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Giovanni Di Benedetto
ULYSSES AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES is not an easy Peplum to review. It does stand out from the endless batch of Italian action films starring beefy actors. ULYSSES AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES has a definitely different tone to it though, a more French feel to it than most Sword & Sandal films. There's a lot of action and there are monsters and weird creatures and such. You know, typical Peplum ingredients but the film is very wordy. It relies a lot on dialogue and word play between the characters, which is typically French. Also the actor who plays Ulysses, French actor Georges Marchal, is unmistakably French looking. These differences actually makes this one stand-out from the rest of the pack.
But even with these original aspects, is it great? Well, good but not great (maybe with a better DVD transfer, it would fall into the great category). It IS very entertaining, rarely boring and sorta admirable that these guys did try to do something different but the whole package is most definitely uneven.
The story is about Heracles(played by 6'8" tall Mike Lane) trying to bring Ulysses to justice, for some actions which took place before the film began. At one point, Heracles has Ulysses "handcuffed" to him and the two men go through their journey bound together, like in THE DEFIANT ONES.
There are some moments which are thrilling unto themselves but there are a lot cheesy ones too. The stand out "bizarre" scene here is a dance number (what's with Sword & Sandal films and kooky dance sequences?) where the two heroes, tied to a tree, are being terrorized by an army of effeminate looking men who are dressed up as birds and do these peculiar dance moves. Imagine those scary flying monkeys in THE WIZARD OF OZ grouped together and they start dancing like they're in a Buster Berkley number and they try to kill the beefy heroes by pecking and scratching them to death. The dance sequence is out of this world bizarre. One has to see it to believe it. It's so bizarre that I love it.
There are other stand-out scenes but nothing beats that one. As I already mentioned, some fighting scenes are pretty good. For instance, the one at the climax between Marchal and exploitation great Gabriele Tinti is remarkably effective. The one on the boats is also good (the special effects are obvious though). There's also a fairly suspenseful "walls coming down to crush the hero" bit. But even with all the action, the story relies more on dialogue than action. Some of the dialogue is pretty bad, certainly during love scenes. The two heroes trying to woe that beautiful but out-of-place playboy bunny Bird Woman; the romance scenes on a whole are embarrassing, including the one when Heracles and Ulysses talk about love. But other bits of dialogue are actually clever and even thought provoking (a Peplum that's thought provoking?). The battle of wits between Ulysses and King Laro is truly memorable and fun.
The production values are not the greatest. The makeup fx of the cavemen is pretty bad. There are only a few sets. The set for King Laro, with that huge face behind Laro's throne, is memorable. The continuity is filled with errors, but this might be due to US distributors editing the original version for US audiences. The direction sometimes creates suspense and tension, which is no mean feat considering we're talking about a Peplum here. The score is good. Another plus is Georges Marchal as Ulysses. I really like Marchal as an actor. He's one of the best actors to play a mythical hero and has a truly striking presence.
Like I said, not an easy film to review, ULYSSES AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES is different than the usual Sword & Sandal stuff and I appreciated it for its many original aspects. Personally speaking, even with all of its obvious faults, at a certain level, I find this much more satisfactory than the much heralded COLOSSUS OF RHODES. It's worth watching.
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