Directors: Albert Band, Antonio Leonviola, Antonio Margheriti
Retromedia/Image Entertainment

Helping to relive those long-gone Saturday and Sunday afternoons of UHF channel gazing, Retromedia Entertainment has assembled a package of 1960s “sword and sandal” epics all featuring American-born musclemen in the leading roles. Produced after the enormous success of the first HERCULES starring Steve Reeves, Italy brought over the likes of Gordon Scott, Gordon Mitchell and Richard Harrison to don toga skirts, woo shapely heroines, wrestle armies of sadistic soldiers and fight off an array of ugly, village-threatening creatures. For this DVD set, a proposed mid-1960s TV pilot is paired with two other Herculesque features, and topped off with some enjoyable supplements dedicated to the late Gordon Mitchell.

Former Hollywood Tarzan and star of such notables as GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES and SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, Gordon Scott appears as Greek demigod Hercules in HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY. This 47-minute wonder was shot in Italy in the English language as a TV pilot for a series that was never to be. Produced by Joseph E. Levine (who gave us the original HERCULES) and directed by American exploitation vet Albert Band, it’s really a quirky little picture that is true to the spirit of previous films of this sort, but without the obvious dubbing and headache-inducing TV panning and scanning, and Scott was a smart choice to play old Herc. I’m sure if the series did get off the ground, the need for consistent production values would’ve skyrocketed the budget to mammath proportions, making it impossible for it to stay on the air too long anyway.

Sailing the seas in a massive ship, Herc and his brave followers fight off pirates to protect the daughters of Troy from being sacrificed to a hungry sea monster. Sailing off to Troy, Herc discovers that Princess Diana is to be the next in line to appease the gods and at the same time wet the monster’s appetite, but his intervention will allow her life to be spared as he battles wits with this creature from the sea. When it finally does appear in the climatic minutes, the monster is actually a quite impressive, large scale movable puppet creation from Carlo Rambaldi (of later ALIEN and E.T. mainstream fame), which kinda resembles THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD. Gordon Scott’s slaying of it is surprisingly violent for something that was produced with 1965 TV sets in mind. Gordon Mitchell is seen very briefly as a bad guy pirate, Diana Hyland is the beautiful blonde princess, Paul Stevens (BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES) and Mart Hulswit are Hercules’s sidekicks, and the music is by Fred Steiner (“Perry Mason”). If you ever caught this in syndication, it was probably under the title HERCULES VS. THE SEA MONSTER.

Also on the first side of the disc is the film GIANTS OF ROME starring Richard Harrison (GLADIATORS 7) as Claudius. Here, Claudius and a handful of other skillful Spartan warriors under the command of Julius Caesar are sent out on a suicide mission to sneak behind enemy Gaul lines and sabatage a hefty catapult, the enemies’ secret weapon. In the midst off all this adventure is a lot of fighting, kidnapping and torture, floods, several female love interests, a cowardly Roman trader joining their pack, and a scrawny boy who is sent to his agonizing death outside a safeguard cave as his fellow heroes remain inside and listen to him bawl like a baby. Also starring Renato Baldini, Wandisa Guida, Piero Lulli, Ettore Manni, Goffredo Unger and Gianni Solaro, the film was directed by maestro Antonio Margheriti (under his “Anthony Dawson” nom de plume) and written by the ever-busy Ernesto Gastaldi and Luciano Martino. GIANTS OF ROME is a passable costume actioner aided by a plot cribbed from a war movie, stock footage battle scenes and music cues lifted from Mario Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE by the film’s composer, Carlo Rustichelli.

On the flip side of the disc is ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS, which despite this U.S. TV title, stars Gordon Mitchell (billed as "Mitchell Gordon") as Maciste. In it, the beautiful but evil Queen Capys (Chelo Alonso, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) has an entire village destroyed and holds its remaining inhabitants as prisoners eventually to be made sacrifices to a giant Cyclops. Surviving the ordeal is the rightful heir to the throne and her baby boy, who is being hidden and protected outside the village. It’s up to Maciste to save the day, but when he enters the evil kingdom, he’s subjected to a drug-induced potion and competing in a wild game of tug-o-war over a lions’ den! Before it’s all over, Maciste gets to do battle with the Cyclops and outwits him with a dagger in the eye. This truly fun-filled feature began Mitchell’s career in Italian muscleman films, and there are some supplements on this side of the disc in tribute to the late actor (he passed away in 2003). “Gordon Mitchell in His Own Words” is a nice interview with Mitchell, originally found on Retromedia’s THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS release of 2001. The candid interview takes place in his home/office, which is crammed with movie memorabilia on his long career, as Mitchell gives us an entertaining little talk about himself. Also included here are short clips of Mitchell from BIKINI DRIVE-IN (1995) (where he plays Hercules battling a duo of teenagers in a simulated drive-in flick) and THE EVIL SPAWN (1987) (where he shares a scene and exchanges dialogue with Richard Harrison!).

If you got my UHF channel reference earlier, you’ll know what to expect in terms of quality, so I don’t think anyone’s gonna want to show off their home theater system with this set. These three titles have been previously seen on various public domain video releases, and don’t fare much better here. HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY looks the best, as it’s presented correctly full screen and the colors are not bad, with only a few print blemishes. The other two English-dubbed features are of course panned and scanned from their original widescreen format, and suffer from other various technical problems (picture softness, bleeding colors, hissy audio, etc.). You’re still likely to have a lot of fun with this collection, if you take it for what it is. (George R. Reis)