Retromedia has dug up an interesting triple bill of peblum films for this release, presented as a flipper with Hercules And The Princess Of Troy and The Giants Of Rome on one side and Atlas In The Land Of The Cyclops on the other. While the presentations are weak throughout, those who grew up watching this type of stuff Sunday afternoon while munching a bowl of popcorn and sucking back a Coke should get a kick out of these ones regardless. They're hardly the best that the genre has to offer (look to Mario Bava's Hercules In The Haunted World or Pietro Francisci's 1958 Steve Reeves vehicle Hercules for that) but they manage to pack in all the required staples of the genre – oiled up muscle bound heroes, beautiful maidens, and monsters, monsters, monsters!
Hercules And The Princess Of Troy (1965):
This forty-seven minute proposed television pilot stars Gordon Scott (best known for his stint as Tarzan in the fifties and a slew of sword and sandal films from sixties Italy) as the titular Hercules. When the movie begins he's cruising around the ocean in his boat – you know it's his boat as he's had a giant H embroidered on the sail – doing battle with some dastardly pirates (lead by Gordon Mitchell) who want to sacrifice his gal pals, the Daughters of Troy, to a giant monster that lives in the sea. After he's taken care of that he heads off to Troy itself where learns that the Gods intend to use Princess Diana (Diana Hyland who played Joan on Eight Is Enough!) as a sacrifice – he's none too impressed with this idea and so he opts to battle the beast she would be served to as lunch in her place. From there, he heads out to do battle with the beastie, and before you know it, the end credits are hitting the screen.
At such a short length it shouldn't be surprising that this one lacks any real character development but it sure is a fun ride anyway. The monster effects at the end are pretty cool in an old school kind of way, and the monster looks to be a puppet of some sort. Seeing him battle it out with Hercules is a lot of fun and while this is hardly an intelligent almost hour of entertainment, as far as muscle guys versus monster movies go, you don't have a lot to complain about. There's some style to the film, thanks to director Albert Band, who did Zoltan Hound Of Dracula in 1978, and it certainly moves along at a brisk pace.
The Giants Of Rome (1964):
The second film has a pretty serious cult movie pedigree. Not only does it star the master ninja himself, Richard Harrison, but it was directed by Antonio Margheriti (he of Cannibal Apocalypse fame) and co-written by Ernesto Gastaldi (who was responsible for writing a lot of Sergio Martino's giallo output in the seventies).
In the film, Julius Caesar is ready to launch an attack on the sinister Druids that have been causing him so much grief these last few years. He sends Claudius (Harrison) and a team of his Spartan warriors out on a covert operation to sneak into enemy territory and take down the massive catapult that they've built. If the Spartans are unable to get rid of that catapult, they'll be no match for their opponents so this mission, as unlikely as it may seem in terms of attainability, is of the utmost importance as the entire empire lays at stake once this war starts. Along the way, Claudius finds some time to make it with a lady or two (as it the Richard Harrison way – anyone who has seen Challenge Of The Tiger will tell you that), and there are a few traitors running around making things difficult for people, but that's more or less the gist of it and where pretty much all of the suspense comes from in this one.
Those familiar with Margheriti's output know that the man had a keen eye for directing action set pieces even when faced with budgetary constraints. The Giants Of Rome is a good example of how he was able to do a lot with a little as the film looks quite good and while, sure, there are some moments where the costumes might not look perfect or the sets are obviously sets, there was some definite tender loving care put into making this film. As such, it has some nice atmosphere, no small amount of style, and a remarkably likeable lead performance from Harrison who is about as far removed from his numerous Godfrey Ho ninja movies here as one can get.
Carlo Rustichelli supplies the score (those familiar with the work he did on Mario Bava's seminal Blood And Black Lace might notice some familiar cues) that sounds suitably epic and matches the action nicely. Though Margheriti opts to rely on stock footage in a few spots and while the plot is overly familiar to anyone who has seen his or her fair share of war films, this one is still an entertaining action movie, even if it is, sadly, the only film of the three on this disc to not feature any monsters.
Atlas In The Land Of The Cyclops:
While this one mentions Atlas in the title, hunky star Gordon Mitchell actually plays Maciste in the lead role. He's up against the sultry and sinister Queen Capys (Chelo Alonso) who just laid waste to an entire village of innocents and kept the survivors on hand to be used in her sacrifice to her dark god, an enormous and rather hairy Cyclops with a taste for blood.
Luckily, the patriarch of the village had a daughter who survived the attack, along with her son, still a mere child. They've been squirreled away to a safe hiding place outside of what used to be their village. Maciste is called in to help put things right, but it seems like he's only there a few minutes before he's drugged by the Queen and forced to compete in a game for her amusement that, should he lose, will find him made a meal for some hungry lions. He manages to escape and gets back on track, and he knows that if he wants to save the fair maiden and her kid and get them back to rebuild the village that once was, he'll have to hunt down the Cyclops and put a stop to his evil ways, but it won't be easy, even for a man of Maciste's remarkable strength.
This one isn't quite as fast paced as the first feature as it is a full length movie and so it actually has some moments in which characters chill out a little bit but it does come pretty close. There are some fantastic scenes in this one, the obvious highlight being when Maciste eventually throws down with the Cyclops himself. Mitchell is fine in the lead and while he lacks the charisma that Harrison and Scott showed before him, he's a likeable enough hero and it isn't hard to get behind him in his quest to do good and fight evil.
Antonio Leonviola, who helmed a few sword and sandel films in his time, directs the movie and while the monster effects are obviously low budget, like in Hercules And The Princess Of Troy they're pretty cool none the less and the Cyclops does make for a great villain alongside the sexy Queen.
While Hercules And The Princess Of Troy looks to have been either shot full frame or presented here open matte (probably the later as it was intended as a television pilot), the other two features which are also shown here full frame are very definitely cropped. Video quality is all over the place, with Hercules And The Princess Of Troy looking slightly better than the other two movies, however all three of them don't look much better than the other budget releases that some of the companion titles to these films have seen over the past few years from the likes of Alpha Video and Diamond. The video is soft throughout, colors bleed, black levels are muddy and colors tend to fluctuate at times. Detail is soft, and the image is pretty weak overall. The movies are watchable but nothing more than that.
Each of the three films are presented dubbed into English, which is fine considering more than a few of the principal stars spoke English anyway. There is the occasional pop in the mix and some hiss is present throughout a lot of the running time but it's never so overpowering that you can't understand what's going on and the background music actually sounds pretty decent here, quite epic in scope. Not a perfect presentation by any means, but it'll suffice until a better release comes along.
There's not much here in the way of extras aside from chapter selection and menus save for an interview with Gordon Mitchell entitled Gordon Mitchell In His Own Words that could previously be found on Retromedia's earlier DVD release of The Giant Of Metropolis. This is a great interview as Mitchell shows off some of his movie memorabilia from a few of the different movies that he was in and waxes nostalgic about his time in front of the camera. A few clips from various films in which he appeared spice things up a bit, and this makes for a very nice and rather informative examination of the man and his work.
While the presentations are pretty unimpressive and the lack of supplements
might put off those who are wooed by supplements, the three features on this disc are
still pretty enjoyable. If monsters and musclemen are your thing you get a lot of bang
for your buck on this release, making Hercules and the Princess of Troy/Atlas in
the Land of the Cyclops a recommended release for fans of Italian sword and
sandal films in spite of the obvious shortcomings.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.