Hercules In New York (1970)

ARTHUR ALLAN SEIDELMAN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): 0

Alternate Title: Hercules Goes Bananas

USA, 1970. . Screenplay by . Cinematography by . Produced by Aubrey Wisberg. Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Even fans of peplum films who are willing to accept the brainless escapism of Steve Reeves and Reg Park adventures have to admit that this abysmal film is embarrassing for all involved; its star, only 24 at the time and more than a decade away from being one of the top box office draws in Hollywood history, is thoroughly ashamed of the project and typically refuses to talk about it in interviews. It’s not hard to see why, but it should also be pointed out that, in the role of Hercules, “Arnold Strong” (who would later go back to his improbably successful given name of ) projects a kind of sweet, earnest desperation to be liked that would, unfortunately, be gone by the time he learned how to stand in front of a camera and deliver dialogue with charisma.

His ineptitude here hardly stands out among his peers, however, as everyone is confused by the process of getting through a painfully unimaginative microbudget excuse to draw fans in to see his big muscles do their work (it’s not satisfying on that level either). A bratty, youthful demigod who has the hubris of mortal men and the smug arrogance of the Olympian deities, Hercules demands that his father Zeus let him go to the world of humankind for no other reason than that he needs a change of scene. Zeus refuses but Hercules goes anyway, floating down through the sky to New York City, where he quickly gets himself into scrapes while his father watches him on a crystal ball, surrounded by what appear to be members of the Playboy mansion dressed up as Greek goddesses.

Hercules makes friends with chatty, diminutive and is shown around the Big Apple, impressing everyone with his discus throwing and long jump, befriending a classics professor () and his delightful daughter () and fending off the messengers that Zeus keeps sending to bring him home, namely Mercury and Pluto (there’s bouzouki music on the soundtrack and Arnold tells everyone he’s from Greece, but most of the names that the characters use are from Roman traditions).

The real problem here isn’t either the script that for sure was written with crayons, or the bad acting by most of the cast, these are issues in most Hercules/gladiator movies made before this and contribute to their pleasant charm. The disappointment is how unimaginative it all is; there’s no money for any special effects, so anytime Hercules does anything cool the camera cuts away to reaction shots of Stang’s rubbery face, there’s no indulgence in the fish out of water scenario that his presence in modern day New York City could provide, and there are no cool set pieces or costumes to speak of (Mount Olympus is clearly just another spot in Central Park where they shot most of it).

For anyone who has ever underestimated Schwarzenegger’s acting skills and his command of the hypermasculine action movie characters he played in the eighties, however, the film does a beautiful job of showing that he earned his place in the heavens of Hollywood stardom, because while his later acting is not the definition of thespian polish (mainly because that definition is wrong), his early work seen here is actually genuinely bad.

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