Filmmakers need a lot of imagination to entice moviegoers to pony up their hard-earned money at movie theaters (and now, streaming services). Back in the 1950s, Italian sword-and-sandal films were all the rage. Originally released in 1961, Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis was one of the final muscleman genre films released during that era and The Film Detective has recently reissued the cult-classic movie, which includes some terrific supplements.
Retitled as Hercules and the Captive Women (just as its edited and dubbed 1963 United States release), this special edition includes quite a few great exclusive featurettes to pair with the epic feature film.
In Ancient Greece, Androcles King of Thebes drugs and drags his friend, Hercules, onto what seems to be a suicide mission. Hoping to calm a chain of strange weather patterns and resolve an odd time-traveling portal, the warriors may have bitten off more than they can chew. Along the way, they encounter a sometimes-rambling plot that involves “good-natured brawling,” battling a shape-shifting lizard monster, something about the Blood of Uranus and a supernatural rock that’s found at the Mountain of the Dead. If none of those story elements don’t remotely interest you, then you must not be a warm-blooded male who lived during that decade. Or today.
Kitsch is king here, as Hercules’ story is roughly based on Greek mythology or ancient Roman history. While not appearing to be a low-budget film, there’s issues with its English dubbing at times (watching with subtitles is definitely recommended), which leads us to Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The full MST3K episode featuring Captive Women, in all its glory, is included on the Blu-ray Special Edition. It’s definitely a highlight, as is seeing MST3K writer and co-star Frank Conniff give a special introduction to the film. There’s also liner notes (a 12-page essay by author and historian C. Courtney Joyner) and audio commentary provided by film critic Tim Lucas, but the best of the best is the brand-new documentary: Hercules and the Conquest of Cinema.
Created by Daniel Griffith at Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, it’s an oral history of sorts, detailing the cinema of the muscleman, eventually focusing on past Hercules projects. As a cinema aficionado, I cannot show it enough love. Having not lived during that period of time and not really watching that type of genre film as a child, I learned a lot and really enjoyed it.
This release was produced from rare 35 mm archival elements and restored from a 4K transfer in its original aspect ratio. It’s also a part of The Film Detective’s restored classics series (don’t forget to check out Giant From the Unknown and The Other Side of Madness, among others).