These films were – ahem – certainly not the cream of the crop. These weren’t award-winners by any stretch of the imagination; and if they came from Hollywood (or a close facsimile) then they were likely B-pictures or low-budget fare that came-and-went from the box office quicker than a sneeze. This meant that my Friday nights and Saturday mornings and afternoons were largely spent with Abbott and Costello pictures, forgettable Westerns, monster movies, Science Fiction features produced on an Ed Wood budget or a bit extra (some of them coming from Japan), and a number of swords-and-sandals motion pictures (most of these coming from Italy).
And because my options were limited (very limited), I learned to not only stick with watching a less-than-captivating feature but also (dare I say?) find some reason to like it. After all, the Sunday newspaper edition TV guide showed the film scheduled for two hours: if I were to give it two hours of my young life, then I may as well make the best of it.
Sure, much of it was schlock. Much of it was cheaply made. Much of it would be forgotten once I turned the TV off and climbed into bed. But while it was on, I learned to give it my undivided attention and make the best of it. (Mind you, this was the quality of entertainment those merry knuckleheads at MST3K spent a few seasons lampooning to solid effect. I learned to laugh at these flicks as those comics did.)
So there’s no doubt in my mind that I probably took in Hercules And The Captive Women as a young’un. Now that I’m older and (allegedly) wiser, I’m glad to have rediscovered it on Blu-ray as it’s exactly the kind of feature this old dog enjoys.
From the product packaging: “The bold and daring Hercules encounters Ismene when he must save her from a shape-shifting creature – and that’s just the beginning! Ismene then brings Hercules to Atlantis where they come face to face with the evil Queen Antinea, Ismene’s mother, and try to prevent her dreams of world conquest. Will Hercules prevail?”
While there are differing versions of mythology regarding Hercules’ origin, the most commonly accepted throughout Western civilization is that the god Zeus seduced the mortal Alcmene by disguising himself as her husband. After three nights of wild sex, the Earthly woman was properly impregnated. Hera – Zeus’s sister and wife (yes, you read that right) – learned of her husband’s dalliance, and she spends many of her days generally making life difficult for young hero. This is why the half-human, half-immortal’s life is perfectly suited for filmdom: he spent most of his days trying to halt the larger-than-life shenanigans unleashed by the gods on his brothers and sisters across mankind. Think of Hercules as the original Superman, set down on Earth by the gods instead of the distant Krypton, imbued with the task of putting wrong things right, and you get the picture.
Honestly, very little of the strongman’s origin is necessary to appreciate the character presented in Captive Women. Here, Hercules is already a man of note: his legendary triumphs make him a natural hero for the people of Thebes … so when some supernatural force warns of impending doom for all of Greece, it’s perfectly natural for King Androcles to enlist the son of Zeus on a journey to uncover the threat and make the world safe again.
A more tightly constructed set-up would be necessary to elevate Captive Women to the level of being a must-see picture of the swords-and-sandals era of filmmaking, but Cottafavi still delivers the goods in the second half. Hercules unravels the mystery behind Antinea’s hidden island, and it involves a level of deception that perhaps even the gods wouldn’t have attempted: genetic alteration means our hero will face a veritable army of his muscular equals!
For the record, this performance was athlete-turned-actor Reg Park’s inaugural picture as Hercules. (I’ve read he starred in four films for the studio.) Though he mumbles his way through some of the dialogue, he certainly looks the part when the script gives him the opportunity to flex his way into the proper exploits. What he lacks in charisma he makes up in sheer determination here, even when the script and visual trickery isn’t quite up to the Herculean task. By the end, he shows these ‘Captive Women’ who’s boss, and the picture is better for his contribution.
What is worthy of note for the film is the production detail, particularly the Atlantean interiors and some of the external shooting locations. While I’ve lamented in reviews about how modern pictures rely all too much of CGI creations to convey the sense of scale and scope of distant worlds, Captive Women presents a veritable castle that was built with the blood, sweat, and tears of studio craftsmen. The costumes of the Atlantean army are both dynamic and threatening – Stormtroopers for the age of barbarians – just as a domineering force would and should be. Costumes and set décor complete the visual aesthetics, and the film demonstrates why this reviewer still prefers reviewing pictures of old as opposed to the modern era: they just feel more authentic than a bunch of colorful pixels rendered in post-production.
So, yes, whereas other critics might dismiss the feature as cinema fodder, I liked it plenty. While some of this enjoyment might be the effect nostalgia has on these old bones, I’d argue that there’s still a legitimate amount of magic captured in these 95 minutes. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks is true, and if I like mine with a bit of camp there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that … gods be praised!
Recommended. This Hercules was clearly made at a time when motion picture production was simpler – not so many special effects and visual hoopla was necessary to convey the story – and perhaps aptly demonstrates what the whole swords-and-sandals era of filmmaking was about. Performances might not be perfect all around, but peplum pictures – not an insult so far as this writer is concerned – were a bit more focused on the spectacle than they were the spectacular. Lastly, the film sports some incredible set production value in its latter half, and that alone managed to keep my interest when some of the pacing lagged.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at The Film Detective provided me with a Blu-ray of Hercules And The Captive Women by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape or form influenced my opinion of it.