Hercules in New York (1970) — Muscles and mythology

“‘Bucks? ‘Dough’? What is all this zoological talk about male and female animals?”

Heather’s rating: I find it really weird that my spellchecker accepts “Schwarzenegger” as a real word now.

Heather’s review: Allow me to nerd out for a second, because I think I can best sum up my feelings (or at least have the most fun) by using the space-bound hosts of MST3K for reference (non MSTIES bear with me…I’m not going too far off the beaten path. Just a paragraph, I swear).

Years ago the show’s original host, Joel, left the show. He was a great comedian and greatly missed. He was followed by another man named Mike, who was also great, but very different. Fans were outraged, wars were pitted between the Mike camps and the Joel camps during which arrows were slung and much grog was ingested (or whatever it is those Renaissance Faire-types drink). Mike’s style was acerbic, ruthless, scathing. He ripped movies to shreds and left them no dignity. This was hilarious. Joel, on the other hand, had a more laid-back approach much like a tolerant husband with his overbearing wife. He rolled his eyes at the movie, pointed out its flaws, and just sat back frustrated. This, and his use of prop humor, was also hilarious. Generally I see myself as a “Mike” when viewing a bad film. I revel in insulting it in on every level and getting downright nasty. It’s what I do. But this movie confused my inner critic and just can’t bring myself to drown it in a pool of acidic wit. My point is the movie made me feel like a “Joel”.

Now don’t get me wrong. There was nothing “good” about this movie. But it just exudes some sort of “I didn’t mean to hurt you” charm that makes it hard for me to destroy it. In the end all I can say is that if you enjoyed “so bad it’s good” movies then I think you’re gonna like this one.

The plot is so thin it would make (insert current overly thin celebrity) jealous. Hercules, son of Zeus, is bored with Mt. Olympus. He wants to go to Earth and does (against his father’s wishes). Hercules traipses around New York and gets to be a pretty big thing in the wrestling world. Oh, and he sorta kinda has a love interest. Meanwhile Zeus sits up on Mt. Olympus and bounces maniacally back and forth between being angry at his son and protective of him. His menopause-like mood changes are a weird quirk that never made much sense in the original mythology and don’t translate well to the screen.

While we’re on the subject of Zeus I would like to mention something that really bugged me. “Zeus” is the Greek name for the king of the gods. Throughout the movie Hercules is even referred to as being Greek. And yet every other god on Mt. Olympus is referred to by his/her Roman name (Juno, Venus, Mercury, Pluto..). Come on, movie! Decide! Are we using Greek or Roman mythology here? I realize that you made attempts to rectify this, movie, but they were bad attempts. Bad!

The sound in this film is awful. It’s slightly too loud when the camera is close up on the characters and barely audible when we see them in a long shot. The funniest sound goof of all is that whoever edited this film forgot/didn’t know how to edit out the car engines and honking during the Mt. Olympus scenes (which were obviously shot outdoors in New York). It made me laugh out loud to watch Zeus trying to make his orders heard over New Yorker road rage.

As for the acting? *face palm* Hercules’s little friend Pretzie comes from the School of Overacting Don Knotts Wannabes, which is a stark contrast to Hercules himself. I could spend a few pages on the Governator, but I’ll try to hold back. This was Beefules’s first film and boy, did it show. I don’t know the intricate details about Schwarzenegger’s past, but from what I can tell the man couldn’t speak a lick of English in 1969. I say that not only because of his accent, which was so thick that his voice was dubbed over in theater and VHS versions, but also because when he spoke he acted as if he had no idea what was coming out of his mouth. There was no intonation, no emotion, no pauses or accents. Just “blah blah mumble ooa amm bleh”. An Olsen twin on Valium emotes more. I like to think I have a good ear for accents and languages, but at one point I turned to my husband and asked “Did he just say he ‘cracked some nekkies’?”

There camerawork had its not-so-bad qualities. The movie was mostly shot pretty well. The camerawork wasn’t too jerky, the screen was generally in focus with nothing chopped off, and the color was vibrant. Not a common feat in 1970. There were even a couple of early scenes that I thought were artfully done. But this movie didn’t even have the courtesy to shoot nighttime scenes with blue filter. The movie just said “screw it” and did it all in the daylight, leaving the audience to guess what time of day was supposed to be. Annoyingly the chase scenes were sped up, Munsters-style. That’s not nearly as funny as people thought it was back then.

When you ask me, in light of all these flaws, what it is that makes this movie “charming” I’m going to mumble and try to distract you with something shiny. If you insist that I explain myself I must admit that I can’t, really. The whole movie was just one big excuse for Schwarzenegger to take his shirt off. It’s just that there were funny parts, and the movie somehow managed not too try too hard. There was a good balance in that the movie didn’t try to be overly humorous (like today’s “Movie” titled strain of crap) and neither was it gunning to be the next Hamlet.

I have no other place for this next bit in my review so it’s just going to be tacked onto the end here. Like a piece of gum stuck to my shoe that I can’t scrape off. It just won’t let go! There’s a scene where Hercules steals some actor’s chariot and takes it through New York on a car-chariot chase. The owner (an actor in what looks like caveman attire) goes running after him and the hot dog vendor he was patronizing chases after him to put the sauerkraut on his hot dog. The joke continued all the way to Central Park where the chase scene ended. The vendor finally catches up to his customer and puts the kraut on the his dog as the guy looks forlornly at his ruined chariot. Stupid, yes, but it made me laugh. Somehow this movie made me hate it and love it at the same time. I empathize, Joel, I empathize.

Didja notice?

  • Why would a guy who just overturned a cab run away like a schoolgirl from the unarmed cab driver?
  • At the beginning of the movie Hercules is rescued by what is supposed to be a Navy ship and crew. Hercules emerges from the ship in Navy utilities (a work uniform). My husband made a good point: How would the skinny crew have found a pair of utilities to fit that guy?
  • Yes, everyone. Gaze on in complete shock as the man as large as a Clydesdale throws a disc a long way. Marvel as the dude with calves the size of Plymouth Rock jumps better than the skinny college dork.
  • This is one of two movies I’ve seen that have mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger holding public office. Here Juno mentions that Hercules could be made king among the mortals, and Nemesis corrects her by saying America has presidents. In Demolition Man Arnold Schwarzenegger was president.
  • This movie grapples with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians for Worst. Bear costume. Ever. And, um…grizzly bears lumber around like gorillas?
  • Hercules’s “love interest” is one of the most stuttery, bobbleheaded creatures I’ve ever seen.
  • “Easy Rider” was playing at one of the theaters Hercules passed during the chariot chase.

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