Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Fury of Hercules (1962)

Original title: La furia di Ercole

aka Fury of Samson

When Hercules (Brad Harris, as possibly the most likeable Hercules in any movie) arrives to visit a city state (whose name I found impossible to understand under the tape hiss and the English dubbing) ruled over by an old friend he hasn't seen in years, he finds things greatly changed.

The hero's friend is dead, and the city is now ruled by his daughter Cynidia (Mara Berni), who uses slave labour with such enthusiasm she looks evil for it even in ancient Greece to provide it with the best walls ever to grace a city. In truth, though, Cynidia isn't the true power in the city. The man behind the throne is the queen's counsellor Menistus (improbably played by Serge Gainsbourg, who doesn't do as much scenery chewing as I had expected of him), a man purely evil where Cynidia seems just misguided, waiting for the right manly man hero to come along and convince her of higher ethical standards. Menistus for his part is not satisfied with his role as grey eminence anymore and plans to have Cynidia killed. Unfortunately for him, his first assassination attempt - made by two assassins disguised as dancers disguised as statues no less - starts just when Hercules is visiting Cynidia.

Needless to say, Hercules drives the assassins away without breaking a sweat. Just as needless to say, Menistus doesn't like this disturbance of his plans, nor the fact that Cynidia nearly seems to have an orgasm whenever she just looks at Herc, and now plans to have the hero assassinated as well; which always works out well in Hercules movies.

Even worse for the bad guys is that the local hapless resistance movement as represented by Cynidia's servant Daria (Luisella Boni) soon makes contact with - and loving eyes at - Hercules to inform him of the true state of affairs in the city. Looks like our hero has his work cut out for him.

Gianfranco Parolini's Fury of Hercules is a strangely unloved peplum in large parts of the Internet, but, as is regularly the case, I have to disagree with public opinion. Sure, I generally prefer the more mythological (read: mad) peplums to the slightly more realist ones like Fury, but Parolini's film actually manages the feat of keeping a Hercules movie interesting without many scenes of people in monster suits or fights against adorable animals. Our hero may have a minor staring contest with a few elephants (spoiler: Herc wins), fight a lion (spoiler: Herc wins), and wrestle a guy in a fluffy ape suit (spoiler: Herc wins), these scenes, however, make up about five minutes of Fury's running time.

More often than not, this is a bad sign in a peplum about a mythological character, and signals total boredom in form of bad melodrama and a lot of tedium in the spaces between the few animal fights. And it is true, Fury has its share of melodrama, but much of it works in the context of the plot, and it's not the only thing the film has to offer. For most of Fury's running time is spent with many a scene of Hercules fighting through various human-sized dangers (so many of them spiky and pointy one can't help but think "penetration, Freud, oh my", or something of that kind), the bad guys doing bad things, and the plot actually moving forward with gusto for once in a peplum. Why, you could think the filmmakers cared about making this a rather exciting adventure movie.

Even better, Parolini seems to have worked under slightly more fortunate production circumstances than typical for this sort of thing. Fury was filmed in Yugoslavia (a part of it now belonging to Croatia), and makes excellent use of the opportunities landscape and buildings (I do at least assume part of the city in the film is a real place and not a set; if it's a set, it's a very convincing one) give him to make his film look more lavish. One also can't help but notice the surprising number of extras in the movie. I'm not talking DeMille numbers here, but it is not every peplum that can show several dozen attacking rebels on horseback at the same time. This slightly larger scale of everything (the interior sets - leftovers from a larger production, I would assume - follow suit) really helps to sell the film's story of oppression and rebellion, and make for a pretty exciting climax.

That climax is even more exciting because Parolini paces his film so well. Peplums in general tend to have rather sluggish pacing, yet Fury goes excitedly from one scene to the next as if the film just couldn't stop itself from showing its audience the next fun thing it has come up with.

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