Hercules in New York (1970)

Hercules in New York/Hercules Goes Bananas/Hercules (1970) -***

     The Leave It Off the Resume movie to end all Leave It Off the Resume movies, Hercules in New York/Hercules Goes Bananas is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re man enough to take it, there’s plenty of reason to watch. Think back for a moment to 1982. Conan the Barbarian had just been released, and there was a lot of talk going around about how this was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first real acting job. Sure, he was in Pumping Iron, but that was a documentary, so you can’t call his appearance there “acting”. True enough about Pumping Iron, but wrong about Schwarzenegger never having acted before. Nobody saw it, but he made this monstrosity fully seven years before the body-building documentary.

     And you can see why nobody ever mentions it. You haven’t seen stupid until you’ve seen Hercules in New York. Hercules (Arnold, who else?) has long been miserable up on Mount Olympus. He hasn’t gotten along with his father, Jupiter (Ernest Graves), in eons, and his stepmother, Juno (Seeds of Evil’s Tanny McDonald), has pretty much hated him from the day he was conceived. One day, after a particularly fierce argument with dad, involving much waving of thunderbolts, Hercules decides to strike out on his own, and live among the mortals. He takes a flying leap off the side of the mountain, plummets past an airliner (Old lady with the window seat to her sleeping friend: “Ethyl! Wake up! A nude man just fell past the window!”), and lands in the middle of the north Atlantic. He is picked up by a passing ship-- a freighter, maybe, or an industrial fishing vessel-- whose captain (Rudy Bond) concludes that he is a Greek sailor from a ship called the Olympus, largely because the only intelligible statement he can get out of his new passenger is, “I am Hercules. I come from Olympus.” Hercules joins the crew (well, sort of), and spends most of the voyage to New York picking fights with his shipmates for no apparent reason.

     This continues in New York. Hercules decides that he is tired of taking orders from a mortal, kicks the shit out of pretty much the entire crew of the ship with a big-ass log, and runs away down the dock. Here, he encounters a guy named Pretzie (Arnold Stang-- somebody give this man an Oscar!), so called because he sells pretzels. You’re beginning to see the genius at work here, aren’t you? Hercules and Pretzie become friends, and after Hercules demonstrates his superhuman strength by making a team of college track and field athletes look really bad, Pretzie hits upon a scheme to use that power to his and Herc’s advantage. Hercules will become a professional wrestler! This is where the fun really starts. Hercules’s up-and-coming-ness is obvious to everyone, including and especially the mafia, and a couple of mobsters drop by Pretzie’s place to strong-arm him into signing over his position as Hercules’s manager. And thus it came to pass that a Greco-Roman demigod started wrestling for the mob.

     Inevitably, there is also an ostensibly romantic subplot, involving Hercules and the daughter (Blood Bath’s Deborah Loomis) of some college professor (James Karen, from The Return of the Living Dead and Poltergeist). They go to some movies (Just guess which ones. Come on, think Italy, late 50’s to early 60’s, big sweaty guy, name starts with “H”...), have some dinners, go for some carriage rides in the park, wrestle some bears (no, I am not kidding!)-- you know, the usual stuff. Hey, we need something to keep the ladies interested, right?

     But all is not well, for the gods are getting pissed off that Hercules is causing such a stir on Earth. Jupiter sends Mercury (Dan Hamilton) to talk him into coming home. When that fails, Jupiter dispatches Nemesis (Tania Elg) to collect him more forcefully. Juno, of course, has to put her two cents in. She persuades Nemesis not to bring Hercules back, but to deprive him of his powers instead. This she does, conveniently enough, right before some sort of televised “Strongest Man Alive” contest, in which Hercules was to compete against Monstro the Magnificent (Tony Carroll, from Masters of the Universe), this huge black guy with a giant afro. Naturally, Hercules can’t win without his semi-divine powers, and he is humiliated on national TV. Worse yet, the mob had a lot of money riding on the match, and the don sends Lou Fishsticks and Vinnie One-Ball around to break some legs. Talk about a climax, man. We’ve got Hercules getting kicked around by a bunch of burly gangsters for entirely too long in some basement somewhere, and then, out of the blue, the gods send down help from on high. The cavalry arrives in the form of the Titan Atlas (Dennis Tinerino) and-- are you ready for this?-- Samson! (Mark Tendler) The biblical Samson, the one whose powers reside in his long-ass hippy hair, that Samson! Obviously, the mob is outclassed now. The demigods triumph, Hercules gets his divinity back, and he returns to Mount Olympus-- but not before sending a nice, uplifting message of friendship to Pretzie, via his clock radio.

     Surreal. That’s the only word for it. I mean, a guy named Pretzie? That thing in the park with the escaped bear? Hercules, the professional wrestler? Samson? And on top of all that, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice is dubbed. You remember how thick his accent was in Conan; he must have been completely unintelligible back in 1970. The guy they got to do his voice is a riot. He sounds just like the male lead in every dubbed-into-English European softcore porno ever made, and because there are so few other characters whose voices are dubbed, it’s that much more conspicuous. When you combine all of this wretchedness with the film’s surprisingly firm grasp of classical mythology (Samson’s cameo aside), the result is really jarring. Seriously, this movie is a lot more faithful to the myths than most Hercules flicks I’ve seen, despite the fact that it is set in New York at the turn of the 70’s, and its characterization of Hercules himself is not far removed from what you’ll find in a comedy by Aristophanes. It’s hard to believe that this could happen by accident, but it’s equally hard to credit any degree of erudition to a movie so stunningly idiotic. One can only wonder...

 

 

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