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Author Topic: ITALIAN PEPLUMS AND FUSTO MOVIES  (Read 10756 times)
Arizona Colt
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« on: May 30, 2007, 05:36:20 AM »

In 1959 the film THE LABORS OF HERCULES starring American born bodybuilder Steve Reeves would start an avalanche of muscleman movies that would enjoy a somewhat brief run from 1960 until 1964 when the genre was supplanted by the onslaught of the Italian Westerns. This film was a huge success both in Italy and abroad and detailed the trials of Hercules and his friend Jason and their search for the Golden Fleece. One of Herc's jobs is to rid frightened villagers of the Bull of Crete as well as take on a villainous monarch. The character of Jason gets a lot of screen time himself and even battles a giant dinosaur-like creature that (at least in the American release) has the same roar found in the Japanese Godzilla movies.

The film was very popular and a sequel was quickly made. Entitled HERCULES & THE QUEEN OF LYDIA in Italy, Steve Reeves returned for the sequel but not for any subsequent mythological strongman movies. The film was called HERCULES UNCHAINED for its US debut. Reeve's did appear in numerous gladiator movies and similar peplum style movies like SANDOKAN THE GREAT directed by the great Umberto Lenzi.

The peplums, or fusto movies were generally based on biblical or historical accounts and most often times mythological adventures. Sometimes there would be a melding of the historical with the fantasy elements but always these movies had the same ingredients--(mostly) American or Italian bodybuilders in the heroic roles, lavish sets, beautiful scantily clad damsels in distress as well as evil scantily clad sorceress' that would use their charms or magic to lure the heroes to their doom and lots of fights.

Most of the films were low budget, but made good use of the limited funds with the spectacle. The monetary limitations would be painfully obvious in the films that featured monsters or magical creatures. Even still, these entries possessed a sense of child-like wonder that makes them the most memorable of the genre.

There were at least 20 movies in Italy that utilized the Hercules character. There were also a series of films featuring a classic Italian folk hero Maciste. Over two dozen Maciste movies were produced during this time. Also the mythological characters of Ursus, Goliath and Samson had their own series of films as well. These featured such actors as Reg Park, Mickey Hargitay, Kirk Morris, Gordon Scott, Brad Harris, Mark Forrest, Alan Steel, Gordon Mitchell, Richard Harrison and my favorite actor fron the peplums, Dan Vadis.

When one of the Maciste movies would be exported to American shores, the title was always changed. The American distributors assumed that audiences would not know who Maciste was and therefore changed the name and the same goes for the dubbing. Here are some examples--

MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS-- US title: SON OF SAMSON
MACISTE IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS-- US title: ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS
MACISTE AT THE COURT OF THE GREAT KHAN-- US title: SAMSON & THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD
MACISTE IN HELL-- US title: THE WITCH'S CURSE
MACISTE VS THE MONSTERS-- US title: FIRE MONSTERS AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES
ZORRO VS MACISTE-- US title: SAMSON & THE SLAVE QUEEN
MACISTE VS THE MONGOLS-- US title: HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS
MACISTE IN GENGHIS KHAN'S HELL-- US title: HECULES VS THE BARBARIANS

American muscleman Mark Forrest played Maciste more than the other actors and he was one of the most popular. Outside of Reeves and Vadis, he was one of the best peplum stars I saw on Saturday Afternoon movies. It was a double feature of HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS and its sequel HERCULES VS THE BARBARIANS. There were no monsters but lots of action. I don't remember much of either film other than Forrest ripping a huge tree from the ground and smashing the villains with it. Also I remember the main bad guy with his Mongolian looks and dress.

Forrest also starred in one of the most popular peplums THE REVENGE OF HERCULES aka GOLIATH AGAINST THE DRAGON. Released by AIP, new scenes utilizing a stop motion animated dragon replaced a mock up dragon in the Italian version. There is also a scene where Goliath goes to Hades to capture a magical stone and battles with a fire breathing 3 headed dog as well a giant bat creature. Broderick Crawford played the main bad guy. There is also lots of fights, feats of strength and an execution of a slave by being trampled by an elephant.

After the peplums finished their run, Forrest retired to become an opera singer(!) who still teaches today in LA among also being a fitness trainer.

Many of these stars were either previously, or soon to be part of Mae West's Revue. These included Gordon Mitchell, Dan Vadis and Mickey Hargitay who would end up marrying pin-up queen Jayne Mansfield. Hargitay would appear in one fusto along with his wife. That film is the hugely enjoyable THE LOVES OF HERCULES aka HERCULES VS THE HYDRA. Here, Herc battles a giant hydraulically controlled multi headed Hydra, an Ape creature in a cave and the inevitable evil queen who places a spell on Hercules' love interest.

Hargitay would go on to appear in numerous Italian genres including the Spy films and Giallo's and an occassional straight horror picture like THE BLOODY PIT OF HORROR where he played the Crimson Executioner.

Gordon Mitchell was one of the few fusto stars who made a successful transition to the Italian western movies where he found work as a villain. Having participated in over 200 movies of various genres, Mitchell passed away a couple of years ago. He appeared in numerous peplums that were watchable entries such as THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS, some so-bad-it's-good entries like ATLAS IN THE LAND OF THE CYCLOPS and some horrible, nearly unwatchable dreck like VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER.

Former Mr. Universe Reg Park was notable for appearing in some of the finer examples of the genre like Mario Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (1962) which also starred Christopher Lee as an undead sorcerer who lures Hercules to Hades where he does battle with zombies and other assorted terrors and traps. In America, Lee was marketed as playing a vampire since his DRACULA pictures were doing brisk business. Park was also in HERCULES & THE CAPTIVE WOMEN where he did battle with an Atlantean army of female warriors and a lizard monster in a cave.

Kirk Morris, one of a handful of Italian born actors to portray super strong heroes, appeared in THE WITCH'S CURSE from 1962. An obvious take off on the much better Mario Bava directed HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD. Morris also appeared in the action packed entry HERCULES CHALLENGES SAMSON aka HERCULES, SAMSON & ULYSSES. There's a great sequence where the two strongmen do battle among the ruins of an old temple. A sea monster (which looks a bit like a macro enlarged seal) also figures into the proceedings. He also appeared in an odd but fun entry, THE CONQUERER OF ATLANTIS. Morris would also appear as Ringo in the Italian western musical RITA OF THE WEST.

Dan Vadis was probably the most successful of the fusto stars from the 60s. He not only made the transition into the spaghetti westerns but also had a successful career in US productions. Most notably Clint Eastwood movies like EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE, ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, THE GAUNTLET, BRONCO BILLY and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. I first saw Vadis in the third chapter of the TEN GLADIATOR series. The first film was called appropriately enough, THE TEN GLADIATORS aka TEN DESPERATE MEN.

The film dealt with Vadis, along with nine compatriots, leading a revolt against Emperor Nero. The second film was called SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS and starred vadis again leading his group against the ringleaders of brutal gladiatorial games. The third, TRIUMPH OF THE TEN GLADIATORS was more lighter in tone than the other two. Here, Vadis and his gang of grapplers take part in a futile mission to kidnap a queen. All three are from 1964 and feature lots of fights and abundant action. Future spaghetti western director Giancarlo Parolini directed the trilogy.

Vadis also played Hercules in the 1964 film THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES aka HERCULES VS THE GIANT WARRIORS. Here, Hercules is bewitched by an evil sorceress who desires his companionship only she must get his love interest out of the way first. Hercules does battle with the villains army of bronze automatons on several occassions as well becoming a villain for a brief stint and destroying a village. Herc is then stripped of his strength by Zeus and at the end he must try to save his lady love from a spiked contraption until Zeus finally gives him his strength back at the last minute. The closing moments see Herc's girlfriend dangling over the edge of a cliff above the ocean. The sorceress changes her appearance to look like the girlfriend but Hercules sees through this disguise and shockingly drops her to the craggy rocks below. His woman rescued and his strength returned, all is right with the world.

Vadis would die in 1987 after ingesting a toxic substance.

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« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2007, 05:37:43 AM »

Brad Harris, another of Mae West's love interests, also was able to successfully transcend the genre and even become a producer. He also appeared in the British horror film THE FREAKMAKER starring Donald Pleasence and Tom Baker and was directed by Jack Cardiff, the award winning cinematographer of THE AFRICAN QUEEN! Harris did a lot of early gladiator style movies before trying his hand at the Italian spy thrillers. These were knock-offs of the JAMES BOND pictures often times starring Sean Connery's brother, Neil.

Italian born actor Alan Steel did one of the most well remembered and strangest films in the fusto films. Called MACISTE & THE QUEEN OF SAMAR in Italy, it was christened HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN for its US release. I don't remember much of the plot other than Herc must do battle with an alien creature and an evil queen who conducts blood sacrifices to appease a moon demon. Lots of atmosphere and action that sometimes borders on horror. An MST3K favorite.

American actor and one time Tarzan Gordon Scott (who also passed away this year), played in numerous peplum adventures. He starred in HERCULES VS MOLOCH and MACISTE VS THE VAMPIRES aka GOLIATH AGAINST THE VAMPIRES. This was directed by Sergio Corbucci and Giocomo Gentilomo and written by Duccio Tessari. Gentilomo would direct the Alan Steel favorite, HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN while Corbucci and Tessari would go on to majorly successful careers directing westerns. Scott would also star in a pilot for a proposed HERCULES television show that never happened. The pilot movie, HERCULES & THE PRINCESS OF TROY aka HERCULES VS THE SEA MONSTER was about Hercules trying to stop senseless virginal sacrifices to a giant sea creature. Directed by Albert Band, the special effects were surprisingly effective in this.

Although this show never got off the ground, a 1960s syndicated show entitled THE SONS OF HERCULES did. Re-packaged muscle movies that were cut down to an hour length and had a catchy theme song added, the films, as usual, were not always HERCULES features but were sold and dubbed as such. These included--

THE BEAST OF BABYLON VS THE SON OF HERCULES-Gordon Scott
THE TYRANT OF LYDIA VS THE SON OF HERCULES-Gordon Scott
THE TERROR OF ROME AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES-Mark Forrest
MOLE MEN VS THE SON OF HERCULES-Mark Forrest
SON OF HERCULES IN THE LAND OF DARKNESS-Dan Vadis
MESSALINA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES-Richard Harrison

American Richard Harrison, one of the most wooden actors to ever grace the screen, had probably the busiest career of all the peplum stars. He did everything from the torch-and-toga adventures to westerns to action and war pictures to martial arts movies and even his own series of laughably bad ninja movies where he portrayed Gordon the Ninja who dressed up like a Ninja from outer space and battled bad guys in equally spacy outfits. It's blatantly obvious Harrison is not the one performing the actions but these are laugh riots.

Harrison's peplums were actually pretty decent and the one series of pictures where he seemed more at ease (and awake). One of his most notable but also quite silly is MEDUSA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES which was called PERSEUS THE INVINCIBLE in Italy. Here, Herc deals with another evil queen who can turn men into trees that bleed when limbs are broken off and the monster Medusa which also looks a bit like a tree with rubber snakes atop its head and a large glowing orb for an eye. Harrison also did various gladiator flicks like DUEL OF CHAMPIONS and THE INVINCIBLE GLADIATORS.

When these movies died out around 1965, they got a brief resurgence in the 80s after the release of CONAN THE BARBARIAN in 1982. Compared to the lesser 1960s fustos', these new features were far worse.

Probably the beginning of this new cycle was ATOR, THE FIGHTING EAGLE starring one time Tarzan Miles O'Keefe. This was a cookie cutter CONAN movie with twice as much action and a giant spider. The story is similar only more funny (unintentionally so). At least you have the gorgeous Sabrina Siani to ogle at. A sequel followed entitled ATOR THE BLADEMASTER. This film was even worse. It featured numerous glaring continuity errors to amp up the laugh factor and was a MST3K favorite. Only their version was called CAVE DWELLERS and sported different opening and closing credits that had scenes from another movie. A third ATOR movie called IRON WARRIOR was a little better but not by much.

Then, in 1983 the return of the most famous mythological hero was happening...HERCULES, starring Lou Ferrigno. Directed by passionate fantasy filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH), the film was a dismal misfire and a laugh riot made all the more hilarious in that it got wide release from MGM at the time. A sequel was shot back to back but it never saw release and instead went straight to video. In all fairness, the effects utilized had never been done before in Italy, but it's so in your face and they take it all so seriously and the films take blatant liberties from SUPERMAN you can't help but laugh.

Another 80s peplum starring Ferrigno was called THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS directed by Bruno Mattei and also starred Brad Harris, Sybil Danning and a villainous turn from Dan Vadis whom this would be his last film. The template was of course, THE SEVEN SAMURAI. This one was bad as well but nothing could prepare you for the badness that was Enzo Castellari's SINBAD OF THE 7 SEAS also starring Ferrigno. Other examples include the intresting Avi Nesher futuristic peplum SHE starring Sandahl Bergman, Gordon Mitchell and David Brandon, THRONE OF FIRE starring Sabrina Siani, the gory and violent CONQUEST from Lucio Fulci that starred Jorge Rivero and Sabrina Siani again, IRON MASTER starring George Eastman from Umberto Lenzi, the execrable THE INVINCIBLE BARBARIAN with Siani and one of my favorites, THE BARBARIANS starring twins David and Peter Paul in a lively and very violent peplum comedy adventure directed by Ruggero Deodato. Richard Lynch and Michael Berryman also star.

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Man with no dame
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« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2007, 06:15:49 PM »

Did any of the Tarzan actors from the 50's and 60's go on to make any of these kind of films?

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The Firecracker
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« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2007, 06:16:49 PM »

Did any of the Tarzan actors from the 50's and 60's go on to make any of these kind of films?


Yes, Gordon Scott being one of them.

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« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2007, 02:11:46 PM »

No others?

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Arizona Colt
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« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2007, 02:22:12 PM »

No. As far as I know, Scott was the only one. Scott appeared in numerous peplums as various characters. He was Hercules in the pilot episode of the failed series. He was also in Sergio Corbucci's MACISTE VS THE VAMPIRES known here as GOLIATH AGAINST THE VAMPIRES. Maciste was strictly an Italian hero and all the films featuring that character were changed for the US releases.

 Dan Vadis from the 10 GLADIATORS trilogy and a handful of various other strongman pictures went on to do Italian and American westerns becoming a regular in Clint Eastwoods movies.

These movies were very popular at the time no doubt helped by the Mae West Revue from which many of the Herc actors sprang. They're all fairly harmless adventure movies. Some are kiddie fare that offer lots of action and beautiful women on display.

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« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2007, 02:26:02 PM »

beautiful women on display.                                                                                                              Well, I have no problem with that.

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Arizona Colt
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« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2007, 02:27:02 PM »

Oh yes. Remember I asked you about Rosalba Neri? She's in a few I perused the other day.

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Man with no dame
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« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2007, 02:30:35 PM »

She was one of the "Poor man's" Sophia Lorens going around in the 60's.

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Arizona Colt
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« Reply #9 on: June 13, 2007, 02:35:19 PM »

In her later work, she sure didn't mind shedding the cloth!

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Man with no dame
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« Reply #10 on: June 13, 2007, 07:14:39 PM »

I didn't mind her shedding the cloth, either! lol Grin Grin

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Arizona Colt
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« Reply #11 on: June 14, 2007, 03:43:58 PM »

Hey, check this out!

http://xploitedcinema.com/catalog/uomini-forti-peplum-documentary-p-11993.html

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« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2007, 04:15:28 PM »

Nice site, I might trip over some gems in there! Afro

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Arizona Colt
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« Reply #13 on: June 14, 2007, 04:21:44 PM »

I buy pretty much all my foreign stuff there. I get the shaw movies in HK. It's way cheaper to buy the discs there.

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« Reply #14 on: June 14, 2007, 10:58:42 PM »

I buy pretty much all my foreign stuff there. I get the shaw movies in HK. It's way cheaper to buy the discs there.
Good tip! Afro Nice to know.

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