Least effective strongman?

Just finished rewatching The Loves of Hercules, and I was struck by a thought. There have been six MST3K episodes featuring Italian movies from the 50s and 60s about Hercules or Maciste wandering around, showing off large pecs, and not actually doing very much. It’s been a while since I’ve watched some of them, but I’ll try to recap (I’m sure Teri could do a better job with some of these):

  • Hercules Unchained - (Experiment #408)
    Hercules is asked to negotiate a settlement between two brothers who both want to rule Thebes. While acting as messenger between them, he accidentally drinks Lethe water and loses his memory. He’s captured by an evil queen who keeps giving him more Lethe water so she can have her way with him until she’s bored enough to kill him. Ulysses rescues him, they return to save Herc’s wife, and then the two brothers end up killing each other, leaving someone else to rule Thebes.

  • Hercules Against the Moon Men - (Experiment #410)
    Maciste (renamed Hercules for the English dub) talks a lot and wanders endlessly through a sandstorm. He’s drugged and captured by the evil queen, but instead of stabbing him or something, she ties him to a giant windlass and waits for him to wake up before using it to try to pull him apart. (Training to be a Batman villain, I guess.) He uses his strength to break the thing and then knocks over a statue, thwarting the invasion of the moon men.

  • Hercules and the Captive Women - (Experiment #412)
    Hercules is asked to go on a quest. He refuses. So his friends pull the old A-Team bit: drug the big strong guy and throw him on the transport so that by the time he wakes up it’s too late. As a protest against this treatment, he refuses to lift a finger for the entire voyage. The crew of lowlife pirates mutinies (curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!), so Herc steps in to save his friends (and his stowaway son). Shipwrecked, Herc finds precisely one captive woman and soon frees her by overcoming Proteus. However, the princess is slated to be sacrificed because a prophecy says that killing her is the only way to save the island of Atlantis. But secretly the Atlantean royal family is also sacrificing people to the god Uranus in order to create an army of demigods. Herc smash. He escapes with his friends, son, and the princess, and the island of Atlantis is doomed.

  • Hercules - (Experiment #502)
    Herc falls in love with a princess, completes several of his mythical labors, takes command of the Argo for a very forshortened quest for the Golden Fleece, gives up his immortality for no reason, gets Jason his rightful place as king, and leaves with the princess.

  • Colossus and the Headhunters - (Experiment #605)
    Maciste has “rescued” the people of a doomed island by putting them on a giant raft and drifting across the ocean with no food, water, or shelter. Just as they’re about to die, they land on a different doomed island and are all promptly captured. The princess agrees to set them free, but his big plan to “rescue” them is to put them back on the raft with no supplies. He then spends the rest of the movie wandering aimlessly around while everyone else sorts things out, although at one point he pushes over a watchtower for no reason (which is a shame because the good guys probably could have used that once the bad guy’s coup was overthrown). He then leaves again on his raft. Really, if you cut him out of the movie entirely, the whole thing ends up making more sense.

  • The Loves of Hercules - (Experiment #1108)
    Bad guy murders Herc’s first wife, counting on Herc to exact revenge against the king. By the time Herc gets there, the king is already dead. He participates in an axe-throwing ritual to prove the gods don’t blame the princess for murder that she had nothing to do with. Herc wrestles a bull to save the princess, but leaves when he learns she’s engaged to Achilles. Bad guy kills Achilles to frame Herc, so Herc has to come back and chase down the henchman, who has fled to the entrance to the underworld except it’s actually a hydra’s cave and also the entrance to the land of the Amazons? Herc bounces his sword off the rubber hydra, seemingly to no effect, and gets clawed nearly to death before he finally manages to kill the thing somehow. (Never mind that it still had at least one intact head, and that the myth specifies that if you cut off a hydra head without burning the stump, it instantly grows two new heads. Things are different in this movie.) Herc once again winds up magically enthralled to a queen who intends to use him for pleasure and then dispose of him, and once again he needs to be rescued. Meantime, the bad guy has thrown the princess in the dungeon and taken over the kingdom, and the people are fleeing the city. Herc convinces the unarmed refugees to turn around and fight their own city guard (who are armed, armored, and trained for battle). He helps by carrying a couple of heavy things around while letting them do all the actual fighting. The bad guy runs away and is killed by a sasquatch (?), but Herc arrives in time to kill the monster before it kills the princess.

He’s often captured, often drugged or enspelled, and often wandering somewhere far from the action while other people do the fighting for him. Which of the six do you think is the most useless? I’m torn between Colossus and the Headhunters and The Loves Of Hercules. But there’s a good case to be made for just about any of them. What do you think?

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I lean towards Maciste (a.k.a. My Cheesesteak) here. What pushes me towards him as the answer here is that the MST3K gang points out that he really doesn’t do much in his own movie.

Herc from The Loves of Hercules took down the hydra at the very least. Maciste is kinda meandering around a field while all hell is breaking loose on the second doomed island.

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On a loosely related note, classical mythology is full of tales of curvy and libidinous barbarian queens in the mood for some Herc lovin’. Sometimes it gets weird. For instance, the Greek historian Herodotus recounted a tale of Hercules traveling through Scythia (modern day Ukraine) and one night his chariot horses got loose. While searching for them, he encounters a busty woman who below the waist has the body of a snake. She tells him that she has the horses and will gladly return them and in exchange he is to have sex with her until she’s sated, and she’s not easily sated. I have no idea how that would work either. If you think I’m making it up, you can find it in Book 4, Chapters 8-9 of the Histories of Herodotus.

Another MST3K related incident recounted by Herodotus tells of when a guy named Aristagoras tried to convince the Spartans to go to war with the Persians to drive them out of Ionia. As part of his spiel, he essentially claims that the Persians will be lightweights. From Book 5, Chapter 49 I quote; “They wear trousers when they go into battle, and funny caps on their heads. So you can see how easy they will be to beat!” Apparently, as far as the ancient Greeks were concerned, there were no praises to sing of pants.

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It would be really fun if MST would riff ‘Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon,’ starring Peter Lupus as Herc (this was before his Mission: Impossible days). It’s pretty silly, but the costuming is terrific and Loop is adorable.

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I’m going to go with a more obscure one here: Hercules and the Masked Rider.

Starring Alan Steel as Hercules, this is rally a Zorro movie, only the setting is Spain and the “masked rider” is Don Juan. Why Hercules is hanging out with a band or wandering Romani is never explained, but the queen of the band does far more to save the oppressed peasants than Hercules of the Masked Rider.

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