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TCM Spotlight: Sword and Sandal
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Hercules Against the Mongols

It is the year 1227 in the lavish sword-and-sandal epic Hercules Against the Mongols (1963), and the death of feared Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan has left his three greedy sons to inherit his throne. Rather than honoring their father's dying wish to make peace with the West, however, the sons incite a war to justify their thirst for more blood and power. When they conquer the city of Tudela and seek to kill off all members of its royal family, it is the legendary Hercules (Mark Forest) and his superhuman strength to the rescue.

Hercules Against the Mongols was part of the peplum genre, which consisted of historical and Biblical epics made roughly between 1958-1965 and filmed mostly in Italy. Dubbed in English for American audiences, peplum films attempted to compete with big budget Hollywood sword-and-sandal epics of the time, such as Ben-Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1960). Peplum films quickly found a loyal international audience, and the genre became the bread and butter of the Italian film industry for many years prior to the rise of Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s.

Technically, the hero of Hercules Against the Mongols is known as Maciste rather than Hercules, as referenced in its original Italian title Maciste Contre Les Mongols. The character of Maciste has been a recurring fixture of Italian cinema from its earliest days, displaying incredible physical strength that allows him to perform heroic feats throughout his adventures. However, since American audiences were less familiar with the character of Maciste, the hero was renamed Hercules when the film was released in the U.S. Even though Hercules had his origins in Greek mythology and Maciste was born of Italy, the two characters were similar enough in concept that it didn't really matter to moviegoers seeking sword-and-sandal excitement in the cinema.

Maciste/Hercules is portrayed by American bodybuilder Mark Forest (born Lou Degni). Forest was the second American recruited by Italian producers to star in peplum films following in the footsteps of Steve Reeves, who had also made his mark in the genre as a bodybuilder turned actor. Forest starred in numerous Italian productions before leaving the film business to become a successful international opera singer and vocal coach.

Directed by Domenico Paolella, Hercules Against the Mongols moves at a brisk pace and features vibrant color, costumes and action sequences throughout. Lace up your sandals and grab your shield for this fun cinematic adventure!

By Andrea Passafiume

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