Should I Watch..? 'Hercules In New York' (1969)
What's the big deal?
Hercules In New York is a comedy fantasy film released in 1969 and marks the cinematic debut of then-Mr Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger who is credited as Arnold Strong. Encouraged by his friend and fellow bodybuilding competitor Reg Park, the young Arnold (who was just 22 at the time) agreed to appear in the film as Hercules whose strength and lack of social skills see him fall into various misadventures in the Big Apple. Due to his thick Austrian accent, Schwarzenegger's voice was dubbed over for the finished film although the DVD release reinserted the original audio tape of Schwarzenegger's performance. When Schwarzenegger's profile began to rise around the early 1980's, the film was rereleased in 1982 as Hercules with Schwarzenegger's original name back in the cast list.
What's it about?
On Mount Olympus, the hero Hercules is arguing with his father Zeus who refuses to allow him the freedom to visit the realm of mortal men that they keep watch over. Frustrated at Hercules's rebellious nature, Zeus banishes Hercules to Earth and New York in particular. After befriending a skinny local named Pretzie, Hercules has a number of adventures as people misunderstand his true nature and he eventually becomes a wrestling sensation. He also encounters historical professor Camden and his miniskirt-wearing daughter Helen who helps Hercules acclimatise to life on Earth.
But things take a turn for the worse when Zeus, upset at the fun his son Hercules is having on Earth, sends Nemesis to try and persuade him to come back to Olympus. However, Nemesis is then told by Juno to strip Hercules of his divinity instead as making him mortal would be a greater punishment. And this happens at an unfortunate moment as Hercules must suddenly contend with a bunch of mobsters after a slice of his wrestling winnings as well as a bear which has suddenly appeared in Central Park...
What's to like?
Assuming that you enjoy truly dreadful movies then you'll be in your element with Hercules In New York which sits so comfortably in the "so-bad-it's-good" zone that it has its own designated parking space. The movie is a bizarre mish-mash of supposedly comical sequences, Arnold constantly taking his shirt off and odd scenes back at Olympus where the gods provide their own director's commentary on the film. There's no getting away from Arnold's impressive physique but the dubbing of such a now-famous actor destroys any attempt at credibility the film may have strived for.
Highlights (and I use that word in the loosest possible sense) include the hilarious fight scene in Central Park between Arnold and a man in the world's cheapest-looking bear suit and certainly the oddest car chase I can recall seeing between what would appear to be the Ant Hill Mob from Wacky Races and Arnold Schwarzenegger riding through Times Square in a chariot. I have no idea what was being smoked on set but I'm guessing that it wasn't Malboro Lights. I also loved the fact that Zeus (brilliantly overacted by Graves) and the rest of the immortals appear to have relocated Mount Olympus to another part of Central Park - you can still hear the traffic thundering by behind the hedges, horns blaring.
- Schwarzenegger himself has claimed that the film should be shown to inmates of Guantanamo Bay instead of water-boarding them. "I guarantee those guys would talk much faster with that treatment." he said.
- Arnold's agent told the producers that Arnold has years of stage experience. He neglected to tell them that it was a body-building stage and not once had Arnold appeared in a theatrical stage.
- Arnold Stang was more famous as a voice-over artist. His most famous role was as TC in the Hanna-Barbera series Top Cat but also provided voices for Courage The Cowardly Dog as well as appearing in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
What's not to like?
Take your pick. The screenplay is nonsense and can't even tell the difference between Greek and Roman deities, the acting is wonderfully wooden, the soundtrack seems to be composed of the same piece of Greek-sounding mandolin music played over and over again and the effects are cursory at best. Zeus's lightning bolts appear to be reshaped wire coat-hangers and Schwarzenegger's performance is just one of many that appear to be trying hard but ultimately falling short.
The direction, by Arthur Allan Seidelman, appears to be pretty haphazard as well, as though he was figuring out how to direct a movie whilst simultaneously directing that very movie. In truth, he didn't have that much to do - film Schwarzenegger with his shirt off and flexing his muscles while somehow linking each scene with a tenuous piece of plotting. But it's beyond him but in a strange way, it doesn't matter. Nobody is going to watch this and think it's a fantastic piece of entertainment, unless you and your mates have come back from a night out and need something to watch while you're on a comedown. It's the same philosophy that Sharknado tries to employ, as if to excuse its own failures by openly admitted them. Sadly for Hercules In New York, that argument has never cut much mustard with me.
Should I watch it?
Everyone has to start somewhere and this movie feels like one of those TV shows that laughs at famous people before they become famous. But watching Hercules In New York, you do have to keep reminding yourself that this giant of a man would go on to become Governor of California - not to mention his future successes with the likes of The Terminator and so on. Of course, the film has dated about as well as your grandfather's wardrobe but you can at least have a decent time laughing at it.
Great For: Schwarzenegger fans, pot heads, New York locals
Not So Great For: Greek (and Roman) mythology enthusiasts, Italian-American stereotypes, anybody with a brain
What else should I watch?
It's hard to know what to compare Hercules In New York to, given that it's completely unlike anything else Schwarzenegger has ever done. It's safe to say that he wouldn't find his defining role until 1984's The Terminator came along, a role that cemented his place in Hollywood after its electrifying sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But he'd also had good turns in the original Conan The Barbarian and the energetic shooter Commando before he started flexing his comic muscles in Twins.
Hercules is the gift that keeps on giving, allowing a long line of muscle-bound meat-heads to try their luck as the legendary strongman. Kevin Sorbo achieved popularity with his TV series in the 1990's and now Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson recently donned the bear-skins for 2014's Hercules after former Hulk Lou Ferrigno had a go in 1983...
Arnold Schwarzenegger *
Arthur Allan Seidelman
Release Date (USA)
25th February, 1970
Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Academy Award Nominations
None, for some reason...
© 2015 Benjamin Cox