine as well. Proteus is a goofy rubber-suited lizard monster that at least is interestingly designed.

The costumes are also given special attention, especially Fay Spain's many zaftig gowns. Antinea's hair is a giant black beehive that looks campy as hell. The film has many crowd scenes and a couple of reasonable fights; the only silly production scene is a crane shot that reveals dozens of neatly posed dead bodies. Reg Park stares at the sight as if sad that there's nobody left to play with him. The main set consist of two really big columned façades built into quarry walls. I've seen it in several muscleman movies and wouldn't doubt that it was constructed for this one. The ubiquitous underground grotto location (presumably close to Rome) also gets a lot of use.

The titles for Hercules and the Captive Women announce that it was photographed in Super Technirama 70, an expensive process that enlarges and stretches 35mm squeezed VistaVision to 70mm. This was quite an anomaly considering that most sword 'n' sandals used the cut-price half-frame Techniscope 35mm format. The lighting isn't quite up to the Mario Bava standards of Hercules or Hercules in the Haunted World, but is again much better than the norm.

The story stays fresh and exciting up to the point where Hercules crumbles the roof of the Uranus shrine to let in a shaft of light. Only in the last couple of reels does the action turn to repetitive fights, chases in multi-horse chariots and other predictable material. The concluding inundation of Atlantis utilizes some good angles of real volcanoes amid falling miniatures and giant fake rocks. A colossal-looking falling stone column clobbers Fay Spain's mannequin stand-in. I can see Hercules and the Captive Women playing well to audiences of cheering ten year-olds, who can laugh at the Uranus jokes, too.


Image and Retromedia's DVD of Hercules and the Captive Women is a good transfer of a basically intact 35mm print with excellent color. Three or four splices intrude but the only bad one is an early break that truncates a prologue spoken over a map of Greece. This Woolner Brothers import version is ten minutes shorter than the Italian original (said to be available in Region 2) and the import producer Hugo Grimaldi definitely did a lot of chopping. Gordon Zahler's music editing keeps the scoring exciting at all times. It's unclear how much if any of the music is Gino Marinuzzi Jr's original work. We hear many different cues, including the main theme and mood music from Creature from the Black Lagoon!

Woolner begins his new version with a good-looking animated title sequence. It lists few Italian credits and misspells the director's name as Cottafani.

On the opposite side of the flipper disc is Retromedia's bonus feature Hercules, Prisoner of Evil (Ursus, il terrore dei kirghisi) from 1964, directed by Antonio Margheriti and also starring Reg Park and Ettore Mani. It's a generic muscleman movie about a sorceress changing men into vicious beasts. The beardless Park looks like a beefy ski instructor. Set in a vague Eastern Europe ruled by Mongol invaders, the film has good art direction but blah direction and story. The flat, faded and scratched Pan-Scan print bears no credits excepting an Arkoff & Nicholson title card, and is probably a TV-only release.

The disc packaging doesn't billboard Retromedia's paternity, which is too bad as this is one of their better releases. The suggestive cover artwork has no relation to the film at hand. In fact, the English title Hercules and the Captive Women is a cheat, as there is only one 'captive' woman, Ismene, and she's never placed in a sexually compromised position. This was confirmed by Queen Antinea, who said you could bet Uranus on that.  1


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Hercules and the Captive Women rates:
Movie: Good and mostly Fun
Video: Good
Sound: Good -
Supplements: Bonus Feature Hercules, Prisoner of Evil
Packaging: Flipper disc in Keep case
Reviewed: February 9, 2007

Footnote:

1. A thousand pardons. I just wanted to see if anyone was reading. Popcorn movies are fun to review.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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