The appeal of 1963’s Hercules, Samson and Ulysses is right there in the title, or as the trailer puts it with caps-lock hyperbole, “THE 3 OF THEM — TOGETHER!” Here, Pietro Francisci, director of the 1958 Steve Reeves smash Hercules, marries the mythical with the biblical in joining Hercules (not Reeves, but Kirk Morris, Hercules Against the Moon Men), Samson (Iloosh Khoshabe) and Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico, 1975's Zorro) in what may be The Avengers of the Italian musclemen movies.
Action arrives quickly, as it takes a mere eight minutes for a vicious sea monster to appear and wreck their ship. From there, you'll witness sword-fighting, lion-wrestling, weapons-tossing, block-clocking, pigeon-tussling and, with the introduction of the beautiful but cunning Delilah (Liana Orfei, Casanova 70), blue-balling.
Hey, either you enjoy watching pumped-up heroes hurl oversized rocks at their enemies, or you don't. I do, although I'd admit a majority of sword-and-sandal movies can grate on the nerves with crushing boredom. This one doesn't; it's among the most fun examples that exists, right up there in the guilty-pleasure department with Mario Bava's spirited Hercules in the Haunted World.
Reeves does star in 1962's The Slave, as Randus, a military man who learns he is the son of Spartacus — news that baffles even him: "How can a Roman centurion be the son of a slave?" (Someone please teach the strapping lad the birds and the bees.)
Directed by Django's Sergio Corbucci, the film is set in 48 B.C. Egypt, where Randus has been sent by Caesar as a quasi-spy, only to become a captured slave, lashings and all. Eventually, he leads a revolt that comes complete with the famous "I am Spartacus!" scene made famous by Kirk Douglas and company in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 epic.
More melodrama than spectacle, The Slave is likely to disappoint Reeves' fans, even if the film allows him the chance to show his range (and his limits). For action, you're better off with Starz's ongoing Spartacus TV series.
Reeves is better in 1963's Sandokan the Great, in which he plays the 19th-century pirate known as the Tiger of Malaysia. Although the movie, directed by Umberto Lenzi (Cannibal Ferox), is more Sandokan the OK, it's a colorful jungle adventure. It bears an odd title card that notes it is "completely imaginary and fictitious," but "sincerely wishes to pay tribute to man's courage in struggling for his beliefs."
Sandokan seeks to be kind of a peacenik, like Tarzan in a turban: "I prefer the fury of animals to the rifles of [my enemies]." He also prefers Mary Ann (Parisian ingénue Geneviève Grad), the beautiful blonde he kidnaps — but in a nice way — in order to save his own father, and keeping his famous pecs buried beneath a shirt for most of the running time.
As Team Sandokan makes its way through the jungle and swamps, they face everything from gruesome infected wounds to skulls-on-sticks villagers. There's also a monkey. —Rod Lott
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