Friday, April 9, 2021

HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1963) (The Film Detective Blu-ray Review)


Label: The Film Detective
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Not Rated
Duration: 95 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English-dubbed DTS-HD MA 2,0 Mono Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with Optional English and Spanish Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.20:1) 
Director: Vittorio Cottafavi
Cast: Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin, Laura Efrikian, Enrico Maria, Ivo Garrani, Gian Maria, Mimmo Palmara, Mario Petri, Mino Doro, Salvatore Furnari, Alessandro Sperli, Mario Valdemarin, Luciana Angiolillo, Maurizio Coffarelli, Nicola Sperli, Leon Selznick, Nazzareno Zamperla

Hercules and the Captive Women (1963) was directed by Vittorio Cottafavi, which is the U.S. version of the Italian film  Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (1961). In it an unusually sleepy Hercules (Reg Park, Hercules in the Haunted World) is tricked by Androcles (Ettore Manni, Silver Saddle) the King of Thebes, with the help of Hercules' son Illo (Luciano Marin, Colossus of the Stone Age), into an ill-conceived seafaring adventure, which runs amuck in short order when the crew, comprised of bitter slaves and thieves, attempts to mutinies. The mutineers are stranded on an island leaving only Illo, 
Androcles and his trusty dwarf sidekick Timoteo (Salvatore Furnari, Caligula), to pilot the ship, while strongman Hercules takes another nap.

On their continued adventures they're separated during a violent storm, Hercules rescues an Atlantean Princess named Ismene (Laura Efrikian, The Young Nun) from the shape-shifting creature Proteus (Maurizio Coffarelli), and returns her to Atlantis, where her secretly-evil mother Queen Antinea (a wonderfully vamped Fay Spain, Flight To Fury) again prepares to sacrifice her daughter to prevent a centuries old prophecy, and prepares to conquer the world with an army of brainwashed, blond supermen.

I am not the world's biggest connoisseur of sword and sandal flicks, particularly the glut of Italian made Hercules films, but watching this entry one thing I cannot say, is that it was ever boring. Hercules and the Captive Women is an action-packed, often ridiculous, slightly overstuffed fantasy adventure flick that looks like it had a decent budget with some solid production value for this era. 

This was Reg Parks first Hercules, and not his last, and while I have not seen the others he has an impressive physique and he's having fun in the part from the looks of it, but he's not the most cultivated actor. His bearded face indicating a stoic but aloof presence, his seemingly only facial expression sort of reminded me of the giant from Disney's Mickey and the Beanstalk (1947). However, his muscle-flexing and ability to lift baddies over his head and throw them is expert level! The real find for me here is Fay Spain as the evil Queen of Atlantis, she's totally vamping it up as the seductive and daughter sacrificing baddie with a beehive hairdo and dramatic eye make-up, it's just so great. 

The costumes are pretty great, too, the evil queens everchanging wardrobe looks cool, her secret army of supermen in black leather look bad-ass, and when Proteus changes into a reptilian creature it's cool in a goofy sort of way. The hokiest special effects might be a life-sized stuffed-lion that Hercules tosses, after battling a real lion that unfortunately look to have been de-toothed, during the Proteus battle, and a condor on a wire that attacks Hercules, also during the Proteus attack. 

Audio/Video: Hercules and the Captive Women (1963), AKA the America cut of Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis, arrives in region-free Blu-ray from The Films Detective. This is advertised as a new 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative,  presented in 1080p HD and framed in 2:20:1 widescreen. The source is in very good shape and is mostly free of blemishing, though the image can lean a bit soft, and the blacks have a greenish hue, but it's not awful and the presentation is generally consistent and pleasing.  The color palette stay most earth tone, though there is a lot of burn orange once we arrive at the island of Atlantis. 

Audio comes by way of both uncompressed English-dubbed DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono and lossy Dolby Digital mono with optional English subtitles. It's healthy if unremarkable sounding sounding mono mix that is well-balanced, the recycled library music score sounds quite decent, a lot of familiar themes in there, and it's free of hiss and distortion. 

Extras include and a 3-min introduction by Introduction by MST3K writer and co-star Frank Conniff, plus the full  92-min episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) from '92, which is a nice bonus, licensed from Shout! Factory.
We also get a new audio commentary by film critic and author Tim Lucas, offering a fun, detailed and typically excellent commentary, despite a few audio editing flaws that are sort of like a joke set-up without a punchline. Last but certainly not least is the 29-min Hercules and The Conquest of Cinema: A Swords and Sandals documentary produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, which gives an interesting overview of the sword and sandal 'peplum' sub-genre. 

The single-disc release arrives in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original illustrated movie poster artwork, which looks fantastic. Inside there's a 12-page illustrated booklet with new writing on the film from author and historian  C. Courtney Joyner that talks about the careers of Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott and Reg Parks, all of whom inhabited the role of Hercules in various films. The Film Detective put together a great package for their Blu-ray of Hercules and the Captive Women, any fan of the film and of vintage sword and sandal fantast adventures will be pleased with this release. 

Special Features: 
-  The full Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) version of the film, released in 1992 (92 min)
- Introduction by MST3K writer and co-star Frank Conniff (3 min) 
- Audio commentary by film critic and author Tim Lucas
- Hercules and The Conquest of Cinema: A Swords and Sandals, documentary from Daniel Griffith at Ballyhoo Motion Pictures (29 min) 
- The Duel of the Titan, a 12-page, full-color booklet insert with an essay from author and historian C. Courtney Joyner

If you're looking for some vintage sword and sandal action of the Herculean variety this bit of Italian peplum will most certainly fit the bill. I appreciate having the MSTK3 version as a bonus, but I seriously think this is a better film than that so-bad-it's-good branding would have you believe, and with this new 4K scan it's the perfect time for some re-evaluation. That's not to say that it is not silly, it definitely has it's cheeseball moments, they say "Uranus" way too much for it not to be a bit silly, but it's not a bad film. 

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: