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Episode Guide: 408- Hercules Unchained

Movie: (1959) Traveling with his young companion Ulysses, Herc’s mission to stop a war is sidetracked by hypnotic Queen Onfale, while his wife Iole pines for him.

First shown: 8/1/92
Opening: It’s wash and wax day for the bots
Invention exchange: The Mads have created decorator roaches (and Steve Reeves visits!), while J&tB present the Steve-o-meter
Host segment 1: Gypsy demonstrates that she is the Hellenistic ideal
Host segment 2: J&tB consume the water of forgetfulness, among other things
Host segment 3: Tom and Crow want to know what are Hercules and the nice lady are doing
End: J&tB ponder the meaning of the Hercules movies; while in Deep 13, Steve is no help
Stinger: The queen REALLY misses Herc
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (219 votes, average: 4.26 out of 5)

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• This is the first of several sword-and-sandal outings for MST3K. I think they’re perfect for the show: colorful, action-filled, mildly sexy and really really weird. I don’t think this is their best one, but it’s a lot of fun. The riffing is great, and the host segments are slyly funny.
• This episode was included in Rhino’s “The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 7.”
• Is anybody a scholar of these Hercules stories? I’m not. How close does this plot follow the “real” adventures of the Herc? (Update: Several scholars filled us in in the comments.)
• One thing I DID notice, though: Herc is surprised to encounter Oedipus (whom Ulysses says is “a good man”) blind and banished, but nobody really thinks to ask why. The whole thing is kind of glossed over…
• I’ve never been a fan of “detour” movies and that’s really what this is: The main plot–Hercules returns to his hometown of Thebes only to find it in the midst of a power struggle between Oedipus’ two sons–is sidetracked for most of the movie as Herc lumbers down one plot cul-de-sac after another. When he finally gets where he wanted to get, the big battle scene is actually pretty cool. Plus ya got lots of scantily clad nymphs…
• This movie was originally released in Italy as “”Ercole e la regina di Lidia”
• The opening segment ends as Joel leaps over the desk at Crow. It’s actually a more difficult move than you may think: For those who don’t know, directly behind the desk is the puppeteer “trench”–essentially an approximately three-foot drop. In order for Joel (and later Mike) to stand right up next to the desk, there was a narrow wooden plank laid across the trench. So, to make that move, Joel had to launch himself forward, carefully plant one foot on the plank (and not misstep and go crashing into the trench), and spring over the desk. A fellow could hurt himself, he could.
• What is the music on the menu screen of the DVD? I don’t think it’s from the movie.
• That’s Mike as Steve, of course. I love that “Nuh-uh.” By this time it was really becoming a delight anytime he popped up.
• A little personal story related to the Steve-o-meter sketch: In a previous incarnation I used to write, for the Philadelphia Inquirer (and the now-defunct Knight-Ridder news syndicate), that little write-up next to the TV grid that tells you what’s worth watching on TV that night. In one column, I said something nice about an performance by Steve Allen’s wife, Jayne Meadows. A few weeks later I was stunned to receive a hand-written letter from Ms. Meadows herself, thanking me for my kind words. I wrote back thanking HER for being so nice, and in the letter I mentioned MST3K, briefly explained the premise of the Steve-O-meter and ended my letter with something to the effect of “now I know something else Steve thought of, marrying a class act.” A week or so later I was even MORE stunned to receive ANOTHER letter, informing me that Steve thought the Steve-O-meter bit sounded funny and asking where they could get their hands on a tape of that show. I duped off a copy and sent it to them, and later got a short note saying Steve thought the sketch was very funny.
• Somewhat obscure reference: “He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!” From the legendary Chickenman radio series back in the ‘60s. God, I loved that show.
• I can’t hear exactly what Servo says under his breath when Oedipus is mentioned, but it’s something about his mom…
• The whole little plot cul-de-sac at the beginning of the movie with Anteus the giant just seems like filler. It really has no relevance to the rest of the movie. And Herc is kind of a jerk during it.
• Primo Carnera, who played Anteus the giant was a household name in the 1930s. He was the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1933-34, during which he was also the heavyweight wrestling champion.
• Note the mention of Rondo Hatton, who we’ll later meet in “The Brute Man”
• Every once in a while in the theater, you can really tell that Joel/Mike and the bots are in a large echoey room. Listen when Joel yells “I haven’t showered since Zeus was a pup!” The acoustics are not good.
• Great job by Jim segment 1. He really belts out that song.
• The riff “Look! I’m hungry.” “Listen! It’s cold” brought back a memory: my daughter, about 8 at the time, thought that was one of the funniest things she’d ever heard. I remember her just rolling on the couch with laughter for about five minutes after she heard it.
• Another movie complaint: The guy tests if Ulysses is actually deaf by hurling a spear into the deck right next to him… I hate to break it to the movie, but any deaf person would feel the vibration of that. Not really a good test…
• Servo, as the pretentious theater fellow, mentions that he’s doing “an anti-Columbus thing.” And you might think: huh? Columbus? Remember, it was ’92, the 500th anniversary of ol’ Chris’ arrival in the western hemisphere and lots of people were making a pretty good living being outraged about it.
• Vaguely naughty riffs: “You mean nymph loads!” “Ow! My eye!” “It’s twue! It’s twue!” The Herc movies brought out the naughty.
• Then-current references: Distant entertainment memories “Curly Sue” and “Remington Steele.”
• As segment 3 opens, Joel is reading, highlighting and apparently really enjoying the novel “Tek Wars” by William Shatner. But he is — quite rightly — embarrassed by it.
• Segment 3 seems like it’s not in the right place. Tom says that by this point in the movie Herc is living with the nice lady. But actually by the time the segment comes up Herc has already left the nice lady. Seems like they could have moved Segment 1 to the third spot, Segment 2 to the first spot and Segment 3 to the second spot and it would have flowed with the movie a bit better.
• Tom says: “Oh for the clarity of Mighty Jack.” It’s a funny line, but really this movie has a much more easily-discernible plot than “Mighty Jack” which I had to watch about five times before I began to make any sort of sense of.
• Joel invokes the memory of short-lived ’60s TV show “Garrison’s Guerrillas,” which I think most boys loved because it had that cool Jeep-mounted machine gun. Who didn’t want to ride around in that when you were about nine?
• Callbacks: “He hit big Jake!” (“Sidehackers”) and the “He learned too late” speech from “It Conquered the World.” “Hikeeeba!” (Women of the Prehistoric Planet).
• Firesign Theatre reference: “He’s no fun, he fell right over.”
• The final segment is great, but I do wish they could have led into it a bit more smoothly. Gypsy’s question –“Why these kind of movies?”– sort of comes out of nowhere. But the rest of sketch is hilarious: Gypsy tries to contribute, but doesn’t quite have the mental dexterity. Crow has clearly paged through Campbell’s “Hero With a Thousand Faces” but, like an under-educated guy at a snooty cocktail party, can’t quite pull his thoughts together. Tom, ever the realist, cuts to the chase. Wonderful writing like “…which translates into big sweaty guys pushin’ girls around…” is one of the reasons why I love MST3K so much.
• Cast and crew roundup: This movie was made not long after the movie in episode 502- HERCULES, and many of the same cast and crew worked on both, including: assistant director/cinematographer Mario Bava (who also directed “Danger: Diabolik”), script writers Ennio De Concini and Gaio Frattini, editor Mario Serandrei and score composer Enzo Masetti. And don’t forget that Joseph E. Levine, executive producer of the American version, also produced “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” among many others. In front of the camera there was Steve Reeves, of course, plus Sylva Koscina, Mimmo Palmara (who is also in “Hercules and the Captive Women”), Gabriele Antonini, Andrea Fantasia, Aldo Fiorelli, Fabrizio Mioni, Gino Mattera, Aldo Pini, Fulvio Carrara and Willy Colombini. Another face in the crowd is Sergio Ciani a.k.a. Alan Steel, who we’ll meet again in “Hercules Against The Moon Men). And we’ll see Carlo D’Angelo again in “Secret Agent Super Dragon.”
• CreditsWatch: Additional contributing writer: Don Jurek. And, at last, the last name of Dr. F is corrected to “Forrester.”
• Fave riff: “You win the crazy award!” Also: Centurion: “Great Queen!” Joel: “Thanks!”

117 Replies to “Episode Guide: 408- Hercules Unchained”

  1. LaFong says:

    @17 GersonK
    The tune playing accompanying the “Steve-O-Meter” is an ultra sped-up version of Steve Allen’s signature song, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big”.
    (For which he wrote the lyrics.)

       0 likes

  2. Turkey Volume Guessing Man says:

    #13 – Sadly, Primo’s career was one where he (and his money) was under the thumb of New York mobster Frankie Carbo, who fixed all of his fights without him even knowing it, even sending a messenger into the corner of one fighter who wouldn’t go along with the fix and threatening to kill him if he didn’t (He saw the light).
    Primo was a popular enough name that he got an oportunity to make some money as a wrestler. He had a pretty good career and was one of the early mentors and idols of Bruno Sammartino. Sometimes even the most tragic stories can have a happy ending.

       0 likes

  3. billybkool says:

    #70…… not sure about why you used question marks but Rondo was a ballsier competitor of Mello Yello back in the day and Joel is paraphrasing their ad copy.

       0 likes

  4. Neptune Man says:

    I love the Hercules movies. My favourite host segment is the “What’s the deal with the Greeks” part. Bizarrely heartwarming.

       0 likes

  5. revlillo says:

    The Firesign Theatre reference kind of folds in on itself. “She’s no fun, she fell right over!” comes from the album “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re not Anywhere at All?” One portion of the album involves Ralph Spoilsport selling a car with a lot of special features including a television. When he turns on the TV, there’s a sword and sandals movie starring Steve Reeves playing. “Odyssus, what has happened to your nose?” “I’ve just returned from Rome.”

       0 likes

  6. Bruce Boxliker says:

    I love sword & sandal / sorcery movies (btw, I’d put Cave Dwellers in the sword & sorcery category – especially since, if I’m remembering correctly, most everyone in it wears boots). This is probably my least favorite of all the MST3k’d ones, but still quite funny. I think it’s good that this was their first Herc movie though, since it establishes the Hercmeister as a narcoleptic who gets easily “captured” and held “against his will” by a variety of pretty ladies.

    On the subject of Hercules movies that aren’t actually Hercules, I was watching one of the ‘Sons Of Hercules’ movies that (somewhat) told the story of Perseus (which I can’t seem to find the title to on IMDB). Despite having the ‘Sons of Hercules’ theme & everything, they had to add some narration stating that Perseus was in fact Hercules’ half brother, but they totally hung out together & Perseus totally thought of Hercules like a father, so the title definitely works. No YOU don’t know how to name a movie!

       2 likes

  7. Sitting Duck says:

    Hercules Unchained fails the Bechdel Test. The only conversation between two females is between Iole and one of her handmaidens, which is about Hercules.

    You know, if the musical version of The Producers had been out before this film was riffed, the lead dancer’s appearance would have been an appropriate moment to riff, “Beautiful girls wearing nothing but pearls!”

    Weird that there was no riff about the buffalo shot Ulysses provided.

    Personally, I think Ulysses whooping like crazy would have been a better stinger.

    I always thought it was kind of weird that Hercules always seems to get portrayed as a dull-witted lug. A major aspect of the Twelve Labors was that he had to use his brain as well as his brawn to complete them.

    Favorite riffs

    Frankie Avalon in Slave Ship Bingo.

    Bye Mr. Hoffa.

    “I don’t remember anything.”
    Except my scout number.

    “I’ve never seen him before.”
    I was in Austria during the war.

    Hey, wait a minute. Her skin has a zipper.

    Rats, I can’t bend it. Guess I’ll have to stay here with all the nymphs.

    I can’t hear you. I’m sleeping and deaf.

    “Why is it you keep calling me Hercules?”
    You know my name is Todd.

    Dante’s Inferno? Wait, this is a disco inferno.

    When Kennedys ruled Greece.

    Sorry about the old guy. He comes with the package.

    “I have already given orders that you and your friends will be taken to the best wing of the palace.”
    Yeah, I bet it’s by the ice machine.

    “Don’t take revenge, Hercules.”
    Take my wife, please.

    But the invitation said orgy to follow.

    Oh, for the clarity of Mighty Jack.

       2 likes

  8. EricJ says:

    Sitting Duck: I always thought it was kind of weird that Hercules always seems to get portrayed as a dull-witted lug. A major aspect of the Twelve Labors was that he had to use his brain as well as his brawn to complete them.

    Actually, according to the Greek version, he was a big goofy lug in addition to his other heroic qualities–Being Zeus’s “son”, the running joke was that he’d inherited all of Dad’s bad habits, including laziness, appetite, and unattached females.
    The Italians obviously knew the Roman version, and used it for comedy relief.

       0 likes

  9. Kanenabled says:

    A little in-depth nerding:

    Primo Carnera, who played ‘Anteus’, was nicknamed “the Ambling Alp” because of his size and, um, leisurely gait. The band, Yeasayer, recorded a song called ‘Ambling Alp’ in tribute to him.

    The More You Know…

       3 likes

  10. thequietman says:

    The host segments make this one. The opening to me is less Joel as parent and more Joel as pet owner whose dog is freaking out because it’s Bath Day (“Isn’t it TERRIFYING?”), and the Greek hedonist sketch is great. Once again Crow gets the best line with his aside directly to the audience.

    But as much fun as this episode is I have a hard time with most of the sword ‘n sandal pictures. Someone mentioned the pan-and-scan and I agree 100%. Seeing movies this way puts them at a disadvantage even before the riffing starts because I know I’m not seeing everything I’m supposed to be seeing.

       1 likes

  11. Terry the Sensitive Knight says:

    I can’t watch this episode without singing “Last ni-IIIIIGHT!” *bang* for a few hours afterwards.

       0 likes

  12. dakotaboy says:

    In a Reddit AMA from a few years ago, Joel indicated that this is his favorite episode, though he didn’t say why.

       1 likes

  13. Sitting Duck says:

    So what song (if any) is the source of, “LAST NIIIIGHT!!!” *bang*?

       0 likes

  14. Cornjob says:

    I think Gypsy was trying to get a rendition of “Last Night I didn’t Get to Sleep at All” off the ground. Not very far off.

    Is it just me or is the actress who plays Hercules’ blonde wife the same one who played the love interest (Andromeda?) in Giant of Marathon?

    “This is not my beautiful wife.”

       0 likes

  15. Sitting Duck says:

    @ Cornjob #114: Nope. While Steve Reeves was the male lead in both, the female leads were different actresses. Andromeda was portrayed by Mylène Demongeot, while Iole was portrayed by Sylva Koscina.

       1 likes

  16. Cornjob says:

    I guess it’s just me then. Thanks for the correction.

       0 likes

  17. Ro-man says:

    “Things Socrates would say” had me literally howling. :)

       0 likes

Comments are closed.