The figure of Heracles, also known as Hercules, became a basis for a genre of movies that appeal to the audience with their simple plot and dynamic action. Pietro Francisci’s Hercules that first came to Italian theaters in 1958, then to the American public in 1959, is an original movie that follows the adventures of a vigorous and brave hero. The film loosely follows Greek myths, making the character of Hercules a protagonist and not a side character for the legend of The Golden Fleece. However, the overall picture of the Greek hero remains mostly faithful to the original, because the personality of Hercules is not changed significantly. The 1958 film Hercules is an adaptation of the original Greek myth that portrays Hercules as the main character of one of the myths while following the story of it in some aspects.
The main plotline of the movie follows the myth of The Golden Fleece. Originally, the journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece falls on the shoulders of Jason and the Argonauts. In this myth, Heracles has an episodic role as a member of the Argonauts. However, in the film, Hercules is the protagonist and the main adventurer with Jason being a side character. In this case, Francisci changes the plot significantly, as he places the responsibility for almost every action into Hercules’s hands. Hercules is the one to stay with the expedition and lead the journey.
Furthermore, he is the one to retrieve the Fleece and bring it back to Iolcus. It is possible that Francisci decided to implement these changes to make the character of Hercules more interesting and complex. In the original myth, the personality of Heracles is rather one-sided. He is famous more for his strength and bravery than his intelligence or gumption. In the film, however, some characters question his brawn as well as his brains. Hercules manifests himself as an honest and straightforward man, who can strategize and teach other young warriors combat skills.
Some of the elements of this myth, such as the presence of the Argonauts and the king’s desire for revenge as his main motivation, translate well into the film. However, many additions are present to make the film more exciting for the public. The addition of princess Iole, for example, creates a romantic subplot. Burdened by his immortality and inability to fall in love, Hercules asks the Gods to make him a mortal man. This theme is completely original to the film because the myths do not feature this plotline. One of the followers of Hercules, young Ulysses, is also a new character. He performs the role of a student, who aspires to be as strong and wise as Hercules. The presence of this side character helps Francisci to accentuate Hercules as a mentor.
Some scenes of the film can be interpreted as an attempt to include the Labors of Heracles into the plot. First of all, the scene of Hercules strangling a lion resembles the myth of The Nemean Lion. However, in the myth, the lion is a creature with impenetrable skin, which Hercules has to kill as a task from Eurystheus. In the film, on the other hand, the lion appears briefly and without any explanation.
The animal is there to kill Iphitus, the son of the king, furthering the plot and making the king loathe Hercules and send him away. Secondly, a brief appearance of a bull in the movie can also be connected to one of the myths. The bull kills Jason’s father, who recognizes Hercules as an old friend. These scenes can be loosely linked to the myth of The Cretan Bull. However, in the Greek myth, the animal is killed not by Heracles, but by his friend, Theseus. It is possible that Francisci includes the bull without any connection to The Cretan Bull.
The film Hercules interprets a number of Greek legends. The main plotline is a rendering of the myth of The Golden Fleece, which originally features Jason as the protagonist and Hercules as a side character. Francisci, however, changes many aspects of the story to portray Hercules as the main hero. The film shows Hercules not only as a strong warrior but also as a capable leader and mentor to his fellow men. The added romantic subplot with princess Iole provides Hercules with an incentive to renounce his immortality. It is possible that Labors of Heracles are briefly included in the plot as well. All in all, the film Hercules is an epic but inaccurate interpretation of the Greek myths, which exists to entertain the public rather than educate it.