Hercules (Steve Reeves) has been called to the Colchis by King Pelias (Ivo Garrani) to tutor his son Iphitus (Mimmo Palmara) in the art of war. On his way he rescues a beautiful young woman on a runaway chariot. The woman turns out to be King Pelias’ daughter Iole (Sylva Koscina).
King Pelias came to the throne after killing his brother. The real heir to the throne is Jason (Fabrizio Mioni). The young Jason disappeared the same night his father was murdered. Also that night the city’s prized possession was stolen. It was the golden fleece of a ram. The Sibyl (Lidia Alfonsi) predicts that Pelias will be overthrown by a man wearing one sandal.
Hercules and Iole become attracted to each other. Iphitus is jealous of Hercules’ strength and abilities. When Iphitus dies from being mauled by a lion Hercules is blamed for not protecting him. Hercules leaves Colchis and meets Jason on the road. Jason loses a sandal in the river. Hercules presents Jason to Pelias as the rightful heir to the throne. In fear of losing his status, Pelias challenges Jason to go to the land of Colchis and retrieve the golden fleece to prove who he is.
Jason and Hercules take the ship Argo looking for the fleece. Among the men on board are Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini), the ship builder Argos (Aldo Fiorelli), and the twins Pollux (Willi Colombini) and Castor (Fulvio Carrara). Also on board is the devious Eurysteus (Arturo Dominici) who is on board to see to it that neither Jason nor Hercules accomplish their mission.
“Hercules” AKA “The Labors of Hercules” was released in 1958 and was directed by Pietro Francisci. Hercules is credited as being the film that started the Italian sword and sandal craze that lasted until 1968. Approximately 170 films attributable to the genre were made during this period. This represented about 10% of Italy’s film production during the genre’s main period. The film spawned a sequel “Hercules Unchained” 1959.
Steve Reeves did quite a few films in Italy the first being “Hercules”. As a bodybuilder he was perfect to play strong men from the Greco-Roman era. As a demigod or a Centurion his physic is perfect. As an actor he was certainly not the worst I’ve seen.
Variations of the story of Jason and the Argonauts are a popular theme in a lot of sword and sandal films. Although “Hercules” doesn’t have the variety of monsters and tales that the Ray Harryhausen “Jason and the Argonauts” 1963, did the budget was big enough to give the movie better production values than a lot of other peplum films done at that time. It makes the film pretty decent as far as the genre is concerned. If you are a fan of sword and sandal films you probably already saw it since this is where it started. It’s an entertaining film even if there is only one monster and it’s delightfully silly and dispatched rather quickly.
The "Cretan Bull" in the movie is actually a European Bison. The film's cinematographer Mario Bava claimed credit for suggesting that Reeves grow a beard for the role. According to Marvel Comics pioneer Stan Lee, this film was the main inspiration for the Marvel hero Hercules.
During the scene in where Hercules uses chains as a weapon against enemy soldiers director Pietro Francisci became annoyed with Reeves because he felt that Reeves wasn't swinging the chains hard enough to be convincing. The chains were wooden ones painted to look like they were metal but Reeves claimed that he didn't want to swing them too hard because he didn't want to hurt the other actors. Francisci shouted back "If they don't get hurt, they don't get paid!"