CliqueClack Flicks

Greek gods and Biblical heroes come to DVD

The Warner Archive Collection heads deep into the vaults to give new life to sword and sandal epics that feature Greek and Biblical heroes.

Sword and Sandals from the Warner Archive Collection

The folks at the Warner Archive Collection prove that they love movies and want as many people to have access to the vast Warner Brothers library as possible. Their mission is to make films available on DVD on demand that would otherwise never see the light of day inside a big retail store. You’ll find a few well-known titles that may have gone out of print at the retail level – like Victor/Victoria which, honestly, deserves a Blu-ray release – but the real meat of the Archive Collection are the older films that real movie fans want, but the limited audience makes it not financially feasible to put these films out commercially. The Archive Collection has everything from 30s film noir to 80s comedies, theatrical films, TV movies of the week, and even season sets of classic TV series. Recently, the Archive Collection brought back some fond memories of watching old movies on the local TV channels with a collection of “sword and sandal” epics – Hercules, Samson and Ulysses, Damon and Pythias, The Slave (aka The Son of Spartacus), and The Tartars. They may not all be gems or even campy fun like the classic Steve Reeves Hercules movies, but you have to give Warner Brothers credit for making these films available at all.

Damon and Pythias, unfortunately, is a bit of a chore to sit through. Not because of the film’s presentation on DVD, which looks better than it probably ever has, but because of the slow moving story. In the original Greek legend, Damon and Pythias were friends and followers of the philosopher Pythagoras. Pythias was condemned to death by the tyrannical ruler Dionysius, who feared Pythias was trying to overthrow him. Pythias asked to return home to settle his affairs and say goodbye to his family, and to ensure his return, his friend Damon was held in his place, to be put to death should Pythias not come back to face the music. The film’s story follows the original in spirit, but Damon and Pythias don’t know each other here, and only become “friends” when Damon helps Pythias find the leader of the group of Pythagoreans. Although it’s hard to call someone who sells you out to the emperor for a horse a friend. When Pythias returns home, it’s because his wife is due to give birth and she does not want him to return to his fate, insisting that Damon should be allowed to die in his place because he has no family. It all comes down to a rushed and pat ending, but by that point (and at 99 minutes, it seems much, much longer) you may be favoring Damon’s death as well just to get it over with. The film is a curious Italian/American co-production with most of the dialogue dubbed, even with the English-speaking actors (at least it’s their own voices), and some impressive sets that, no matter how hard the director tries, still feels a bit stage bound. The film’s main star, Guy Williams (better known as Professor John Robinson on Lost in Space), hams it up a bit too much at times and pulls you out of the film’s historical setting. But the film looks wonderful, and any fan of this genre will want to add it to their collection. This is a bare-bones disk that only includes the feature film.

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses is a bit more fun. This one is a total Italian production that really recalls the classic Hercules films that began with Steve Reeves in the title role. The story is also a curious mixture of Greek legend and Biblical epic (on a much smaller scale than anything DeMille would have made) that gets a little too reverent by the end. In this film, Hercules, Ulysses and all the strapping young men of their Greek village take a boat out to sea to kill a ferocious sea monster (a hilariously filmed sea lion in footage that never matches the action on the boat, which doesn’t even match itself from shot to shot — keep an eye on Herc’s wet/dry/wet hair). There’s a storm, most of the men are lost at sea, and our heroes wind up many miles from home in the land of Judea … which is apparently so far inland that they don’t have any ships to help them get home, so how did they end up there in the first place? What Herc and company don’t know is that there is another strong man on the run from the Philistines, whom they assume is Hercules because he killed a lion with his bare hands (and be warned, there is a lot of animal violence in this movie that is unsettling at times, particularly the trip-wired horses). Herc has to prove he’s really from Greece (can’t you tell by his clothing?!), so he goes on a quest to find the elusive Samson … with the Philistine queen Delilah along for the ride to make sure either Herc or Samson comes back for his punishment. The highlight of the film is the big fight between the two strong men throwing and crashing into styrofoam rocks and pillars. It has to be seen to be believed and is worth the price of the DVD. The film does have a good punchline when Herc tells Samson to watch out for Delilah. Kirk Morris (Hercules) and Iloosh Khoshabe (Samson) look appropriately imposing in their miniscule wardrobe, but it’s hard to discern their true acting talent with dialogue that is completely dubbed (at least the voice over actors do a good job of emoting). Even dubbed, I did enjoy Liana Orfei’s performance as Delilah. For a film of this era, she certainly had some risqué business going on as she continually tried to seduce Hercules during their journey. Unfortunately, Enzo Cerusico’s Ulysses was just an annoyance, and didn’t even appear in the film enough to really warrant his name in the title (and the original Italian title, Ercole sfida Sansone, acknowledges that fact). While not a great film – at least not the American version which is presented here – Hercules, Samson and Ulysses is a fun (unintentionally) movie that engages your attention for its 86 minute running time. Aside from some grainy stock footage that opens the movie, the rest of the film looks marvelous on DVD with bright colors and a picture so sharp that you can actually see the trip wires on the horses, disturbing as that may be. The DVD also includes a theatrical trailer that doesn’t shy away from the hype.

These titles are now available directly from the WB Shop and are released more widely on August 30th through These reviews are based on DVDs provided to CliqueClack by the Warner Archives Collection.


Photo Credit: MGM

Categories: DVDs, General, Reviews

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