Musclebound Mess: HERCULES IN NEW YORK (RAF Industries 1969)

Well, I can finally cross HERCULES IN NEW YORK off my bucket list. This fantasy-comedy starred the team of bespectacled, scrawny comic actor Arnold Stang and musclebound ‘Mr. Universe’ Arnold Strong. Who? Why, none other than the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, making his film debut as the Greek Demi-God paying a visit to modern-day Earth. Hercules is all-powerful, and can only be defeated by one thing… a lousy script!

The plot, if you can call it that, has half-human Herc pining to go to Earth against father Zeus’s wishes. Zeus finally relents and transports the headstrong Herc to Terra Firma, where he befriends Stang playing Pretzie, so named because he sells pretzels. Brilliant! The two then have a series of adventures. Herc battles an anemic looking grizzly bear in Central Park! Herc becomes a pro wrestler! Herc falls in love with a mortal! Meanwhile, on Mount Olympus, Juno conspires with Pluto to get rid of Herc once and for all. This all culminates in a “wacky” chase involving some shady gangsters, and a happy ending is had by all.

Arnold isn’t very good in this. His accent is so thick you’d have to cut it with a chainsaw to understand him half the time. The original version (released in New York in 1969, nationwide in ’70) dubbed his lines, only restoring it when Arnold soared to fame in the 80’s. Arnold Stang’s Brooklynese accent is just as thick, but then again that was his trademark. Stang was a voice actor in radio and cartoons (TOP CAT) who made a few films (THE MAN WITH THE THE GOLDEN ARM, IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD ); he’s certainly an acquired taste, you either like him or you don’t. I do, though I’ll admit this isn’t his finest hour.

Producer/screenwriter Aubrey Wisberg is mainly responsible for the film’s failure. Wisberg had his good days ( MAN FROM PLANET X ) and bad (THE NEANDERTHAL MAN ). HERCULES IN NEW YORK definitely falls into the latter category. The script’s lack of quality, combined with the extremely low budget and non-existant direction by Arthur A. Seidleman, ruin what was a not-bad idea. The supporting cast consists of mostly unknown New York actors, familiar only to fans of 60’s-70’s TV soap operas, except former MGM demi-starlet Tania Elg (LES GIRLS). I will give props to Michael Lipton as Pluto, giving a hammy performance worthy of Price or Carradine!

HERCULES IN NEW YORK is a curiosity for sure, being Arnold’s screen debut and all, but is it worth watching? I’ll be honest, it’s not very good, but I’ve seen worse drive-in flicks. The NYC location filming has some historic value, including a chariot ride through Times Square showing what things looked like during the era (EASY RIDER is playing at one theater). It’s in the “so-bad-it’s-good” category of movies, and if you’re into that, give it a shot. Otherwise, stay away.

Halloween Havoc!: THE MAN FROM PLANET X (Mid Century Productions 1951)

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THE MAN FROM PLANET X is low-budget early sci-fi movie about an alien coming to Earth. The mysterious Planet X is drawing close to our world. Discovered by Professor Elliot (Raymond Bond), Planet X will come closest to the foggy coast of Scotland. Intrepid reporter John Lawrence (cult actor Robert Clarke of THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON) travels there to meet his old friend, and falls in love with the professor’s daughter Enid (Margaret Field, mother of Sally). A spaceship is found with an alien inside. The professor’s assistant Mears (a very young William Schallert) wants to use the alien for his lightweight metal and get rich. But the alien has other plans, capturing Mears and the Professor, along with some townspeople.

The alien is an advance scout for the coming invasion of Planet X. The Scottish town is cut off from contacting the rest of the Earth as the fiend gets ready to summon his forces. Can he be stopped I time? Will Lawrence save the Earth? Or are we doomed to become slaves of THE MAN FROM PLANET X??

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The background to this movie is more interesting than the film itself. The writer/producer tandem of Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg founded Mid-Century Productions in 1951. Science-fiction was all the rage at the box office, so they concocted a story called THE MAN FROM PLANET X. Being a small company, they hired Edgar G. Ulmer to direct. Ulmer was a veteran of German cinema who came to America in the late 20’s. He directed the horror classic THE BLACK CAT at Universal in 1934, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. But after a scandal involving an executive’s wife, Ulmer was blacklisted from the major studios. Finding work only at Poverty Row studios like PRC, Ulmer quickly learned to craft diamonds out of the coal he was handed. Films like 1944’s BLUEBEARD with John Carradine and the noir classic DETOUR (1945) are still studied today as examples of making good films with little money.

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THE MAN FROM PLANET X was shot in six days on Hollywood backlots. The moors of Scotland are recreated by fog machines to cover the lack of sets. Backgrounds are obvious matte paintings. What sets there are in the film were leftover from the 1948 JOAN OF ARC starring Ingrid Bergman. Using lighting tricks and camera angels, Ulmer creates a believable world despite the flowery script by Pollexfen and Wisberg. THE MAN FROM PLANET X is one of the earliest “alien invasion” movies, and should be seen by sci-fi/horror enthusiasts at least once. (And trust me, you haven’t heard the last of Ulmer here at Cracked Rear Viewer. His films are worth revisiting.)