12/19/06

502 Hercules

(1958, Fantasy-Sword & Sandal, color)

It looks like a big, brawny, hairy, glistening, two-fisted, manly day!

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Hercules quests for the Golden Fleece with Jason while he woos the lovely princess Iole.

Summary:

Herc implores Iole to check out his pecs.Princess Iole returns home to her city in a chariot, but her horses panic and race towards the edge of a cliff! It’s a good thing Hercules (Steve Reeves) is there to stop them with an uprooted tree. He catches the fainting Iole and flinks her awake with some seawater.

She wakes up and has a long, overwrought flashback about the murder of her uncle the king, and Jason the missing heir. Her father became king, but he somehow could never shake those pesky rumors of having arranged the regicide. Herc admits that he can’t fix her horses, so he tows them into the city while she rides snuggled up with him on his own mount.

At the city, Herc bends a metal bar to prove his identity. Satisfied, the king charges him with the task of making his lazy, effeminate son Iphitus fit to rule. This proves difficult, as the obnoxious prince insists on showing up late to half-naked manliness practice. Herc embarrasses him in front of the local dignitaries by teaching young Ulysses to outshoot him, and then throwing a discus so hard that it never comes down.

Out of spite, Iphitus follows him to his battle with the Nemean Lion and gets himself killed. This gets Herc in trouble with his father the king and his sister Iole. Herc finds a seeress, Sybil, and complains that he’d rather be a simple family man than a hunky demigod.

Later, Herc finds a young man who claims to be Jason, the true heir to the throne, and takes him to see the king. To prove his claim, they decide that Jason will sail to the Colchidaes and bring back the symbol of his royal heritage, the Golden Fleece. He sets out with Hercules, Ulysses, Orpheus, Laertes, and several other famous Greeks on the quest. Meanwhile, it turns out that the king killed his own brother after all; he sends his Lincolnesque assassin with them in secret.

Their first stop is the island of the Amazons, where Jason and several of his men are ensnared by the beautiful and dangerous warrior women. They all get drunk and sleep around, culminating in the lengthy grapefruit dance and a planned human sacrifice. Fortunately, Ulysses drugs them all so that Hercules can kidnap his erstwhile crewmates and carry them back to the ship before the Amazons can kill them. Orpheus sings a hearty, lusty song to drown out his crewmate’s lovelorn complaints when they awaken.

At the Colchidaes, Hercules and the crew battle an army of ape-men while Jason fights a leafy Tyrannosaur for the fleece. The ugly truth about his regicidal uncle is written on the back of it in blood. They sail home to claim the throne, but when they arrive, the fleece has been stolen. Herc follows the Lincolnesque assassin to the king’s chambers and accuses them, but he mistakenly stands on the secret trap door owned by all evil masterminds and gets dropped into the dungeon.

Iole sneaks in, finds him, and wakes him up. He pulls his chains from the wall and breaks the door down, using them like flails against the assassin. He joins a battle already in progress between the city guard and Jason’s crew, drives the guards out, and knocks the pillars down on top of them. The king poisons himself and confesses his crimes to Iole as he lies dying. In the end, Jason becomes king and Iole marries Hercules. The happy couple runs off to Thebes, where our story will continue (um, has already continued) in Episode 408, Hercules Unchained.

Introduction:

That thing's got to play hell on your back after a while.It’s casual day on the Satellite of Love, so Joel and the ‘Bots decide to go unscripted. There is a long, uncomfortable silence.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester has invented the cellular desk, which straps onto the front of him. He calls Frank over and gives him his employee review. Joel has invented Instant Karma. You just pour in the powder, add water, your deed is instantly rewarded. Good deeds get candy. Bad deeds get Michael Bolton concert tickets. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester accidentally knocks Frank out with his desk.

Host Segment Two:

Tom invents new constellations, such as the Ham Sandwich and Pickle, The New Christy Minstrels, and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Crow shows up with his own constellation, The Pencil. Quoth Tom, “I weep for the death of the spirit and of the soul.” “Hey, who doesn’t?” Joel replies.

Host Segment Three:

Joel and the ‘Bots eat Cap’n Ron cereal and wonder about the number of people in the band Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds.

Host Segment Four:

Crow reenacts The Match Game, playing all the characters himself. As the host he asks a question about the happiest day of his life. The answer is “The day I bought my boat, and the day I _____.” All of the contestants fill in the blank with some synonym of “butt.” In announcing the real answer, Crow devolves into an existential Shakespearean soliloquy.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow talk about how great it would be to be waited on by Amazons. A pair of them shows up in a VW space bus, talking like midwestern housewives. Joel asks the Amazons to give them a ride back to Earth, but one of them says, “You kids can walk; it’s nice out.” Down in Deep 13, TV’s Frank accidentally swats Dr. Forrester with the cellular desk.

Stinger:

Quoth Esculapius, “It’s like something out of a bad dream.”

Thoughts:

Those deadly and bewitching Amazons.When the Amazons capture Jason and his men, they recognize the warlike ladies and realize that the legends about them are true (i.e., catch the men, sleep with them, and then sacrifice them to their man-hating gods). Despite the knowledge of certain death at the end, they go along with it, nudging and winking at each other all the way back to the Amazonian boudoirs. Their queen even admits to their ultimate intentions later when Jason confronts her about it. So, what were those guys thinking? Well, okay, it’s obvious what they were thinking, but were the ancient Greeks really so starved for physical affection that they were happily willing to die for it? This film seems to think so.

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, you’ve really got to alter Greek mythology a great deal to manage a happy ending. Even with her brother killed, and her father exposed as a murderer and dead by suicide, Iole somehow lives happily ever after. Some of the special effects were kind of goofy (like that leafy rubber dinosaur), the dancing girl sequence went on a little long, and Steve Reeves obviously wasn’t cast for his acting ability. These things aside, it’s really not that bad a film. I could actually tell what was going on through the entire thing, putting it head and shoulders above most MST3K features.

The host segments are great overall. My favorite is the Match Game sketch. Even though the first part goes on a little too long, the weird Shakespeare at the end was perfect. Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Jones are funny as the Amazon moms, and I wonder why we don’t have the astronomers update the constellations every now and then per Tom’s suggestion. Even the invention exchange and the casual day sketch, though not as funny as the others, are still quite amusing.

Though not a masterpiece, the film would be worth watching even without the commentary, but Joel and the ‘Bots manage to make it even better. While crazy lines trace the constellations in the opening credits, Tom says, “Stephen Hawking presents, the Silly String Theory.” When Iole protests to her father that the stranger must be Hercules because he stopped her panicking horses, Joel responds, “Well, he could be Roy Rogers.” When the Amazons capture Jason and his crew and march them to their home, Joel calls it, “the Bataan sex march.” This is one of the best episodes in the series.