Rick Luehr journeys into the Inferno to render judgment on
Hercules in New York (1970)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (billed as Arnold Strong), Arnold Stang, James Karen
Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
THE STORY:Well, there I was, alone on New Years’ Eve, feeling a bit down, when I noticed something in the TV Guide. "Hercules in New York," Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first film appearance was on, so, I figured I could use the laughs. I should have stayed lonely and depressed, it would have been infinitely less painful,
The alleged "comedy" opens with a voice-over prologue about the ancient Greek gods, while we see a mix of travelogue footage, scenes from later in the movie, and some bad special effects. The narrator explains that the ancient peoples created myths to explain the occurrences in their lives. He then tells us that one of the most famous of these Greek myths was the one of Hercules, "the legend on which this film is based." Yeah, like Easy Rider was based on the Bible.
Hercules (Schwarzenegger with a really bad dubbed voice) is on Mount Olympus, having an argument with his father, Zeus. It seems that Herc is bored, and wants daddy’s permission to go down to earth. Zeus says that that is not a good idea and forbids Herc to go. But, Our Hero won’t let up, and keeps asking. Finally, angry with Herc for wanting to go to Earth, Zeus decides to punish him by, um, sending him to Earth. That’s what we need more of in the world, tough discipline!
We then see an airliner. We cut to the inside and see an elderly woman looking out the window. She sees Herc fly past the window, and, in a voice that reeks of a lifetime of smoking unfiltered Camels, screams (kind of) and tells her friend that she saw a naked man outside her window. The flight crew comes to her aid, and releases the oxygen masks(?) to try to calm her down. Not only was this scene not necessary (or funny), it has all the earmarks of a cameo by the director’s mother.
When the women of Olympus beg Zeus to bring muscle boy back home, Zeus refuses, but decides to look in on him using his handy-dandy crystal ball(!). He sees that Herc has landed in the ocean, so he arranges for a cargo ship to find him and rescue him.
We cut to the ship, where we see a shirtless Herc drying him self off and flexing. The captain asks him his name, to which Herc replies that he is Hercules, son of Zeus, and they he was thrown overboard when his ship, the Olympus (what a clever lad) was blown up. The captain orders his men to radio in that they have found a Hercules Zeus, and tells Herc that he will have to earn his passage by working on the ship (what a humanitarian!).
The idea of working doesn’t sit well with the spoiled demigod, however, and he engages in a series of badly choreographed scuffles with the crew. When the ship finally docks in New York, Herc wants to go ashore, but the Captain refuses. Herc walks down the gangplank anyway, whereupon the Captain orders his men to stop him. More bad fighting ensues before Herc runs off with the aid of a pretzel vendor.
The vendor, whom everyone calls Pretzie (see, ‘cause he sells pretzels. Get it?) hails a cab for himself and the big guy. In the cab, Herc tells Pretzie that he is Greek, which prompts Pretzie to tell him about a shopkeeper he knew named Apollo. Herc, being all muscle and no brains, thinks the vendor is talking about the god Apollo, which sparks an overlong "humorous" conversation. (stop, please, my sides!)
Pretzie tells the cabby to let them off in Central Park, and asks Herc to pay for the cab ride. Herc, of course, does not understand the concept of money, and asks the cabdriver, "He wants me to pay for giving the mighty Hercules a ride in his chariot??"
To which the cabby replies, "Hercules, Schmercules! Give me my money!" (Betcha didn’t know Noel Coward wrote movies, huh?)
The cabby tries to beat up our hero, but Herc just tosses him into the bushes and tips over his cab. Nothing like assault and criminal destruction of property to endear us to the hero of our film.
As Herc and Pretzie walk through the park, they happen upon a group of college guys at track practice. Herc wants to know who they are, and his companion tells him that they are athletes from the local college. Herc wants to show them the proper way to throw the discus, but Pretzie tells him that would not be a good idea. Herc goes anyway.
While Herc is showing the track stars up in the discus, the javelin throw and the long jump, we are introduced to our next two characters, a college professor and a young lady. Even though they don’t speak for several more minutes, we know that the guy is a professor because of his tweed sportcoat and pipe. Gotta love a cliche!
The professor introduces himself as Professor Camden, (see, I told you he was a professor) and the young lady as his daughter Helen. They are quite impressed with Herc, and invite he and Pretzie for tea, which prompts the following hilarious exchange:
Pretzie: "Shhh, not so loud!"
Pretzie: "You never know when there’s a narcotics officer around!"
See, ‘cause in the olden days, ‘tea’ was a synonym for marijuana. Of course that term for pot had been out of use for at least ten years by the time this movie came along.
The next day, Herc and Pretzie arrive at the Professor’s house, whereupon Pretzie engages in some sidesplitting antics to show us what a boor he is - things like scratching his back with a staghorn, etc. He also finds and pockets a book on mythology.
Allow me a brief intermission here regarding this mythology book. It would have been helpful if the writers of this film had read it themselves. This is because they obviously don’t know their mythology. As the prologue told us, this story is based on a Greek myth. However, the only Greek names used for the Gods are Zeus and Eros. All of the other gods are referred to by their Roman names; Juno, Venus, Pluto, instead of their Greek names; Hera, Aphrodite, and Hades. I hope you’ll pardon me for this mini-rant about screwed up mythology. but, for a brief moment here, I was almost able to forget how awful the rest of this movie was.
Meanwhile, back at the movie, Helen tells Herc that there are more people coming. Just then, the doorbell rings and the rest of the people show up in the person of Rob Nelson, who Helen says is a good friend, although she never refers to him as anything but Rob Nelson. So Herc asks Rob Nelson is he and Helen are lovers, which makes Helen and Rob Nelson angry, and Rob Nelson attempts to fight Herc, giving us yet another badly done wrestling scene.
The next morning at breakfast, Helen tells her dad that she thinks Mr. Hercules Zeus is a total boor.
Helen: "He even had the nerve to ask me to dinner tonight!"
Professor: "And of course you said..."
Helen: "Yes, of course."
(Finally, I’ve run across a great way to get dates. All you have to do is get invited to a girl’s house, and then beat up one of her good friends.)
As Herc and Helen rise a hansom cab through Central Park, we hear on a handy police radio that a bear has escaped from the zoo, and that police should be on the lookout, as the bear is "surly and dangerous."
Helen tells Herc that she has always been fascinated by mythology (so why doesn’t the name "Hercules Zeus" ring any bells?), but their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the aforementioned bear, whom Herc decides to wrestle.
The camera cuts back and forth from Herc fighting the (guy in a) bear (suit), and Helen sitting in the hansom cab screaming (what happened to the driver of the hansom is anybody’s guess). Finally, Helen faints (in the worst fainting scene I have ever seen. She just stops screaming, sits calmly for a second, then slumps back in her seat.) Herc, of course, defeats the bear just as zoo employees arrive.
Herc makes the headlines in the next day’s paper, whereupon Pretzie suggests that, since they need the money. Herc should go into professional ‘wrastling.’ Before you know it, Herc is the top rated wrestler in the city. (From nobody to top wrestling star in a 10 second montage. Beat that, Goldberg!)
Herc’s notoriety in the ring brings him to the attention of local mobsters, who have a chat with Pretzie, who is now Herc’s manager.
Another small aside here: If Pretzie was called that because he sold pretzels, now that he is a manager, shouldn’t they call him ‘Mangy" or something?
The Big Boss, and his two goons Nitro and Fat Lips (whose entire vocabulary seems to consist of the word ‘yeah’) threatened Pretzie and get him to sign over Herc’s contract to them.
We are the taken back to Olympus, where we see Juno whisper something to Zeus. Zeus calls for the goddess Nemesis to be brought to him. He wants to send her to retrieve Herc from Earth. This prompts Mercury, Herc’s friend and half-brother to ask Zeus if he can go first and ask Herc nicely to come back. Zeus relents and allows this.
Back in New York, Herc and Helen are walking down the street and see a poster for a ‘Hercules’ movie (with a picture of Godzilla on it). Herc protests that the man on the poster looks nothing like him, and, to prove it, takes off his shirt and flexes right there on the sidewalk, which is logical, because, after all, we haven’t see a shirtless Arnold in at least 4 minutes.
Then we get a short "checking out the New York sights" montage. When they stop by a statue of Atlas, Herc says that it’s a poor likeness. Helen jokingly asks him if his mother dropped him on his head as a baby, to which Herc replies that, while he wasn’t dropped, he did strangle two snakes to death when he was in his crib. Being that this is a popular tale of Hercules in mythology, you’d expect that Helen, the daughter of a college Professor and self-proclaimed lover of mythology might put two and two together and start wondering whether he was either really a demigod, or a totally insane lunatic. Well, you’d be wrong.
We then see Mercury come to Earth in a helicopter (!) and go talk to Herc and beg him to return to Olympus. Herc refuses to go, but says that he will return someday. Not happy about this decision Mercury says he will give Zeus the message, and jumps out the window to fly back to Mt. Olympus. Pretzie (God, I’m sick of that name) see this and passes out.
The next scene finds the Professor, Helen, and Rob Nelson discussing Hercules. Helen says that she thinks he may be delusional, but she likes him anyway(?). Her father and Rob Nelson seem to feel it’s okay for her to keep seeing this man whom the Professor says "may have megalomaniac delusions." (how come I never meet women with fathers as understanding as that?) Just then, Pretzie comes over to the Professor’s house, and tells him of the pervious night’s encounter with Mercury. As Pretzie says. "He jumped out the window and fell straight up."
The Professor and Rob Nelson just think that Pretzie has had too much to drink, and have some coffee brought in.
Let’s see, here we have a college Professor who has no problem with his daughter hanging around with a muscle-bound hulk with ‘megalomaniacal delusions" and a 60ish drunk who see people fall ‘straight up’. What a wonderful guy! What a nob!
Mercury delivers Herc’s message to Zeus, who gets royally pissed (Get it? The king of the gods? ‘Royally’ pissed? Ahem, sorry) and calls out "Nemesis! Cum’ere!" (Real godlike vocabulary, this Zeus). We then cut to Juno asking Nemesis what instructions Zeus gave to her. Nemesis is reluctant to tell Juno anything, but, after Juno tells her that unless she tells, Juno will tell Zeus some secrets about Nemesis. (I thought this Zeus was the most powerful god in the universe. How can anyone have secrets from someone like that?)
Nemesis tells Juno that Herc’s punishment is meant to be spending 100 years in Hell with Pluto. Since Juno knows that Pluto is a party kind of guy, she doesn’t feel that this will be much punishment. She tells Nemesis to make Herc stay in New York, and gives her a ring with magic powder inside, and Nemesis is to slip this powder into Herc’s drink and cause him to lose his divinity and become mortal for a time. She also tells Nemesis to stop on the way back and tell Pluto she has a message for him.
Apparently, Herc is easy to find, as the next scene has Nemesis slipping the powder into Herc’s drink. Then she visits Pluto, who happens to be a really hip dude in a black turtleneck with a red scarf around his neck who says stuff like "Nifty." She tells him that Juno wants him to make Herc’s time in Hell really unpleasant. So, Pluto arrives in New York via the subway and tries to convince Herc to come to Hades. Herc asks him what’s going on, and Pluto calls Herc a "nosy Parker" and leaves.
Hades arranges a meeting with the mobsters who hold Herc’s contract and says he will bet $20,000 at 5 to 1 odds against Herc. (since when does the bettor set the odds?) The mob guys agree, confident that they will win, not knowing that Herc’s divine strength has been sapped.
The next day, Helen shows her father a newspaper article stating that Herc claims to be the strongest man alive, and has been challenged by a circus strongman to a weightlifting competition on national television.
In the dressing room before the competition, the mob guys tell Herc that he is in "big trouble" if he loses.
We are then introduced to the circus strongman, a rather large fellow named Monstro. (Interesting sidebar. Monstro was also the name of the spacefaring evil whale in the insufferable cartoon movie ‘Pinocchio in Outer Space.’ That film also featured, as the voice of Pinocchio’s turtle pal, none other than Arnold Stang, who plays Pretzie in ‘Hercules in New York.’ O.k. it was interesting to me, anyway.)
The competition starts with both Monstro and Herc lifting 500 lbs. each. They both proceed to lift 750 lbs. each. But Herc fails to lift the next weight of 1000 pounds. We see the mobsters in the audience getting pretty steamed. Pretzie knows that this is trouble, and flees the studio with Herc, not even letting Herc get his street clothes. (Because, if Herc is covered up, we’ll forget he has all those muscles.)
Zeus has been watching this from Olympus on his crystal ball, and wonders how Herc lost all his strength. He yells loudly for Eros, who in yet another uproarious moment, steps out from behind Zeus’ throne and startling him. (I’ve seen better timed and funnier gags in kindergarten Christmas plays.) Zeus sends Eros to summon Nemesis. (Why this summoning is a job for the god of love is anyone’s guess.)
The mob guys go to Herc’s dressing room, where the following exchange takes place:
Nitro: "He should have been here by now."
Fat Lips: "His duds are here."
Big Boss: "Which means he ain’t comin’ back."
What wonderful deductive reasoning!
The Big Boss tells Nitro to get "The Boys®"
Helen and the Professor, who have been watching the TV show from the audience, run out of the studio just ahead of the mob guys, get in their car, and drive away. In another great deductive leap, the Big Boss determines that Herc and Pretzie are hiding on the floor of the Professor’s car. The Big Boss and his goons then jump into their white station wagon(?) and pursue the Professor and Helen.
As it turns out, however, Herc and Pretzie are not in the car, but the Professor has driven off as a decoy. Herc, realizing that this puts the Professor and Helen in danger, commandeers a handy chariot, while the chariot’s leopard skin toga and white BVD wearing driver is buying a hot dog.(!) Then ensues the obligatory ‘wacky chase’ wherein Herc and Pretzie chase the mob guys, who are chasing the Professor and Helen, while Herc and Pretzie are being chased by the chariot driver, who is being chased by the hot dog vendor (probably nicknamed Hotty or Doggy or something), who is trying to put sauerkraut on the chariot driver’s hot dog. In other words, we have a two people in a car being chased by four people in a car being chased by a demigod and a lush in a chariot being chased by a leopard skin and BVD wearing man on foot holding a hot dog being chased by a hot dog vendor on foot trying to put kraut on said hot dog. Let the hilarity commence!
Well, something commences, but it ain’t hilarity. As the chase goes on, we see people jumping out of the way, a motorcycle flipping in slow motion, cars squealing their tires on grass(?) and other staples of the bad movie chase scene. After everyone has been driving and running in circles for a while, the Professor and Helen find Herc and Pretzie, just as one of the chariot’s wheels falls off. Herc and Pretzie pile into the car, and the chase continues. (and, in the event you are keeping score at home, yes, the guy in the leopard skin outfit gets his sauerkraut, Whew!).
As luck would have it, though, the Professor’s car runs out of gas and the occupant’s are forced to hide out in an old warehouse.
Meanwhile, on Olympus, Zeus is asking Nemesis how Herc has ended up in this predicament. Nemesis hems and haws and.....
Somehow, The Boys®, show up at the correct warehouse and begin to search the building. Herc ends up fighting three guys.....
Nemesis rats out Juno to Zeus.....
The Boys® jump Herc.....
Venus and Mercury hatch a plan to send Atlas and Samson(?) to help Herc.....
Atlas and Samson(?) show up to help Herc.....
(In case you’re wondering about the ....., I’m just trying to convey the breathless excitement of the action packed climax of this film. Okay, I just got bored.)
Zeus wants to know who sent Atlas and Samson(?) to help Herc. Mercury looks guilty, but Venus claims responsibility. Zeus then says that The Boys® show him disrespect by beating on Herc, so he throws one of his thunderbolts, and gives Herc his strength back, whereupon he commences to whoop The Boys® into submission.
We then see Herc and Pretzie on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. As Pretzie looks over the city, Herc disappears. We then see Herc looking toward the sky and, in a startling change of heart, begs Zeus to let him come home. (But I thought he...but...but...). Zeus relents and takes Herc home.
The film then proceeds to flush the toilet it has dumped itself into by showing us a now lonely Pretzie returning to his apartment and delivering a heart-rending (heart-burning is more like it) soliloquy asking why someone like Herc would "hang around with a nobody but me." We then see a montage of Herc’s ‘strength scenes. Pretzie (Yay, the last time I have to type that stupid name!) turns on the radio, and hears Herc’s voice. Herc tells him, "Anytime you wish me to be with you, all you need to do is think of me, and there I shall be, in your mind, and in your heart." Yeah, it’s called ‘memory.’ Try and grasp the concept, will ya?
The film ends with Zeus, fed up with Juno, hanging up his crown of laurel leaves and heading toward earth, presumably to find more mortal chicks to impregnate. We last see him from the window of an airliner, dressed as a flying rabbi. Yes, you read that correctly. A flying rabbi.
To tell the truth, this review doesn’t begin to illustrate how wretchedly awful this movie is. Aside from the fact that Arnold’s voice is dubbed, most likely because his accent was too strong at that point, and to mask the fact that, most likely, he hadn’t learned to act yet, almost every element of the film is strictly bottom of the barrel. "Hercules in New York" was directed by Arthur Seidelman. (Did I say ‘directed by?’ I meant that Arthur was the guy who pointed the camera in approximately the right direction.) The acting is, for the most part, completely subpar, with special (dis)honors going to Deborah Loomis as Helen, who looks brain dead through most of the film.
The only actors who do a fair job are Arnold Stang as Pretzie, and James Karen as the Professor. Both are no stranger to bad movies, as Stang provided the voice of the turtle in the abysmal animated film "Pinocchio in Outer Space," and Karen co-starred in the unintentionally hilarious "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster."
And don’t get me started on the musical score by John Balamos which consists of the same 8 bars of pseudo-"Zorba the Greek" balalaika music. It hurts. Bad.
If you ever see "Hercules in New York" in your TV listings or at the video store, do yourself a favor. Instead of watching it or renting it, sit down, take a pair of pliers, and pull out all of your fingernails. Believe me, it’s less painful that way. Comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated. Click here to send them!
From the Inferno: Yikes! This movie sounds frighteningly bad! If I ever get to meet Rick in person I'm gonna have to buy him a double large brewski....sounds like it'll help numb the pain of this flick!